Shakespeare in Delaware Park remains a Buffalo favorite in its 40th season

Shakespeare in Delaware Park remains a Buffalo favorite in its 40th season


on Sunday, June 14, 2015 12:01 AM, updated: June 14, 2015 at 10:35 am

Act I, Scene I of “Shakespeare in Delaware Park.”

Scene: The Anchor Bar on Main Street, 1976.

Enter SAUL ELKIN, a young University at Buffalo theater professor and JOSEPH PAPP, legendary founder of New York City’s Public Theater and Elkin’s Ph.D. thesis adviser, along with certain commoners, eating chicken wings.

Papp: “So, who’s doing Shakespeare?”

Elkin: “I don’t know, the colleges are doing it.”

Papp: “Start something!”

Elkin: “OK.”


OK, so this decidedly drama-free exchange of very un-Shakespearean language across a barroom table in 1976 may not exactly be the stuff of great theater. But it was enough to launch one of Buffalo’s most popular and enduring cultural institutions and one of the most popular free Shakespeare Festivals in North America, which opened that very summer with a student-driven production of “The Winter’s Tale.”

And on Thursday, when Saul Elkin steps onto an outdoor stage near Hoyt Lake to usher in the 40th season of his company with the opening lines of “Romeo and Juliet,” chances are that meeting with his trusted adviser four decades earlier will be on his mind.

After his conversation with Papp, who was in town to see a production of the play he had urged Elkin to produce (Myrna Lamb’s “Apple Pie”), the idea of a Shakespeare festival didn’t take long to germinate.

“Within a couple of weeks, I had called the then-Mayor Stanley Makowski and we had a meeting. And he said, ‘Sure, sure. Can’t give you any money, but we’ll help you.’ ”

From that point on, Shakespeare in Delaware Park has been inextricably linked to the region’s public life and its identity as a haven for summer culture. The company has faced numerous crises, notably in the early ’90s when budget cuts threatened to put the company out of business and forced it to leave the University at Buffalo and reorganize itself as an independent nonprofit.

After that, the City of Buffalo and Erie County started to provide a trickle of public subsidies and finally a semi-reliable stream, which ebbed and flowed throughout the years as the economy vacillated and the whims of legislators shifted away from the arts and back again.

Two constants were the Bard’s words pouring out over Delaware Park and the faithful audience, which grew every year as the festival shed its origins as a classroom project and became an intergenerational tradition.

Elkin said he never expected his efforts to produce a Western New York cultural institution.

“I think what moved me was the number of people who came to the park,” Elkin said. “And I thought, this is a classroom exercise. I can’t and won’t charge admission. And then I realized, I can never charge admission. That’s not what this is about.”

What it was about was a vast, untapped and under-recognized appetite from across the entire region for Shakespearean drama in an outdoor setting. To Elkin’s surprise and that of his early collaborators, that appetite spanned neighborhoods and socioeconomic lines, drawing picnic-toting fans from the toniest suburbs to the toughest city blocks.

“It wasn’t just that people were showing up because it was free,” Elkin said. “They were showing up because it was a particular kind of event. Maybe it was because other similar events were unaffordable. Maybe tickets for a family at Shea’s were unaffordable, but it was more than that too. It was about sharing these wonderful plays. And then I think what people discovered was that the plays weren’t as off-putting as they thought they were.”

For Lisa Ludwig, the company’s managing director and a frequent performer on the SDP stage, the appeal of the outdoor setting is a huge part of its lasting appeal.

“When the sun is setting and the stage lights are just starting to glow, and you see everybody lighting their candles … As a performer, and in the audience, there’s nothing like it,” she said. “That’s a really amazing moment. Magical is the word.”

The company’s approach to Shakespeare’s plays throughout the years has balanced an abiding respect for the original material with a desire to extend the playwright’s ideas into a new century and toward new conceptual ends.

Switching up gender roles

This season, which features “Romeo and Juliet” and an all-male version of “Twelfth Night,” is an example of that approach. Both productions take a contemporary approach to gender fluidity – a topic on everyone’s mind since Caitlyn Jenner’s announcement – the first by featuring female actors in male roles and the second by harkening back to the Elizabethan practice of producing plays with entirely male casts.

In “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Tom Loughlin and starring Jonas Barranca and Kathleen Denecke, women play crucial roles: Romeo’s cousin Benvolio (Marie Costa), Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (Mary Beth Lacki), as well as Prince Escalus (Marisa Caruso) and the Capulet servant Gregory (Shelby Ebeling).

“Twelfth Night,” which Steve Vaughan will direct, was inspired by recent all-male productions of Shakespeare plays.

“It’s really about discovering what qualities a character has that emerge when they are a young man playing a young woman,” he said. “… It’s really about gender and what it brings to the story.”

In the case of “Romeo and Juliet,” what it brings to the story is a kind of reconfigured machismo embodied by actors like Lacki, who is not soft-pedaling any of Tybalt’s violent tendencies and has embraced the swordplay involved in the role.

“You really see an extreme sense of joy and life and you see love and sexual tension. But then with Tybalt you see the darker side of this human character,” Lacki said.

This will be the fifth production of “Romeo and Juliet” in the company’s history, and chances are there will be plenty of return customers on the hill this time around.

And Elkin, who is reprising his role as Friar Laurence, will be there to greet them as he once again steps in front of the chattering crowd, breathes in the twilight and sets up a tale of star-crossed lovers on the stage he built.

“There’s a lot of people who have a sentimental attachment to this festival. They come with their children, they come when they grow up,” Elkin said. “It’s very moving to me. I hadn’t anticipated it, but I relish it now.”


