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Saul Elkin reflects on Shakespeare in Delaware Park

Photo from Shakespeare in Delaware Park Website

Shakespeare in Delaware Park continues its 38th season Friday evening when "Measure for Measure" opens at 7:30 p.m. It is the second production of the season, following the presentation of "Hamlet," which brought large crowds to the park.  WBFO's Jay Moran sat down with Saul Elkin, Founder and Artistic Director of Shakespeare in Delaware Park, to talk about the productions and the history of the summer tradition.

At age 81, Elkin directed Hamlet, but for Measure for Measure, he has tabbed Brian Cavanaugh to take the play in a much different direction.

Elkin says Cavanaugh "has moved it from Vienna to Vienna, Texas in the 19th Century and turns it into a Western."

"Very little had to be changed. And even doing the play with a slight Texas twang works with Shakespeare's poetry. It's interesting. It's fun. So, now everybody is in cowboy outfits with holsters and guns."


While weather conditions play a large role in the size of audiences, Elkin believes there is a fundamental principle behind Shakespeare In Delaware Park's emergence as a community institution.

"There is a reason why these plays continue to be done, these 400-year-old plays. A lot of it has to do with the quality of the writing," Elkin said.

"I think that's what attracts audiences."

Now with an annual budget around $400,000, Shakespeare in Delaware Park has grown from humble origins.

Credit WBFO News file photo
Past Shakespeare in Delaware Park performance.

Elkin says he was encouraged to start a Shakespeare festival by his mentor, Joseph Papp. That prompted a phone call to the office of then-Buffalo Mayor Stanley Makowski.

With the blessings of the city parks officials, Makowski granted Elkin the chance to bring Shakespeare to Delaware Park with one key provision.

"I can't give you any money," Elkin said, laughing at the recollection.

Elkin says the city, as well as the county, has become a key partner in the company's success. He's also quick to credit his fellow staff members and the many patrons of Shakespeare in Delaware Park.

That support has allowed Shakespeare in Delaware Park to provide professional productions to tens of thousands free of charge for 38 years. 

Despite the accessibility, Elkin acknowledges that some still shy away from Shakespeare, perhaps associating it with the painful memories of a high school literature class. To those, Elkin offers some encouraging thoughts.

"Be open to what happens on the stage. There is a story to be told. Focus on the story. If the language is an obstacle, focus on the actors, focus on the story, focus on the characters."

"People who enjoy the productions at the park, never complain about the difficulty of the language because it becomes a secondary issue. It's like hearing beautiful music, you don't have to be a musician."

Starting Friday night, "Measure for Measure" can be viewed Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m. until August 18 in Delaware Park.