Learning to Be Happy: What Is the Secret to Happiness?

What is the secret to happiness? Some say it’s meditation.



Happiness—we all seek it and want to know the secret of it. Happiness research has become something of a cottage industry in recent years. Self-help books line the shelves of bookstores and libraries. Motivational speakers mentor—and make—millions on the how-tos of finding it.

Many of us fall into the trap of seeking happiness through material possessions or external circumstances—many of which are beyond our control. It’s as if there’s a tape loop inside our heads constantly replaying the words “if only.” If only I had “blank,” I’d be happy. Happiness becomes an elusive thing, just beyond the humdrum of the daily grind.

Happiness—we all seek it and want to know the secret of it. Happiness research has become something of a cottage industry in recent years. Self-help books line the shelves of bookstores and libraries. Motivational speakers mentor—and make—millions on the how-tos of finding it.

Vicki Mazik credits meditation with helping her cope with her cancer diagnosis. Photo courtesy of Vicki MazikMany of us fall into the trap of seeking happiness through material possessions or external circumstances—many of which are beyond our control. It’s as if there’s a tape loop inside our heads constantly replaying the words “if only.” If only I had “blank,” I’d be happy. Happiness becomes an elusive thing, just beyond the humdrum of the daily grind.

Experts have long pondered the secrets to happiness, discovering that the path to that coveted state does not center on material possessions. Indeed, research has shown that once basic human needs are met, wealthy people are really no happier than their less affluent peers. What’s more, the happiest people in the world reside in Panama—the world’s poorest country—while the least happy live in Singapore, its richest.

So what is the secret to happiness? No one knows for sure but a team of neuroscientists led by Dr. Richard J. Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, appear to be on to something. It seems that a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to reorganize itself in response to changes in the environment—may play a role in our ability to be happy.

Using MRI technology, the researchers were able to view the left-sided anterior region of the brain—the area associated with positive mental states. They documented increased activity in this region of novice meditators who participated in an eight-week mindfulness meditation course.
In addition, the researchers also found that meditation stimulated the limbic system, the area of the brain that regulates emotions. Expert meditators with more than 10,000 hours of practice showed the greatest amount of activity in this area and appeared to have permanently altered their brains to generate positive thoughts—even when they weren’t meditating.

This means we can choose—and learn—to be happy. Indeed, from a Buddhist perspective, meditation is a way of eliminating suffering from our lives. If we meditate, we will experience less suffering and therefore more happiness. But the goal of Buddhist practice isn’t really happiness as we imagine it, but rather something more like peace or self-fulfillment.

“Happiness is fleeting, so it’s much more about fulfillment than happiness,” says Alison Smith Driscoll, certified meditation instructor at Empowered Yoga in Wilmington. “A problem arises when we say that happiness is the goal because it’s a set-up for failure.”

Indeed, meditation teachers say you shouldn’t be seeking a pleasurable state or any other state for that matter. Rather, you should observe things—your breath, your emotions, sensations, sounds—without making value judgments. So while anxiety normally feels bad, if you encounter it while meditating, you’re supposed to examine it in as detached a way as possible, doing your best to see it as neither good nor bad, just “what is.” This cool detachment allows us to see our emotions more clearly, leading them to loosen their grip on us.

“Suffering is optional,” says psychologist Doris G. Lauckner, Ph.D., a meditation instructor at the Insight Meditation Community in Lewes and chair of the community counseling program at Wilmington University. “Buddhism talks about the two arrows. The first arrow is whatever pain you have, but the second arrow is the thoughts and actions around it that creates the second level of suffering that is avoidable.”

The aim is simple: to pay attention—to be “mindful” or “in the moment.” But our experience rarely has this quality. A lot of the time we find ourselves engulfed in emotions way past their expiration date: self-pity, anger, wish fulfillment, fear. Pointless thoughts about what could have been or what could be—“only if”—do nothing to enrich the present. Meditation teaches that the only place we can experience the flow of life—and creative thought—is in the now. Not surrendering creates psychological and physical tension, which inhibits that flow. And the more we try to suppress an unpleasant thought, the more it recurs.

Andrea Winward Kennedy, instructor/owner of The Yoga Studio in Lewes, leads a class. Photo by Ron Dubick“If I try to hold it in, I’m distracted because it’s on my mind,” says Andrea Winward Kennedy, instructor/owner of The Yoga Studio in Lewes.

It can be a real shock to discover how much runaway thinking we actually engage in and how that causes suffering. “As you start to practice meditation, you’re going to notice the quality of your thoughts, and you’re likely to come to the conclusion that you might be a little insane because you’re going to find that the thoughts are very repetitive,” says Nick Edge, teacher and member of the Insight Meditation Community in Lewes. “They’re almost always based on fear or desire: either chasing after or pushing something away.”

It is very hard to develop the concentration necessary to calm the inner maelstrom, but therein lies the route to self-awareness and contentment. “When you’re left without words and your mind does shut down, when the gap between thoughts gets bigger and bigger and you’re in the gap, what you’re left with, that’s your pure essence—not the ego,” says Edge.

