Shakespeare production resonates with homeless

DOVER — In William Shakespeare’s play, “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” the prince is shipwrecked and washes up on shore, destitute and broken.

He is rescued by a group of poor fishermen who help dredge his suit of armor from the ocean and enter him in a tournament set by King Simonedes.

Although Pericles’ armor is rusted, he goes on to win the day, and the right to the king’s daughter’s hand in marriage.

This is just one of the play’s scenes that Delaware Shakespeare Festival (DSF) hopes will speak to underserved audiences at nontraditional venues on their inaugural community tour running from Nov. 3-20.

DSF was inspired by Ten Thousand Things Theater Company in Minneapolis to launch this community tour. It will bring “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” to venues like homeless shelters, detention facilities and communities centers.

Danielle Leneé acts in Delaware Shakespeare Festival’s 2016 performance of “The Comedy of Errors” in Rockwood Park. Ms. Leneé will also be performing in “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” during the Nov. 3-20 tour that will travel the state to bring theater performance to underserved populations in homeless shelters, detention facilities and communities centers. (Submitted photo)

Danielle Leneé acts in Delaware Shakespeare Festival’s 2016 performance of “The Comedy of Errors” in Rockwood Park. Ms. Leneé will also be performing in “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” during the Nov. 3-20 tour that will travel the state to bring theater performance to underserved populations in homeless shelters, detention facilities and communities centers. (Submitted photo)

“They’ve been doing this sort of thing for 20 years in Minneapolis,” said David Stradley, DSF’s producing artistic director. “Audience members have just been blown away and had incredible reactions to the performances — it sort of shakes up Shakespeare.

“A lot of people may think that Shakespeare is nothing but a whole bunch of glorified British accents, but bringing it this way to the community kind of makes it rough and vital again like it was back in the beginning.”

Mr. Stradley noted that in Shakespeare’s time his work was intended for a broad audience, not just elites and intellectuals. This philosophy anchors DSF’s goals with their production company as they constantly push to keep their ticket prices low. They still felt that there were people they weren’t reaching, though.

“There are still people who either can’t afford the tickets or just can’t get to Rockwood Park to see us. So we set a goal of bringing Shakespeare to Delawareans of all walks of life,” said Mr. Stradley. “This is the first time in our 14 year history that we’ll be doing a second full production in one calendar year and it’s the first time we’ll be taking a full production on the road to tour multiple locations.”

The production includes eight actors, original music by Delaware musician Joe Trainor and sculptural set pieces by University of Delaware professor David Meyer.

Mr. Stradley said even though performances will be outside a traditional stage venue, the theater company still wanted to put on the best performance possible.

“It’s a two-hour production and it’s built in a way that makes it very easy to move around to homeless shelters and places that don’t have theater facilities,” said Mr. Stradley. “Our eight actors are fantastic. They play 47 characters throughout the play, which is about five to seven each.
They’ve worked with some of the top theaters in the Philadelphia area and have won Barrymore awards — it’s one of our most fully professional casts that we’ve ever had.”

The troupe has been workshopping the performance in preparation for the tour for the past few weeks. A recent appearance at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution in New Castle even seemed to inspire some of the audience members to act themselves.

“There were about 60 inmates in the audience and they were having a great time,” said Mr. Stradley. “The staff even said afterward that they discovered some acting talent in their group and they may have to start some acting classes at the prison. We also had a workshop for about five medically fragile individuals at the Stockley Center in Georgetown. They weren’t very verbally responsive, but their caretakers said they could tell they were really into it.”

Aside from bringing a unique form of entertainment to underserved populations, Mr. Stradley hopes the plot of the play will resonate with these audiences as well.

“The story of Pericles is a story about everything that life throws at you,” said Mr. Stradley. “He is a prince who has it all, then he loses it all multiple times over and through a series of somewhat miraculous events is restored at the end. We hope the plot of the story respects and resonates with these non-traditional audiences, but also sort of gives them some hope at the end of the day.”

The troupe will tour Delaware throughout November, stopping by Dover Air Force Base on Nov. 5 at 3 p.m. and at Christ Episcopal Church in Dover on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. The Air Force Base audience will be limited to active personnel and base employees. The Church show, which will have residents of three homeless shelters in Dover in attendance, is open to the public by request.

Limited tickets are available for each of the free public performances, and must be requested in advance by an email to info@delshakes.org.

For more information about the community tour and a full list of dates and venues, visit www.delshakes.org.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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