Brittany Faulkingham had a problem.
After a year away due to COVID-19, the Delaware Ballet was ready to come back and do “The Nutcracker” this holiday season. The problem for Ms. Faulkingham, the company’s artistic director, was that their longtime home at Delaware State University is still not allowing outside organizations use of its theater due to coronavirus concerns.
“It is a big undertaking for them to allow that so I completely understand. But that left us without a home, essentially. And we looked into a couple of other options. We could have performed at a high school. There are a few high school auditoriums renting. But the theater aspects are different and we would have had to change our production in terms of our backdrops and our sets and it just would not have been the same experience,” Ms. Faulkingham explained.
“So I was talking to my board and I said ‘You know, if we’re going to have to change something and our production is going to be different in some way, I would much rather go full change. Let’s completely do something different instead of trying to come close to our regular production and falling short. I would rather go completely out of the box and do something we’ve never done before.’”
It was then that one of the board members mentioned Viola’s Loblolly Acres as a place to hold the performances. Starting as a humble family pumpkin and Christmas tree farm in Viola in 1964, Loblolly is on a quest to become an entertainment venue for Kent County. With a recently constructed massive stage and barn to hold events, Ms. Faulkingham got in touch with them and she had the answer she was looking for.
Delaware Ballet will perform the timeless classic Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. on Loblolly’s outdoor stage, marking what is perhaps a first in the area — “The Nutcracker” staged outdoors.
“It’s something new for the community. And I think there’s still understandably a lot of hesitation about large public events and so hopefully this offers a layer of comfort for those who may not want to go sit in an indoor theater and bring their young children,” Ms. Faulkingham said.
“We started talking to (Loblolly) a couple of months ago and everything just kind of fell into place and the idea got better and better as it went on. And it’s such a beautiful venue. The stage is incredible. It’s wonderful. I’m really, really excited.”
Ms. Faulkingham said the company has been working with Angela Zielen, the soon-to-be daughter-in-law of owner Cheryl Epps. Ms. Zielen is a professional dancer with First State Ballet and has taken the lead in booking events for the Viola stage and making sure all goes well this weekend.
“Aside from just being a great contact, she’s been able to be understanding from the ballet and theater side of things as well,” Ms. Faulkingham said.
There are some adjustments in going from the regular theater to Loblolly’s outdoor venue.
“When we go into a theater, there’s a bunch of overhead bars for us to hang our backdrops and work the production that way. And we don’t have that here. So we’ve been getting creative and I’m pretty sure we’re going to be able to offer the full experience to the audience,” Ms. Faulkingham said.
In the weekend shows, Lily Gibbs will play the Dew Drop Fairy; Abbie LaMotte and Aurora Fennemore are sharing the part of the Snow Queen; Brianna Price and Natalie Cuccinello share the role of Clara; and Isabella Gibbs is the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Ms. Zielen is equally excited for the Delaware Ballet to make its debut at Loblolly Acres this weekend. The performances are something she hopes will become a regular thing at the 160-acre complex.
“Since COVID, we closed for multiple reasons.,” Ms. Zielen said. “And Cheryl (Epps) has always wanted to do a wedding venue. So then she built this beautiful wedding barn to get married in. And then I’m a ballet dancer myself and I think this family saw how sad I was with everything being closed down and they said, ‘Well, what if we build a stage?’ And I said, ‘All right, sure. Let’s do it.’ And I gave them some ideas of how big a stage could be and I gave them like the biggest stage you could build and that’s what they built. And so now we have this beautiful stage that sits beyond the Magnolia barn.”
The stage is 40 feet wide and 30 feet deep and is modeled after some of the most famous stages in Russia.
“After a couple of weeks, I came down (from her home in Wilmington ) and I saw this huge stage and it brought tears to my eyes because I was just shocked. Wow, that something this large exists in Kent County for people to dance and sing or whatever they want to do out there. So yeah, it’s really amazing.”
“I don’t think any of us realized how big it would be until it was done,” Ms. Epps said.