Indeed, meditation is the process of cultivating compassion for ourselves and others, offering the realization that we are all naturally perfect and whole. “There is no concept for self-loathing in Tibet,” says Smith Driscoll.

Mindfulness, then, is not about ecstatic states. It’s comparatively humdrum. Moreover, it’s not a fast track to blissful happiness. In fact, it can be rather unsettling as it works with painful experiences. But going with what is can also be liberating.

Andrea Winward Kennedy goes with the flow. Photo by Ron Dubick “I allow myself to feel how I feel because I know I’m not going to get stuck there,” says Winward Kennedy. “I’m not afraid to cry. I know that I cry, then it passes. Some people are afraid to feel because they’re afraid they’re going to get stuck there. I think I witness myself going with the flow.”

Vicki Mazik, owner/instructor at Zen Yoga Room in Newark, credits the grounding effects of meditation with helping her cope with the cancer diagnosis she received last year. “I’m now cancer-free, but whatever the outcome was I was OK with it,” she says. “You can live in a crisis situation as long as you’re present and negative thoughts aren’t entering your mind. I was present every day. I appreciated little things around me: my dog, my fiancé and the sunshine.”

Western psychology has finally discovered what Buddhist monks knew centuries ago: that the most powerful way to happiness is developing compassion for oneself and for others. Contemporary positive psychology states that people are generally happy and that money doesn’t necessarily buy well-being. Moreover, while happiness is influenced by genetics, people can learn to be happy by developing optimism, gratitude and altruism.

“That’s what meditation practice is about—cultivating those kinds of states of mind,” says Lauckner.

Is there something larger, deeper and more lasting than mere happiness? Those who practice meditation say there is and believe they’ve found it.

“’Happy is not a word I’d use to describe myself, but I am content,” says Carlyle Hoof, 62, who works in mental health services for the state of Delaware. “Things don’t bother me the way they used to. I would get a lot more attached to an issue. Now I just go with the flow.”

Joe DiGiovanni got involved with meditation last year after taking some yoga classes to correct a back problem. He says it’s helped lower his blood pressure and has allowed him to cope better with stress. It has also given him a different perspective on the “grass is greener” syndrome so many of us fall prey to.

“You come to realize you don’t need the big car or the big house,” says the 45-year-old sales and marketing professional from Trolley Square. “Those things are nice but they don’t last. The economy can go down, people can get sick. I’m much more appreciative of the smaller things in my life—when I’m spending time with my daughter, or I’m surfing or with my family.”

Margaret Badger welcomes the opportunity to just quiet her mind for a while. “I work 70 ro 80 hours a week,” says the 40-something musician who teaches piano and voice at the Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington. “So I always have something I’m thinking about, or preparing or planning for or writing down. Doing something where I can just turn off my brain is kind of exciting.”

Lauckner views meditation as a complement to her work as a psychologist. “I’ve heard people say that therapy takes you to normal neurotic, and meditation takes you to happy,” she says. “By meditating on a day-to-day basis, I’m less reactive. I don’t jump emotionally. I take my time to think things through and make better choices. I feel like I have tools to cope that I didn’t have before.” 


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January 2017

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Sports Card & Collectible Show at Aetna Fire Hall on Jan. 22—sign up now! -Sports Cards McFarlane Figures Comic Books Non-Sports cards Wrestling Items Vintage Starting...

Cost: $2

Where:
Aetna Fire Hall
400 Ogletown Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: A2Z Promotions
Telephone: 302-983-2636
Contact Name: Bob Harper
Website »

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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

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Belly Dance Classes with Zahra Beginner & intermediate classes open to teens and adults Sundays in January starting Jan 8th Beginner: 2:30-3:30 p.m. Intermediate: 1 - 2 p.m (must get...

Cost: $15-$42

Where:
Take the Lead Studio
320 Lantana Drive
Hockessin , DE  19711
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Sponsor: Take the Lead
Contact Name: Zahra
Website »

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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

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Ah, typecasting—the baritone is always the bad guy! In Devils, Drunks & Dastardly Dudes, we’ll go on an operatic journey of men behaving badly. We’ll add a tenor to the mix, too… but we...

Cost: $29-$59

Where:
OperaDelaware Studio
4 South Poplar St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: OperaDelaware
Telephone: 302-442-7809
Contact Name: Mary Wilcosky
Website »

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Come give curling a try! At this 2-hour intro-to-curling event we'll provide a basic lesson then coach you through a mini-game.  Whether you just want to cross #curling off your bucket list or...

Cost: $35

Where:
The Pond Ice Arena
101 John Campbell Rd
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: Diamond State Curling Club
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

Notbybreadalone Ministries presents Feeding the Hungry Outreach. All are welcome to come and partake of food, fun and fellowship. Those who desire a better way of life through Jesus Christ are...