SDP’s 40th Anniversary Season begins June 18!





May, 2015 Buffalo, NY … Shakespeare in Delaware Park is pleased to announce its 40th anniversary season of free professional outdoor theater will begin NEXT Thursday.  This summer’s amazing season will begin June 18th when audience favorite ROMEO AND JULIET hits the stage.  Founder and artistic director Saul Elkin plays Friar Lawrence along with new faces Kathleen Denecke and Jonas Barranca playing the star crossed lovers. Director Tom Loughlin has also cast many SDP veterans including Peter Palmisano, Lisa Ludwig, Gerry Maher and Eileen Dugan.  The beloved TWELFTH NIGHT, will be the second offering of the summer featuring a star studded all male cast.

Shakespeare in Delaware Park reaches over 40,000 audience members each season and is excited to be celebrating 40 incredible years of high-quality professional theatre.  SDP is proud to remain as one of the largest FREE outdoor Shakespeare festivals in the county.  ROMEO AND JULIET runs June 18th – July 12th with TWELFTH NIGHT on stage July 23rd –August 16th.  Performances are held every evening (except Mondays) at 7:30 p.m.  Shows take place on Shakespeare Hill in Delaware Park, next to Hoyt Lake behind the Rose Garden, off Lincoln Parkway near the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Further information may be obtained at or by calling (716) 856-4533. Or like us on facebook at See you on the hill.







R&J Poster

R&J Fight Combat Sneak Peek

A sneak peek of characters Tybalt (played by Mary Beth Lacki) & Romeo (played by Jonas Barranca) fighting in our upcoming production of Romeo & Juliet, opening June 18!

Posted by Shakespeare in Delaware Park on Monday, June 8, 2015

Celebrating 40th Season on AM Buffalo!


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) – Saul Elkin invites Linda to see Shakespeare in Delaware Park, a free theatre involving stage adaptations of Romeo & Juliet and Twelfth Night.

Romeo & Juliet will begin on June 18th and run until July 12th.

Twelfth Night will begin on July 23rd and run until August 16th.

The performances will begin every night (except Mondays) starting at 7:30 P.M.

For more information, visit their website at

Or call their phone number, 716-856-4533.

Like them on Facebook at

Five questions with Tom Loughlin

Five questions with Tom Loughlin


“Romeo and Juliet” director Tom Loughlin


Tom Loughlin is more than just an award-winning actor. He is chair of SUNY Fredonia’s Department of Theatre and Dance and a Distinguished Teaching Professor. He performs in Buffalo whenever he can; his resume includes: Kavinoky Theatre, the Irish Classical Theatre Company, and a widely praised portrayal of Oscar in The Odd Couple, which just concluded its run at the Jewish Repertory Theatre. For more than a dozen summers, Loughlin has spent his break from school working with Shakespeare in Delaware Park six nights per week. He will direct SIDP’s first play of the season, Romeo and Juliet, starting June 18. Is he really Superman, spending his days as a Clark Kent-like professor and thespian? Does he sleep? Forever Young needed to find out.


Between your commitments at SUNY Fredonia and directing the first Shakespeare in Delaware Park play of the season, your dance card must be full. How do you do it?
Luckily enough, my academic year ends just as rehearsals start, so my commitments at Fredonia, while not completely eliminated, are reduced greatly. That allows me to concentrate a bit more on my directing duties without wearing myself out too much. I consider myself quite fortunate in that regard.


Of all the SIDP plays you’ve acted in over the years, which role was your favorite and which play do you look back on most fondly?
It’s always tough to choose when asked this question, but I guess I would have to say that playing Claudius in the 1995 production of Hamlet really stands out in my mind. That was a time when I think SIDP really started to come into its own artistically. It was my first shot at Claudius, and I was lucky to play that role against Billy Gonta, who was a terrific Hamlet. For me it was a real turning point, and I think it was a role and an opportunity that allowed me to get to the next level in playing Shakespeare.


How did it feel to receive the 2014 Artie Award “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play” for your portrayal of Polonius in Hamlet?
Truthfully, I am not all that big into acting awards, and I actually try to avoid the spotlight. But I can’t deny the recognition was very much appreciated and welcomed. I think the biggest thrill of that evening was that the award was presented to me by two of the people in Buffalo I love most to work with — Tim Newell and Eileen Dugan. Seeing those two on stage smiling at me as they gave me the award was just a very warm and wonderful experience.


Is there any role or any play you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t yet, and why?
King Lear. I have played Edgar once, Albany twice, and Gloucester once, and I love the play. But the opportunity to play Lear has just not come around yet. I think I am just at the age where I am old enough to grasp the role, but still young enough to play it with the emotional energy and force it needs to have. Right now that role is the mountaintop for me.


What advice would you give SIDP newbies? (Actors, attendees, or both.)
I think the most important thing I could impress upon newbies is that Shakespeare is not that hard. You just need to open your heart to the full humanity that is Shakespeare’s characters and language. There is no other playwright in the English language who writes with such a deep understanding of and love for the human condition. He’s not that hard to grasp once you understand he is speaking from his heart to your heart, from his humanity to yours, and does so with everything from bawdy humor to heart-wrenching sorrow. I think SIDP’s greatest advantage is that it allows actors and audiences alike the opportunity to enjoy all that amidst a beautiful natural setting on soft summer evenings. It doesn’t get better than that.


Forever Young Managing Editor April Diodato’s first Shakespeare in Delaware Park experience was watching Tom Loughlin play Polonius in the 2013 production of Hamlet.

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