Nature meets culture at Shakespeare in Delaware Park

Angelica Rodriguez, Culture Editor • March 19, 2014

Nature meets culture at Shakespeare in Delaware Park

There is a hill nestled in the northwest corner of Delaware Park, near Hoyt Lake, that attracts a crowd on nearly any given summer evening from June to August. This mass of people isn’t loud; it hasn’t gathered to protest or to show its pride – at least, not here. Instead, it has flocked to one central location – a wooden stage.

On what is dubbed Shakespeare Hill, people bring lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets full of food and wine. They each stake their claim on a patch of grass for the evening as the sun lowers in the sky. Once the main event begins, dusk will creep upon them, and as the sun sets, the lights of the outdoor theater will take over, almost imperceptible in the midst of the spell William Shakespeare’s words create.

At this meeting place, nature and culture become one, along with what Steve Vaughan calls “the ambiance of a Buffalo summer” – kids, dogs, helicopters overhead and ambulances screaming down Elmwood Avenue or the Scajaquada Expressway. As the suspense, comedy and climax weave an intricate web in the mind of the audience, though, the rest of the noises fade into the background, leaving room for the unique experience of Shakespeare in Delaware Park (SDP).

“It’s a beautiful thing, watching the sun go down and seeing the stage lights take over,” said Vaughan, an actor, fight director and director of “The Comedy of Errors” for this year. “I love working there … it’s part of the fabric of Buffalo tradition.”


Although the productions only last through the summer, the organization works year-round. At this point, according to managing director Lisa Ludwig, it has gotten production teams in place, held auditions, and cast the shows. The Fall Fundraiser, a staged reading to raise money for the organization, has come and gone, and everyone is gearing up for the 20th annual Fabulous Feast April 5, which is an auction and five-course Elizabethan meal complete with costumes, mead and grog, as well as entertainment.

The money raised from these and other events, as well as “passing the hat” (collecting donations during intermissions), goes toward the organization’s production costs.

“Every year, we budget what we hope to make while passing the hat, based on previous years, the economic situation at the time, government funding, et cetera,” Ludwig said. “We do a speech at intermission every night to explain the passing of the hat. If we’re having a tough season due to weather… we adjust the speech to reflect that.”

There are also memberships Shakespeare lovers can purchase, which start at $50 and include perks that increase with each price tier. These are an important part of the equation, according to Ludwig.

The budget is a huge factor, and that really affects the decision-making I have to do during the design phase.”

— Ronald Schwartz, scenery and properties designer

“It’s not that they have dropped off – we are just always looking for more people to be a part of the SDP family, and membership is the perfect way to be part of such an important cultural jewel in Western New York,” she said.

Due to the arbitrary nature of fundraising, SDP has to operate on a somewhat tight budget. It has had a partnership with Shea’s Performing Arts Center for the past four years to use rehearsal space with them until the week before opening, which is when rehearsals move outdoors. Scenery and properties designer Ronald Schwartz, also SUNY Buffalo State’s technical designer for the theater department, said he considers recycling and reusing stock elements as well.

“The budget is a huge factor, and that really affects the decision-making I have to do during the design phase,” he said, adding that he also has contacts and local resources to help him flesh out the rest of his designs before they get approved by the director and fellow designers.

The fact that the organization has done this for 39 years speaks volumes about the effort everyone has put in, not to mention the loyalty it has built up.

“We just do our job by putting up professional-quality productions and let our audience know that we are able to do this because of their support when we pass the hat,” Ludwig said.


This coming summer, in fact, is the one that marks SDP’s 39th anniversary. Anthony Chase, the assistant dean of arts and humanities at Buffalo State and founding theater editor of Artvoice, has written about the organization for 24 years. As a result, he has watched it grow from a component of the University at Buffalo’s dance and theater programs into one of the largest and most attended free outdoor Shakespeare events in the nation.

“It’s a rather remarkable opportunity,” Chase said. “By the time someone is out of high school, they could have seen 12 Shakespeare plays. It’s very unusual, and a tremendous cultural asset which brings people together.”

That is, if one takes advantage of the festival while they can – and there is plenty of incentive to do so. Shakespeare Hill lies within a five-minute walk from Rockwell Hall – practically in Buffalo State’s front yard – which means students attending during summer can find entertainment easily. It is basically free – actors pass the hat, collecting donations from willing audience members, but there is no minimum donation amount.

“You can put in one dollar and feel totally comfortable with doing that,” Chase said.

There is also a sort of dramatic utilitarianism to Shakespeare – it is highbrow entertainment (Queen Elizabeth herself watched his plays), and at the same time can amuse the masses, as the playwright needed to entertain the full spectrum of society.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream," from 2012

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” from 2012

Last, as Chase explained, Shakespeare and his contemporaries transformed the English language into poetry.

