Outdoor theatre has been around since the Greeks and Romans built those massive open-air amphitheaters. Here in the US, we tend to think that outdoor Shakespeare began in the 19th and 20th centuries. But presenting Shakespeare outside actually began with, well, Shakespeare.
Elizabethan playhouses were open to the sky to accommodate big crowds and get the audience as close to the actors as possible. Crowds were often rowdy, so seeing a play was more like going a fair. In England, with the exception of the Scottish Highlands there’s a summer Shakespeare performance about every 20 miles.
Though American geography is much more expansive, we’ve long had a plethora of summer performances, too. In 1933 at the Chicago World’s Fair – and again at the San Diego World’s Fair the next year – troupes performed plays by the Bard for seven shows a day, every day! No festival does that now, but there are at least 51 Shakespeare festivals across the US – about one for every state. And Delaware has its own under-the-stars tradition.
Each summer for 18 years – except for 2020 and 2021 – the actors and theater artisans of Delaware Shakespeare dramatically transform Wilmington’s beautiful Rockwood Park. Throughout its bucolic 72 acres they’ve created the Forest of Arden (As You Like It), a magical island kingdom (The Tempest), an Athenian wood (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and over a dozen other locales and Shakespeare plays.
The Park’s hundred-year-old towering trees and open meadows surround a Gothic mansion that’s on the National Register of Historic Places and offers well-known ghost tours. So Rockwood is perfect for the Bard’s outdoor locales, especially the spooky ones! And this summer, 13 years (an ominous number) after it first presented Macbeth, Del Shakes heads again to medieval Scotland.
From July 21 through August 6, they’ll re-create the menacing Dunsinane woods and Glamis Castle, home of skullduggery, overweening ambition, regicide, ghostly apparitions – and the murderer Macbeth and his ambitious wife. Directed by Philadelphia’s AZ Espinoza, this is one of the Bard’s shortest and most ruthless plays, which probably accounts for why it’s also one of his most popular, most produced works.
Summer Fun at Delaware Shakespeare Festival
Successful in battle, the noble warrior Macbeth is headed home for a victory celebration. His path takes him through a mysterious forest, where he’s accosted by three supernatural “weird sisters” (witches to us). The trio chants a prophecy that leads Macbeth and his wife down a bloody path of ambition, treachery, lies, and murders as they relentlessly pursue political power.
Del Shakes last produced Macbeth at Rockwood in 2010, and the company will again take full advantage of the park’s rocks, trees, and groves to create the moody mystery of this famous play. As the company of actors ranges through Rockwood’s terrain, the violence of murder and battle will be explored through movement and choreography rather than with literal stage combat.
Artistic Director David Stradley notes that Del Shakes is "excited to re-examine the play with a wildly creative ensemble of actors and artists to see how Shakespeare's supernatural thriller can come to life and connect to our lives today." They’ll do that by focusing on Shakespeare’s famous trio of witches, placed at the center of this athletic production. Stradley says the show will explore “how a group of people on the fringes of society can still wield power.”
In true festival style, the audience sits amid the action. Theatergoers bring chairs, blankets, and picnic fare – or purchase snacks, sandwiches, and libations at the refreshments tent. About a half hour before the play starts, the company “warms up” the crowd with games, Shakespeare trivia, and general hijinks.
But when the lights go up – and the sun goes down – it’s all about the play, and this one is filled with mystery, mayhem, and spooky magic. As well, Macbeth has some of the most famous words in Shakespeare. There’s lots of “double, double, toil and trouble.” Lady Macbeth wails “out, out, damned spot” while her husband bemoans about “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” in “a tale filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
You won’t walk away from this production with nothing, though. Delaware Shakespeare’s Rockwood Park performances always create a memorable evening, one full of camaraderie, great storytelling, and the magic that only live theater can offer.