“We all went ‘Oh my God.’ And I feel like we’re very blessed in the sense that we have acreage. We have no houses close by at all. So you don’t really have to worry about disturbing anyone. And we’re very entrenched with nature. So when you come out here, it’s sort of like you’ve entered another world.”
The stage got its first tryout in September when Ms. Zielen brought her First State Ballet to perform a free show “in the middle of nowhere on a farm,” as she puts it.
The performance was a huge success and once photos of the show and the venue hit social media, things exploded for Loblolly.
“Everybody wanted to host their event there. I grew up in the area and there’s not a whole lot in that area. So that’s the thing we’re really trying to bring is some events that people can go to — things for the community. That is something we are really focusing on. So we’re going to do a lot of weddings but I think we’re thinking big picture. We have big plans for this place,” Ms. Zielen said.
Weddings on the grounds for next fall are booked and the spring season is also filling fast. Dover High has also booked its 2022 prom for the venue.
The summer they are reserving for events of their own, such as a car show, concerts and who knows what else.
“We’ve been inundated with people to our venue in ways we never even thought of. So that’s been kind of amazing,” Ms. Epps said.
She thinks this is something that is a long time coming for the area.
“I really think Kent County is desperate for things for people to do. So one of the things we’re hoping to do is initiate in our long-term plans a dinner club where we have guest chefs come in and do dinner once a month. People could buy tickets and they could come and try chefs from different places around the state. That would be a fun thing,” Ms. Epps said.
“And we’ve had several theater groups approach us to do theater on the stage. So we’re hoping by next summer, we do a couple of plays up on the stage for people so that we can appeal to a broad spectrum of the county, whether you want music or a car show or a theater group — that we have a little bit of everything for everyone here.”
Tickets for Saturday and Sunday’s performance of “The Nutcracker” at Loblolly Acres are $15 for adults and $10 for children and seniors. To purchase them, visit here or call 302-698-1340.
Other ‘Nutcracker’ shows
If you can’t make this weekend’s performances of “The Nutcracker,” fear not. There are other companies performing the beloved production.
It’s the 25th anniversary for The Ballet Theatre of Dover’s staging of the show. Dover High School will host the holiday tradition Dec 10 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 11 at 2 and 7 p.m.
A Nutcracker Meet and Greet, where guests will get to have their pictures taken with characters and receive a gift, will take place Dec. 11 from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Dover High School Theatre lobby.
Amanda Tedesco, 16, will dance the dual role of Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy. Other primary roles will be danced by Lauren Miles and Trinity August in the roles of Snow Queen and DewDrop.
Dover High School is located on Del. 8 in Dover.
Tickets are. $25 for adults, $15 for seniors and students and $12 for children 10 and under.
To purchase tickets, visit here or the Dance Conservatory, 522 Otis Drive, Dover.
Tickets can be purchased at the box office the day of the show.
Dance Company X and First State Dance Academy presents “The Nutcracker” Dec. 5 at 2 p.m. at Milford High School.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for children and seniors. For tickets, visit here or call 302-422-2633.
State fair concert tickets on sale today
Tickets for the first set of shows announced by the Delaware State Fair go on sale today at 10 a.m.
Country singer Sam Hunt, with Roman Alexander, will take the stage July 21. Tickets range in price from $52-$99, and Delaware State Fair VIP packages will be available. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. The show starts at 7:30.
R&B artist Nelly will perform July 23. Tickets will range from $25-$65, with VIP packages available. Gates open at 6:30 p.m., with the show at 7:30.
Contemporary Christian artist TobyMac will play July 26. Tickets will range between $20-$60, with VIP packages available. Gates will open at 6:30 p.m., with the show beginning at 7:30.
ZZ Top is slated to play July 27. Tickets will range between $30-$65, with VIP packages on hand. Gates open at 6:30 p.m., with the show starting at 7:30.
Also slated for the fair is the traditional demolition derby, which will return to the grandstand on July 24. Tickets range from $18-$20. Gates will open at 5 p.m., with the show following at 6.
For tickets, visit here.
New this weekend in theaters is “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” and Will Smith in “King Richard.”