“(They) took a language that was not elegant — there was no great poetry written in English because it is a clumsy language,” he said. “Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson – they took a clumsy language with most of its words borrowed from other languages and made something spectacular.

Shakespeare is always clever. The (imagery), the clever puns, the dirty jokes – he is always clever, always entertaining.”


SDP is preparing “Henry V” and “The Comedy of Errors” for the stage this coming season, as picked by founder and artistic director Saul Elkin. Usually one production follows traditional interpretation (in this case, “Henry V”); the other, often a comedy, goes in another direction entirely.

Ann Emo, an associate theater professor at Buffalo State and costume designer for SDP, won an Artie Award from Artvoice for her work on the costumes for “The Tempest” in 2009-2010.

“(It) was set on a ‘tropical island’ of sorts off of Brazil,” she said. “We made the place up – it is not real… I did a lot of painting and natural objects in the costumes. That was fun and fantastical.”

For his part, Chase remembers an interpretation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with a Hollywood fantasy theme.

“There were Busby Berkeley chorus girls,” he recalled. “There was also a Fred and Ginger-type of exchange between Oberon and Titania. It was very inventive.”

Vaughan’s take on “The Comedy of Errors” will involve the popular scifi elements of steampunk and dieselpunk, the former of which is neo-Victorian, while the latter involves aesthetics from the era between the first two World Wars. The music will all be live, with musicians playing from the stage as actors, which he admitted might be a limitation depending on skill set – but he added that he and composer Randy Andropolis will work with whatever they have.

“The concept theme we’re thinking of is around the Industrial Revolution,” he said. “We’re probably making up our own style here.”

Vaughan, who is also a theater lecturer at Buffalo State, chose not to do the play in a traditional manner because “the tights and ruffles didn’t add anything.

“This play is about people – about how, when people become emotional, they stop thinking,” he said.


Whether in ruffs and tights or barefoot, the actors and crew have given the audience thrills for close to four decades, with “one of the most beautiful parks in America,” in Chase’s words, as their backdrop.

“It’s very social,” he said. “It’s in a beautiful park setting… everyone gets to commune with each other and with nature.

“There’s an element to all theater experiences in that they bring people together. They laugh together, become frightened together, feel suspense together. It’s a communal, life-affirming experience.”


Twitter: @A_Rodriguez39

SDP Announces 2014 Season Auditions


FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT                       Lisa Ludwig 716-856-4533



Shakespeare in Delaware Park, Inc. Announces 2014 Season Auditions

Auditions for Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s 39th season will be held on February 15, 16, 17

 Saturday February 15th – 9am to 2pm      OPEN CALL

Sunday February 16th –  9am to 1pm       CALL BACKS

Monday February 17th  – 5pm to 9pm       CALL BACKS


Auditions will be held at The Market Arcade Building –617 Main Street Buffalo 14203 (this is NOT the Market Arcade “Movie” Complex)


OPEN CALL  AUDITIONS ARE BY APPOINTMENT ONLY. Everyone interested in being considered for the 2014 season must make an audition appointment.  To arrange an appointment, please call (716) 856-4533on or after February 3rd (NO audition appointments will be accepted before February 3rd).


This year’s productions include:

HENRY V –June 19th  through July 13th –Directed by Saul Elkin

COMEDY OF ERRORSJuly 24th through August 17th —Directed by Steve Vaughan


Actors should prepare one memorized, Shakespearean monologue, not to exceed 2 minutes. Actors who can play musical instruments are needed for Comedy of Errors. If you have played a “principal role” for Shakespeare in Delaware Park in the past you do not need to prepare a monologue, you may call to see if you are needed for a call back audition appointment.  All Actors are requested to bring a resume/career bio and a head shot to the audition. Please note the roles of Chorus, Fluellen, Pistol and The Abbess have been cast.  ALL other roles are open at this time.


Saul Elkin Reflects on Shakespeare in Delaware Park


Shakespeare in Delaware Park continues its 38th season Friday evening when “Measure for Measure” opens at 7:30 p.m. It is the second production of the season, following the presentation of “Hamlet,” which brought large crowds to the park.  WBFO’s Jay Moran sat down with Saul Elkin, Founder and Artistic Director of Shakespeare in Delaware Park, to talk about the productions and the history of the summer tradition.


At age 81, Elkin directed Hamlet, but for Measure for Measure, he has tabbed Brian Cavanaugh to take the play in a much different direction.

Credit Photo from Shakespeare in Delaware Park Website
Saul Elkin in Shakespeare in Delaware Park.


Elkin says Cavanaugh “has moved it from Vienna to Vienna, Texas in the 19th Century and turns it into a Western.”

