Black and White?
Was the firing of Delaware Theatre Company’s artistic director motivated by a controversial play, or was it something else?
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“Ten Months” flopped. Lots of shows flop. More troubling than its dismal sales was the fact that the alleged loyal fan base Cammarato cultivated never showed up to support the play, the first she had written in five years.
Poor ticket sales, at least until “10 Months,” never threatened Cammarato’s job. Her woes were more likely born of the show itself.
According to supporters of the show, the brutal honesty of “10 Months” rubbed important people the wrong way. It was not the show Cammarato originally pitched, Marquardt says, the one he and his colleagues “went into overdrive” to market and support. “Ten Months” was not a public relations campaign for the city, nor was it intended to be, Cammarato says.
The city of Wilmington has suffered bad press for years, so once word got out that Cammarato was hitting the streets to interview residents, suggestions poured in from board members, fans—everywhere—most asking her to focus on the positive, such as the city’s revitalization, the blossoming Riverfront and the Whistle Stop Tour, that electrifying event in January 2009 when President-elect Obama traveled by train from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., and stopped in Wilmington, the home of Vice President-elect Joe Biden.
Cammarato had hoped for an auspicious piece, too. But research guided her work, so the show became an account of the racial turmoil fueled by the assassination of Dr. King and the National Guard occupation. Its focus was on scars that never healed and the continuing fear suburbanites have about Wilmington. Cammarato attempted to start a dialogue between people who didn’t understand each other.
“Its topic centered around a painful historical period and a turbulent now,” says Raye Jones Avery, the executive director of the Christina Cultural Arts Center. “I saw the show twice and took students. The dialogue afterward was rich, tense and wide- ranging.”
The dialogue may have been rich and tense, but the show did not reflect the premise the board had supported. “When Anne Marie showed us the original concept of ‘10 Months,’ it actually had a picture of Biden and Obama speaking at the train station,” says Marquardt, “and the idea was that we’d do 10-month snippets of Wilmington history.”
Marketing was a sore point. “Ten Months” actor Ben Cherry says that he and the other two actors in the show, “would have gladly gone to community centers, churches and libraries to talk to people and interest them in this innovative piece of theater,” but were never asked to do so.
Many DTC subscribers bailed, as evidenced by hundreds of paid-for but empty seats. Some were inspired. DTC subscriber and Wilmington resident Karl A. Grieshaber believes that “10 Months” “made you think deeply about how we do things for people of a different race while absolutely patronizing them.”
Bebe Coker, an activist with the Urban League and the Black Heritage Educational Theater Group, says, “The play had to do with racism and an unhappy time, a memory white people don’t want to recall and black people don’t like to recall.”
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