Cost: Free

Where:
2nd and 3rd Streets
Wilmington, DE  19801


Sponsor: Notbybreadalone Outreach Ministries
Telephone: 442-0440
Contact Name: Ministers Wayne and Stephanie Dumpson
Website »

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Guest speakers Patty Dailey-Lewis, executive director of the Beau Biden Foundation, and Delaware Family Court commissioner Loretta Young will discuss how participation in social media can too...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilmington University - Dover
Building A Auditorium
3282 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
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Sponsor: Wilmington University College of Social & Behavioral Sciences
Telephone: 302-295-1164
Contact Name: Dr. Johanna Bishop
Website »

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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30AM-12:00PM Fall session: Thursday, Dec 1st thru Thursday, December 15th Winter session: Tuesday, January 17th thru Thursday, March 30th   Drop in on Nature is...

Cost: see description

Where:
The Annex
501 Chandler Mill Rd
Kennett Square, PA  19348
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Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

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East Coast Garden Center Indoor Farmers Market Nov 8, 2016 - April 11, 2017  11 am- 2 pm 25 vendors Location:  East Coast Garden Center 30366 Cordrey Rd Millsboro, DE 19966 302-945-3489

Cost: frr

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Sponsor: East Coast Garden Center
Telephone: 302-945-3489
Website »

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East Coast Garden Center Indoor Farmer's Marke 25 vendors

Cost: Free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Telephone: 302-945-3489
Website »

More information

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

A four-week series of ballroom dancing classes taught by teachers from the BlueBallroom. Tuesdays starting Jan. 10. Classes are $30 a lesson for Non-Members. Non-Member slots are limited. For...

Cost: $30

Where:
University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30AM-12:00PM Fall session: Thursday, Dec 1st thru Thursday, December 15th Winter session: Tuesday, January 17th thru Thursday, March 30th   Drop in on Nature is...

Cost: see description

Where:
The Annex
501 Chandler Mill Rd
Kennett Square, PA  19348
View map »


Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

More information

Thursdays from 4:00PM-5:30PM Fall session: December 1st, 8th and 15th Winter session: Starts January 19th, every other Thursday until March 30th This program is based entirely outdoors and is...

Cost: Cost: $30 for TLC members / $40 for non-members

Where:
Bucktoe Creek Preserve
432 Sharp Rd
Avondale, PA  19311
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Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

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MARC BROUSSARD In 2004, Marc Broussard, then a precocious 22-year-old singer/songwriter, released his major-label debut; he called it Carencro, after the Louisiana town where he was born and...

Cost: $22 SRO- $32 SEATED

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
Website »

More information

The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tutto Fresco has live entertainment every Friday night from 6:30–9:30 p.m. Call for details. http://tuttofrescode.com/

Where:
Tutto Fresco
514 Philadelphia Pike
Wilmington, DE  19809
View map »

More information

The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
Website »

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Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
View map »


Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-3396
Contact Name: Kathy Buterbaugh
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

January 28 – Saturday – 1 to 4 p.m. Science Saturday – Truss Me, You Won’t Fall! Become an engineer for the day. Design a bridge to hold as much weight as possible....

Cost: Activities are included in regular admission and free for members.

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Hagley Museum
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
Website »

More information

The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

GRILLED CHEESE AND CRAFT BEER TASTING We have taken two of the best things on earth and paired them together – Grilled Cheese and Craft Beer – and paired them together in unexpected and...

Cost: $40

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
Website »

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Saturday, January 28, 2017 at  7:30 pm at St. David’s Episcopal Church, 763 Valley Forge Rd, Wayne, PA 19087 Sunday, January 29, 2017 at 3 pm at Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square...

Cost: Tickets are $25 online, and $30 at the door. Student tickets $10 at the door.

Where:
Church of the Holy Trinity
1904 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA  19103
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Sponsor: Lyric Fest
Telephone: 215-438-1702
Contact Name: Jessica Nelson
Website »

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Fan favorite, Dick Smith, returns to the Dickinson Theatre Organ Society concert stage on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 for a show that is sure to bring the house down! Dick Smith has been a...

Cost: $15 Adults; $10 Students

Where:
John Dickinson High School Auditorium
1801 Milltown Road
Wilmington, DE  19808
View map »


Sponsor: Dickinson Theatre Organ Society
Telephone: 302-995-2603
Contact Name: Bob Dilworth
Website »

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The Dickinson Theatre Organ Society presents Dick Smith. For tickets, click here: http://www.dtoskimball.org/events-tickets/ticket-information/ For further information, please call us at...

Where:
, DE

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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

More information

Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
View map »


Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-3396
Contact Name: Kathy Buterbaugh
Website »

More information

MOTHERSHIP Mothership is the area's premier Led Zeppelin Tribute show. Composed of seasoned, professional musicians Mario Padovani - vocals, keyboards, Frank Ginocchio - drums, Chris Julian -...

Cost: 15

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 215-222-1400
Website »

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