David Stradley, who helped Delaware Shakespeare evolve from a one-trick pony to a multifaceted year-round organization with multiple programs, will leave at the end of 2023.
The 21-year-old arts organization will start a search for two new leaders — a managing director and an artistic director — to replace Stradley, who led Delaware’s only professional Shakespeare organization as producing artistic director for 12 years.
“While I stepped away to go on paternity leave earlier this year, I was thrilled to see new artists and staff step up in exciting ways, to further evolve the way Del Shakes shares excellent community-engaged theater,” Stradley said. “After 12 years of leading Delaware Shakespeare, this feels like a very good time to step aside to focus more on my family, while new leadership can drive the next phase of Del Shakes’ evolution.”
Stradley is credited with transforming the organization through programming that expanded access to live theater and created space for diverse new voices, both on stage and behind the scenes.
Board President Julie Russ noted that when Stradley came aboard, the organization only had one production a year — the summer festival.
“Thanks to David’s tireless work and dedication, many of those visions have come to pass,” Russ said. “But if we are going to continue to grow, we need to make sure we have the institutional support we need.”
The Stradley impact
During this tenure, the organization said, Stradley:
- Created the Delaware Shakespeare Community Tour, which tours the state bringing professional theater to audiences in prisons, homeless shelters, rural libraries and community centers and has garnered national attention and praise
- Increased the company’s budget nearly sevenfold, with a special focus on increasing artists’ fees
- Built a staff of 2.5 employees
- Shepherded the creation of an antiracism policy and the development of the Artistic Squad, an innovative program designed to bring diverse voices into creative and management decisions
- Along with Del Shakes’ development team, increased fundraising income by more than 1100%, including large national and regional grants from National Endowment for the Arts, Theatre Communications Group/Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Longwood Foundation and Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation
- Developed regular year-round programming, driven by collaborative relationships with arts and non-arts organizations alike: Longwood Gardens, The Grand Opera House, Delaware Symphony Orchestra, Delaware Arts Museum, OperaDelaware, Cityfest/City of Wilmington, Christina Cultural Arts Center, First State Ballet Theater, Winterthur; Department of Corrections, Delaware Psychiatric Center, Delaware Historical Society, Latin American Community Center, Delaware State University, Lewes Public Library and more.
During the pandemic, Stradley created multiple ways to connect artists with audiences and keep the organization top of mind for arts lovers.
He started with the daily Delaware Shakespeare Sonnet Project and added free performances in Rodney Square, outdoor and safely staged versions of popular seasonal shows at the Delaware Art Museum and county parks, poetry events at Rockwood Park and the Christina Cultural Arts Center, and more.
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“It’s been the honor of my professional life to serve as the leader of Delaware Shakespeare,” Stradley said in a press release. “The moments that gave me the most satisfaction are when we connected with people who may not think Shakespeare or theater is for them, and then in turn were inspired by the perspectives of those audience members to create productions that generated excitement for the broadest possible reach of our community.”
That included a dad stopping his truck at Rodney Square one night during ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and coming back with his kids the next show, Stradley said.
“Or a wife attending a ticketed performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as a way to share an experience with her husband who saw it at Howard R. Young Correctional Institution,” he said. “These connections inspired me, and I believe made our work at DelShakes stronger.”
The organization plans to celebrate Stradley’s tenure at the end of the year.
The final show of Stradley’s tenure, the Delaware Shakespeare Community tour production of “Cymbeline,” directed by Tai Varley, will open Oct. 4.
A gala performance to support the tour will be held Oct. 21 at OperaDelaware Studios. Tickets are available here.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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