Getting together in a large group for any reason still isn't really advisable with a global pandemic going on, but even being outdoors, social distance requirements are presenting some challenges for Delaware Shakespeare this year. 

"We're a professional theatre company in our 18th year of operations," said Producing Artistic Director David Stradley. "Our goal is to try to bring people together to explore their shared humanity, using the plays of Shakespeare and similar work to do that. We have two full production offerings that we do. Normally, during the course of the year, we typically do our outdoor Annual Summer Festival at Rockwood Park in July, and that's a three week run of a performance outdoors. And then, in the fall, we do what we call our community tour, where we take the Shakespeare production on the road and travel to places like prisons and homeless shelters and community centers and libraries, all up and down the state, trying to reach people that may not have easy access to professional theatre."

Because of the pandemic, the Rockwood Park festival will only return in an extremely limited--one day only--while a new method of presenting Shakespeare to the masses will take its place. 

"The big challenge is that what we do is gather large groups of people together to have shared experiences--and that's exactly what we can't do right now to try to keep keep health and safety in our community," Stradley said. "Normally at Rockwood Park in the summer, we'll have anywhere between 250 to 450 people out there at the park for the performance. We looked at whether it was possible to do our full production with a socially distance audience. We realized that would pretty much limit us to about 100 people on a given night. And just the pure economics of producing theater, it didn't make sense; we couldn't find a calculus to have that happen with only 100 people in the audience."

So while there will be one in-person day of events throughout the park, Delaware Shakespeare will be going virtual in 2020, so that people can continue to experience the tradition they've loved for more than six years while also saying safe. 

"That's where the idea came to pivot to this {Mostly} Virtual Festival came from, trying to highlight what people love about it," he said. "We tried to get creative and come up with three weekends of focused digital activity that will try to highlight and honor the things people love about coming out to Rockwood Park in the summer."

Over the three weekends, 11 of the 12 events offered will take place online, with a free picnic launch party that encourages viewer participation via social media, where people submit pictures of their own picnics at home while actors play recorded monologues all around the idea of eating and socializing. There will also be online discussions and recorded interviews with some of the actors on playing various characters. 

"Families are such a big part of the summer festival experience. People just love coming in multi-generational groups," he said. "So every Sunday, we're going to have a family Sunday event where we're going to have one of our artists read a short story online that's inspired by, or connected to, Shakespeare in some way and have some kind of online theater game that kids could play along, if they want to. So we're trying to be creative and trying to find ways to say, 'Hey, here are the things you love about the summer festival and although we can't gather in person, here's some ways we can still connect with it.'"

There's a planned date for August 1, 2020, that would allow an extremely limited amount of people--two groups of up to eight at a time in 15-minute intervals--where a guided "Soliloquy Stroll" would take place around the park and a half-dozen artists would deliver interactive soliloquies. However, even that is facing uncertainty as COVID-19 numbers increase around the region. 

"We're realizing that all of our friendly surrounding states are starting to encourage people who've been to Delaware to quarantine for 14 days, and we work with artists from all over the Tri-State area," Stradley said. "COVID is sending new directions at us every day, so we're assessing that."

Delaware Shakespeare 2020 calendar

Those interested in any part of the virtual programming should visit DelShakes.org for a full calendar of events, virtual links, and tickets.