In 1976, Saul Elkin, the Founder and Artistic Director of Buffalo’s Shakespeare in the Park was encouraged to develop a free Shakespeare Theater Festival in Buffalo, resembling the famous one in New York City. Buffalo Mayor Makowski at that time gave Saul Elkin permission to use Delaware Park for the performances, and pledged to fund the electricity costs for the production.
William Shakespeare Wikimedia
Shakespeare in the Park, now in its 41st year, is now an annual summertime activity in Buffalo, staged near the Rose Garden and overlooking Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park. Two Shakespearean plays are featured each season in the outdoor theater; one is a comedy and one is a tragedy. This year, “The Winter’s Tale” will run from June 23 through July 17. “The Taming of the Shrew” will run from July 28 through August 21. The show can be seen Tuesday through Sunday, beginning at 7:30 p.m. and ending by 11 p.m. The amazing aspect of Shakespeare in the Park is that the performances are all free.
It is a good idea to come early, even one hour before the performance begins, since parking is an issue, and it could be unpleasant to walk a long distance after parking your car. Audience members bring their own lawn chairs or blankets, and are encouraged also to bring their own food and drink. If small children come along, it might be a good idea to bring pillows so that the children can fall asleep while their parents are watching the show.
Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park, Buffalo, NY Wikimedia
Bring Your Own Food
The play goers bring a variety of foods to sample before the show and during the intermission which usually occurs about 9 p.m. Savory fruit and cheese plates, sandwiches, salads, topped by a bottle of wine are seen throughout Shakespeare Hill on play nights. There is a concession stand where hot dogs, popcorn, and other snacks and beverages can be purchased. A Food Truck stops by occasionally to offer their specialties. A local Pizza place has a flier in the program, stating that they will deliver a pizza right to your blanket. It is suggested that patrons bring bug repellant, since mosquitos are prevalent and can be annoying.
Donations are Appreciated
During intermission, cast members stroll through the crowds, asking for donations. Any amount, or even nothing, is acceptable. The players often partake of some of the food provided by the audience as they mingle with the crowd. Small private and public subsidies from a variety of sources provide support along with the patrons who continue to be generous.
Port-a-Potties are clean and available on the premises, although it can be busy at intermission time. A gift hut on the grounds sells some unique souvenirs, such as sweat shirts, plastic wine sippy cups, tote bags, pens, and umbrellas. Community support of this project helps to keep this wonderful tradition free to the public.
Frederick Law Olmsted Wikimedia
Performance by a High Quality Cast
The theatre troupe is amazingly talented and witty. Shakespeare performed on a stage is much better than you see in the movies. The majority of actors come from the Buffalo area. There are between 20 and 30 professional actors in each production, giving local actors a great opportunity for exposure. Shakespeare writes in iambic pentameter, so the cast needs to become accustomed to the peculiarities in order to allow their speech to flow smoothly. Sometimes notable professional actors appear in the cast under a special agreement with Actors’ Equity Association. High school interns are often given small parts, allowing them to experience being on stage or in the background, moving furniture. Auditions are held annually before the summer season, through a process at the company’s office at the Pfeifer Theater in Buffalo. There are about 23 professional theater companies in Buffalo providing a huge pool of talent, and insuring that the acting is always of very high quality. In addition, the costumes and lighting have always received good reviews.
Successful Capital Campaign
Shakespeare in the Park was originally a part of the University of Buffalo’s theater department. In the early 1990’s, budget cuts nearly put the company out of business. They were forced to leave the University of Buffalo and to reorganize as an independent nonprofit company. This year, thanks to a $1.3 million capital campaign, the show is getting a face lift. After using the old stage for the past 20 years, a new stage has its debut this year, and is better designed to handle small amounts of rain or light mist.
A Remarkable Setting
The natural grassy amphitheater under the stars provides perfect seating on what is now called “Shakespeare Hill.” The gently sloping hill allows everyone an unobstructed view of the stage. Buffalo’s Delaware Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted who undoubtedly never foresaw what his design has permitted the citizens of Buffalo to enjoy. Blankets allow the patrons to come closer to the stage and stake their claim to a small piece of land. The audience often views a beautiful sunset as they are being entertained.
William Shakespeare Central Park, NYC Wikimedia
Second Only to New York City
Shakespeare in the Park in Buffalo has an audience of over 50,000 people every season, giving it the distinction of being the second largest Shakespeare festival in the country, after New York City. In Buffalo, over 80 productions have been mounted in the 41 years that Shakespeare in Delaware Park has been running. It is interesting that New York’s Shakespeare in the Park is performing “A Winter’s Tale” at the same time that it is being presented in Buffalo.
A Diverse Audience
Audiences for Shakespeare in the Park come from diverse communities, giving the population an opportunity to savor a form of entertainment which might not otherwise be available to them. Audiences are unusually quiet, wanting to catch every word, and to view every nuance in the expressions of the actors as they speak their lines.
I am so proud of the city of Buffalo; an appetite for the theater exists here, and to think that citizens are provided the highest forms of entertainment at little or no cost is a phenomenon that makes us all proud. The outdoor setting is a huge part of its lasting appeal.
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