“Very little had to be changed. And even doing the play with a slight Texas twang works with Shakespeare’s poetry. It’s interesting. It’s fun. So, now everybody is in cowboy outfits with holsters and guns.”



While weather conditions play a large role in the size of audiences, Elkin believes there is a fundamental principle behind Shakespeare In Delaware Park’s emergence as a community institution.

“There is a reason why these plays continue to be done, these 400-year-old plays. A lot of it has to do with the quality of the writing,” Elkin said.

“I think that’s what attracts audiences.”

Now with an annual budget around $400,000, Shakespeare in Delaware Park has grown from humble origins.


Credit WBFO News file photo
Past Shakespeare in Delaware Park performance.


Elkin says he was encouraged to start a Shakespeare festival by his mentor, Joseph Papp. That prompted a phone call to the office of then-Buffalo Mayor Stanley Makowski.

With the blessings of the city parks officials, Makowski granted Elkin the chance to bring Shakespeare to Delaware Park with one key provision.

“I can’t give you any money,” Elkin said, laughing at the recollection.

Elkin says the city, as well as the county, has become a key partner in the company’s success. He’s also quick to credit his fellow staff members and the many patrons of Shakespeare in Delaware Park.

That support has allowed Shakespeare in Delaware Park to provide professional productions to tens of thousands free of charge for 38 years.

Despite the accessibility, Elkin acknowledges that some still shy away from Shakespeare, perhaps associating it with the painful memories of a high school literature class. To those, Elkin offers some encouraging thoughts.

“Be open to what happens on the stage. There is a story to be told. Focus on the story. If the language is an obstacle, focus on the actors, focus on the story, focus on the characters.”

“People who enjoy the productions at the park, never complain about the difficulty of the language because it becomes a secondary issue. It’s like hearing beautiful music, you don’t have to be a musician.”

Starting Friday night, “Measure for Measure” can be viewed Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m. until August 18 in Delaware Park.

Shakespeare in the Park brings stories alive in Buffalo

By Naomi Soman 

August 23, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc.


Whether you love Shakespeare’s plays or you hate them, everyone loves Shakespeare in the Park. Shakespeare in Delaware Park has been a Buffalo, N.Y., tradition since 1976. Free and open to the public, performances take place Tuesday through Sunday in a beautiful park in the city of Buffalo. This summer, hundreds of Buffalonians came out to watch “Hamlet” from June 20 to July 14 and “Measure for Measure” from July 25 to Aug. 18.

“Hamlet” is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known, iconic tragedies. In this play, Hamlet’s father, the king, dies and the king’s brother Claudius marries Hamlet’s mother Gertrude. He assumes the crown shortly after his sibling’s passing. The ghost of the former king haunts his son to tell him that Claudius murdered him, and to encourage Hamlet to avenge his father’s death. With his suspicions confirmed, Hamlet devises a plot to expose his treacherous uncle. Unfortunately, he ends up in a sword fight against Claudius’s henchman Laertes. As in all Shakespearean tragedies, almost everyone ends up dead on the stage when all is said and done, including Hamlet, Claudius and Gertrude.

I read “Hamlet” twice during the past two semesters, so I was intrigued to see this interpretation of the play. The set and costumes were quite impressive for a free, outdoor theater. The set consisted of multiple levels and staircases, which allowed the actors to hide from other characters or create more space and dimension in the scene.

While Claudius (Tim Newell) had a great stage presence and played his part well, Hamlet (Shaun Sheley) fell a little short. Shakespeare did not specify Hamlet’s age in the play, so critics debate whether he is more of a whiny teenager or a young man in his upper twenties or early thirties. The actor, Sheley, was much older, and while he had a lot of acting experience, he did not quite fit the part. For one, it looked strange to see someone as old as himself pouting and throwing temper tantrums at his deceased father. Throughout the text, Hamlet borders on insanity, forcing the reader to decide whether or not he has lost his mind, but this director chose to portray him as cool and collected as if he knew exactly what he was doing the entire time.

And even though the director cut scenes from the text, the play was still a bit too long. It ran for more than two and a half hours, which is a long time to sit on a hill at night. Overall, the performance’s ending was very well done, with an exciting sword fight and dramatic finish.

Shakespeare in Delaware Park always puts on a comedy to balance out the tragedy, and they assume a lighter mood and play around with theme. This year’s comedy, “Measure for Measure,” took place in what appeared to be America’s Wild West, though they claimed it to be Vienna. Complete with music, a sheriff and saloon girls, this production was a blast to watch.

