DE Theatre Co Paddling Upstream

by Greer Firestone

There are few First Staters who have on their theatrical resume being part of the opening night audience of Delaware Theatre Company 32 years ago. Aisle Say was there.

The venue was a converted firehouse. The visionary producer/director was Cleveland Morris. Within a short period Morris had convinced various influential arts advocates to create Wilmington’s first professional theatre at the Riverfront, a hodgepodge of scarred and abandoned buildings left over from WWII ship building days.

Morris’ brand of ‘pioneering’ was of the Major John Wesley Powell mold. In 1869 Powell , a one-armed Civil War veteran embarked with ten men and four wooden boats through the unchartered depths of The Grand Canyon. Their 1000 mile trip would take 3 months and only 5 men survived. The journey changed the face of the West. There are analogies to Cleveland Morris’ accomplishments.

While not a season subscriber, I witnessed many of the productions in the ensuing decades. The opportunities with The Community News and Aisle Say has required I chat about most of their offerings in the last three years.

Presently they are through two of the five productions for this season.

I have come to the conclusion: Why? Why do they exist in their present form and what are they accomplishing.

The stated mission is to provide theatre of the highest quality in Delaware and enrich the vitality of the area through artistic programming, education and community service. All good and noble. With all but the first they meet these standards.

After the messy public firing of Artistic Director Anne Marie Cammarado, the managing staff at the theatre had to reconfigure this season. They brought back ‘Sylvia’ by A.R.Gurney. It was promoted as an ‘audience favorite’. More likely it fit the financial pre-conditions listed below. On the opening night I was in attendance and counted the audience at 50%. Seats were less than half at ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ two months later.

I may be wrong, but I can’t believe that their next show, ‘Lucy’, that no one has heard of is going to have queues reaching to Harry’s Riverfront. The subject matter involves a mother who now must take care of her estranged autistic daughter.

Certainly not every production must be reminiscent of “I Love Lucy”, but most people wish to simply be entertained, case closed. Aisle Say does not believe our market is that sizable to embrace such a subject with respectable attendance numbers.

Next up comes Noel Coward’s ‘Blithe Spirit’, not at his wittiest. (See ‘Private Lives’ for that). DTC promotion material states that ‘Blithe Spirit’ is British humor at its wittiest. (See Oscar Wilde for that).

The overriding issue I imagine is money. A few times during his adventure Major Powell was caught in a ‘whirlpool’; a depression of the water surging around the boat keeping it swirling and swirling around in a endless circle. The only way out is to get pulled out by a rescuer on land. DTC does not have a Tatiana Copeland at the ready to throw a lifeline.

The fiscal constraints mean their choices must follow these requisites: small cast, bargain basement royalties, unit set, lean costuming and no high tech production values.

I wish no one to lose their job. In fact, DTC’s various outreach programs for kids, including “Totally Awesome Kids” is just that, totally awesome and essential. Leader Charlie Conway has created a rich legacy in the community.

Here is Aisle Say’s suggestion for 2011. Reach out to Sandy Robbins, Producing Artistic Director of the U of D REP Ensemble. This production company is far and away the greatest professional theatre in the state. (If any readers of my reviews on the REP know, I gush over them like Danny over Sandy in “Grease’.) They are heavily subsidized by the university. Their ticket prices are $10.00 less than DTC and the productions are many times better…in every theatrical aspect.

I saw Robbins at ‘Sylvia’. In fact, the REP had an ad in the program. Begin conversations to have The REP aid in various artistic decisions; even interning. The venue could even become a UD satellite. All jobs could be saved and everyone in the community benefits. I will send this column to Robbins and see what he thinks.

DTC has done great stuff. In this economy, Aisle Say does not see them being rescued from their dizzying whirlpool on their own.

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1 comment

RE DellAversano January 9, 2011 - 2:32 pm

“Certainly not every production must be reminiscent of ‘I Love Lucy,’ but most people wish to simply be entertained, case closed. Aisle Say does not believe our market is that sizable to embrace such a subject with respectable attendance numbers.”

To make a broad (and perhaps foolish) statement that theater which makes one think, explore humanity, expose personal struggles, discuss social awareness or the like ISN’T entertaining shows no true appreciation for theater. DTC would be doing a great disservice to the Delaware market if it made programming decisions based on whether or not a play contains enough humor to deem it entertaining. A large portion of the Delaware market is unaware of theater’s full potential. Yes, a theater company must be aware of the bottom line but it also must remain true to itself and the wonderful art form that is theater. Theater not only entertains but when viewed with an open mind, it assists in making us better people living better lives.

As the Executive & Artistic Director of Bootless Artworks, I encourage you to enjoy theater of all shapes and sizes. Go see a play that makes you think. You never know, the situation and emotions unfolding on stage just may affect you in ways you never knew. Entertainment is in the eyes of the viewer.


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