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Parks Uncertainty Clouding Shakespeare Season

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – City residents anxiously await the fate of a parks merger vote Friday. But residents across the region should also be worried. Shakespeare in Delaware Park is one of the region's most beloved summer attractions -- and the festival's season could end before it opens.

"To be or not to be?" These familiar words from Hamlet could well describe the uncertainty among members of the outdoor theatre festival. If the Erie County Legislature fails to approve the city-county parks agreement, the city could be forced to close its parks on July 1st.

Audiences have poured onto Delaware Park's Shakespeare Hill every summer since 1976 for evenings filled with passion, tragedy and foolishness. Founder Saul Elkin says the park closing down would be a real tragedy.

"That would have a devastating impact on Shakespeare in the Park," said Elkin. "We are a free festival, however, we depend on donations. If there is no audience, there are no donations. If there are no donations, then we're really in trouble."

Elkin says he's hopeful that an agreement will be reached and the parks will stay open. Officials have said they could, even without a merger. But with little or no maintenance staff. Elkin says if that happens, the theatre company is willing to perform additional roles.

"If it's a matter of closing services, I think we would have to find a way to provide those services, whether it be cutting the grass, or getting the garbage out of there, what it would be. We will do everything we have to do to keep the festival alive and moving forward," said Elkin. "We've run into lots of impediments in 29 years. This could be a tough one, but we'll try to overcome."

However, that may be easier said than done. Elkin says mounting a major outdoor Shakespeare festival is already complicated and stressful. The season opens -- lawmakers permitting -- next Thursday in Delaware Park.