“Measure for Measure” is not as well-known as “Hamlet,” yet the plot is more similar to a modern soap opera than sixteenth century literature. In Shakespeare’s version, a duke decides to go undercover to see what will go on during his absence. When he puts his deputy, Angelo, in charge, Angelo decides to enforce the rules—which includes persecuting premarital sex—with an iron fist. To set an example, he arrests and plans to execute Claudio, who impregnated his lover Juliet. When hearing of this, Claudio’s sister and soon-to-be nun, Isabella, begs Angelo to reconsider. He decides to comply, ironically, only if Isabella sleeps with him. Remaining chaste, she enlists the help of the undercover duke to trick Angelo into sleeping with his former lover Mariana, only revealing the tricks and the duke himself.

In this musical adaptation, the duke was a sheriff and the play was full of saloon girls, cowboys, western accents and country western tunes. Although many traditionalists do not like tinkering with Shakespeare’s original script, the play lent itself quite well to the theme change. The set was not elaborate and the smattering of props did the trick. The audience not only laughed at the sprinkled sexual humor throughout but also sang along with the popular melodies including “Home on the Range,” “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and “Happy Trails.” Pompey (Ray Boucher) took the spotlight with his endearing comedy and Lucio (Zak Ward) brought a spark to the performance with his charisma.

Shakespeare in the Park is popular nationwide, but Buffalo’s own in Delaware Park is one of the city’s gems; the cast and crew proved itself again with these two wonderful productions.

– See more at:

Measure for Measure


MEASURE FOR MEASURE Shakespeare in Delaware Park
Jul 27, 2013, 21:57

Through August 18
MEASURE FOR MEASURE Shakespeare in Delaware Park

By Augustine Warner

Shakespeare wrote for an open-air theater on the South Bank of the Thames and probably dressed the casts in the clothes of the day.
We’re reluctant to do so since that’s…old-fashioned.
Instead, directors update Shakespeare or tinker with him or move the stage events to somewhere else or some when else.
For Shakespeare in Delaware Park, director Brian Cavanagh has moved “Measure for Measure” from Vienna, Austria in some time long ago to Vienna, Texas in the days of the Old West, moving Vincentio (Matt Witten) from duke to sheriff.
Cavanagh tosses in a lot of music from classic Westerns TV and big screen, as well as a lot of Western songs and a lot of Shakespearean jokes, P Yorick Mercantile or Wells-Fargo with a corporate motto of “All The World’s a Stagecoach.”
It actually works pretty well, with only a few clangers.
Some times, it can be a little implausible, like the sheriff’s jail having a basement and then a cellblock even further into the ground.
Most sheriffs probably were lucky if they had stone or brick walls.
Sheriff Vincentio is bored with his job and decides to go on the road, leaving his deputy, Angelo (Patrick Moltane), and his buddy, Escalus (Steve Petersen), in charge.
The sheriff believes his Deputy is a good man and trustworthy.
He isn’t.
Soon, with the sheriff still among the missing the deputy is suppressing the bars and brothels and using his iron fist to make the community the way he wants it.
There’s also the problem of Claudio (Brian Zybala) who has made Juliet (Kathryn Sands) pregnant and faces execution for it and Angelo plans to go ahead.
Isabella (Susan Drozd), Claudio’s sister, is a novice nun who leaves her cloistered convent to plead for her brother’s life.
Angelo falls in lust with her and says he will stall her brother’s execution if she sleeps with him.
What messes up his plans is that the sheriff is actually around, disguised as a friar who everyone treats respectfully because of his brown robes without asking many questions.
No one seems to notice this friar who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
He starts sabotaging his Deputy while spreading word the Sheriff still isn’t coming back.
When Isabella shows up to sleep with the Deputy, it’s really Mariana (Diane Curley) who was once engaged to him but he pulled out of the relationship when her dowry went down at sea.
In the solution, Claudio escapes death and winds up with Juliet and the Deputy has to marry Mariana to escape awful punishment for his deeds in power.
Shakespeare did love to wind up with multiple weddings.
Even the Sheriff winds up with a wife, in this case Isabella.
Without being completely familiar with “Measure for Measure,” I think Cavanagh did some cutting here and there to help make it work.
Actually it does, although when you hear the music for “The Magnificent Seven,” you are reminded of the mythology of the West that Cavanagh is tapping into.
The best you can do is just go with it, ride your palamino into Vienna, Texas and watch what’s happening, as long as you aren’t engaged in any activity the Deputy doesn’t approve of.
Besides some strong work from Witten, there’s also Lucio’s comic turn from Zak Ward, Curley’s relatively small rose as Mariana, Drozd’s Isabella and Moltane’s well-dressed and iron-backed Angelo.
There’s also some nice singing from Sheila Connors as Madame Overdone.
Measure for Measure has a nice set design from Cavanagh and those town signs from Chris Schenk.
As I said, get on your horse, lubricate your spurs and ride into town.

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