Delaware Shakespeare receives NEA grant, welcomes 4 new associate artists

Delaware News Desk
New associate artists Newton Buchanan, Bi Jean Ngo and Emily Schumann will be features at “Three Artists, Four Humors & Food!” set for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 29. Buchanan, Ngo and Schuman will “share their love of food, Shakespeare and Elizabethan history by sharing recipes that connect to various Shakespeare characters.”

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded Delaware Shakespeare a $50,000 grant through the recent U.S. coronavirus relief bill.

Delaware Shakespeare is one of 855 nonprofit organizations across the U.S. selected for funding to support staff salaries, fees for artists or contractual personnel and facilities costs.

“All of us at the National Endowment for the Arts are keenly aware that arts organizations across the country are hurting, struggling and trying to survive and that our supply of funding does not come close to meeting the demand for assistance,” said Arts Endowment Chairman Mary Anne Carter. “That said, I am enormously proud of the over-and-above efforts of the Arts Endowment staff to swiftly and professionally manage such a large amount of additional work in a relatively short period of time on behalf of the American public.”

A Portion of the NEA CARES Act award is being allocated to hire four associate artists to join Delaware Shakespeare through the end of the year. Newton Buchanan, Bi Jean Ngo and Emily Schuman, three theater artists with a combined 10 Del Shakes productions between, will work with the producing artistic director to develop new online and, potentially, small-scale, in-person programming for Del Shakes to offer to the community.

Wilmington writer Gail Obenreder will join Del Shakes as an arts journalist-in-residence, documenting Del Shakes programming efforts in the time of the COVID-19 virus.

An introductory associate artist event, “Three Artists, Four Humors & Food!” is set for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 29. Buchanan, Ngo and Schuman will “share their love of food, Shakespeare and Elizabethan history by sharing recipes that connect to various Shakespeare characters.” The event is pay-what-you-decide, and patrons can register for this Zoom program for free through the Delaware Shakespeare website — — and will be sent a link immediately after the event inviting guests to pay what they believe the program was worth.

The addition of the new associate artists and the potential of new programming softens a disappointing development for Del Shakes and its nationally-recognized Community Tour.

Due to the ongoing public health concerns related to the COVID-19 virus and feedback from Community Tour partners, Del Shakes has postponed its world premiere bilingual musical adaptation of “Twelfth Night,” originally planned for October, until fall 2021. The Community Tour brings professional Shakespeare to audiences who may not have easy access to professional arts experiences. The productions travel throughout the state and play in non-theatrical settings such as multipurpose rooms, cafeterias and gymnasiums and are scaled for those spaces, with live music, minimal sets and whatever lighting is available.

“While we’re disappointed not to be able to bring a full production to our Community Tour partners in 2020, this was the only decision that made sense given the vulnerable nature of many of our audiences,” said David Stradley, producing artistic director. “The tour producing model is defined by an up-close and personal connection between actor and audience. We bring eight to 10 artists and 40 to 100 audience members into small spaces, where the actor is only a few feet away from the audience. This sort of performance style is not possible at the moment.”

The writing team of the new musical will use the additional year to further refine the script and score, which reimagines Shakespeare’s characters of Viola and Sebastian as Latinx immigrants whose shipwreck brings them ashore in Illyria. Authors Liz Filios, Tanaquil Márquez and Robi Hager shared this statement:

“The postponement of this production due to COVID-19 allows us more time to write music and finesse the adaptation. Because actors have already been cast, we will be able to write specifically for the performers who will play the roles. The result, we hope, will be a powerful performance for audiences from across the state of Delaware that unites arts and activism in the name of social justice.”

The Del Shakes associate artists will work to develop virtual programming to connect with audiences at many long-standing Community Tour partners to build on a four-year history of increasing access to high-quality arts experiences.

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