SELBYVILLE – This Labor Day weekend will begin the Freeman Stage 2011 season conclusion with a spectacular line-up and a big bang.
The Freeman Stage is an outdoor venue located in the Bayside community off Route 54. It was created by the Joshua Freeman Foundation in 2008 and this weekend wraps up the stage’s 2011 season with a Saturday evening performance by the Mid-Atlantic Symphony and the Morgan State University Choir and ending with a fireworks display.
“The weekend really represents the diversity of this stage and what we present,” Executive Director Patti Grimes said.
This weekend’s line-up began on Thursday night with Opera Delaware and the First State Ballet. On Friday night, the always crowd pleasing Bronx Wanderers will perform followed by Saturday morning’s children’s program and that evening’s show. The official finale will be on Sept. 17 with the Broadway Rhythms Show presented by Clear Space Theatre Company.
The foundation is in memory of Joshua Freeman, who unexpectedly passed away in December of 2006 in a helicopter crash. His widow, Michelle D. Freeman, established the foundation in 2007 so that his legacy could live on and touch other people’s lives in the mid-Atlantic region.
“Josh loved the arts, as well as the environment and athletics,” Grimes said. “So the first project to honor Josh was the arts and we started the Freeman Stage as an idea to bring the arts to the mid-Atlantic region.”
This summer was the stage’s fourth season, which holds 50 performances a year including two national acts. In the four years of the stages existence, 67,000 people have come to enjoy its performances.
“We’ve continued to improve the quality and the diversity of performances that come to the stage,” Grimes said.
This summer’s national acts were LeAnn Rimes and the B-52s. Grimes said the Joshua Freeman Foundation Board of Directors asked for the national acts so that Delmarva’s residents and visitors know how committed they are to bringing the arts to the area.
There have also been 6,500 underprivileged children who have been able to attend the Freeman Stage’s educational programs that are held every Saturday morning during the summer. The children’s programs include the Zany Umbrella Circus as well as art and acting lessons, storytelling and juggling.
“We have outreach programs where the underserved and underprivileged children and families get to come to the stage … that may have never had the opportunity to visit or to see the arts come to the stage,” Grimes said.
The foundation’s mission with the stage is to partner to present memorable performances and inspire arts education for all. In that aspect, 70 percent of the performances are free, and children 18 and under are always free to attend. Friday night performances are $10 at the gate.
According to Grimes, since the foundation has started, it has invested over $2.2 million to bring the arts to the area. Every year there are 45 sponsors that contribute to help offset the expenses. They also receive grants from the State of Delaware, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Sussex County, and the Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour. In addition the foundation receives donations from those who attend the performance as well as the revenue from ticket sales to offset the expenses and allow them to provide new opportunities of art into the future.
The Freeman Stage’s crowd favorite every season is its tribute week that includes artists covering stars like Rod Stewart, Elvis Presley, and Tony Bennett. The tribute that all ages look forward to is BeatleMania LIVE!
“That was a huge hit for the stage, we had over 1,200 people for BeatleMania,” Grimes said. “That was a great night and it was awesome to see multiple generations come to the stage.”
Another Freeman Stage tradition is its incorporation of musicals. Grimes said the musical performances, such as Chicago, have always been an audience favorite.
On top of music and dance, the Freeman Stage produced an Arts and Jazz Festival that brings out the visual arts for all to see.
“We were able to see the best of Delmarva from a visual artist point of view and listen to great jazz along the way,” Grimes said. “As you can hear we really run the gamut … because we want everyone to have the opportunity to experience different forms of art and there is quite a wide range of that.”
Delmarva residents and visitors can look forward to the Freeman Stage 2012 season opening next Memorial Day weekend. Performances will run every Thursday and Friday evenings, and Saturday mornings, with some Saturday nights.
“We will come back with two national acts for next year,” Grimes confirmed. “And certainly the opera, orchestras, and musicals, all those genres that are very important to our local audience will come back and grace the stage next year, as well as our tribute bands.”
The Joshua Freeman Foundation’s work doesn’t end at the conclusion of the summer season. It partners with Delaware Technical and Community College to put on performances during the off-season. This winter’s shows include the Washington National Opera, Blue Jupiter, and Romeo and Juliet.
Marketing Manager Doug Phillips added that the Freeman Stage is only four miles from the beach and just around the corner from Ocean City.
“We are thrilled to see Ocean City residents and guests, and the Ocean Pines and Berlin audience come and support arts in the area,” Grimes said. “We do not look at the state line as any kind of barrier. We look at that as doors that are there to welcome folks that enjoy the arts and who want to share the arts with other people.”
Stay tuned to the Freeman Stage website, freemanstage.org, to be updated on the summer of 2012’s line up.
“It is very exciting that we can continue to bring the arts for our fifth year in 2012,” Grimes said.