Adrenalin pumping, breathing heavily, and drenched in sweat, I examine the crowd of people staring back at me as we take our closing bows. The applause is thunderous, the audience stands, and the community is welcoming and supportive. This is the beauty of Dogwood Dell.
Dogwood Dell amphitheatre, located in Byrd Park, is owned and operated by the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Community Facilities in Richmond. It seats over 2,400 people and provides a stage for various performances. All events at Dogwood Dell are free to the public, and people from all over the community are encouraged to come share and experience the different forms of entertainment.
One of the events that has made the Dell so popular is its summer-long Festival of the Arts. The festival has been around since 1956 and celebrates all different art forms, such as dance, theater, art exhibits, and concerts. Each weekend in the summer various concerts and performances are publicized, and everyone from around the Richmond community is welcome to attend each event.
The amphitheatre is enormous and consists of many rows of “seating” stretching back an incredible distance. Each row is wide enough for people to bring blankets and lawn chairs so that they can be seated comfortably to enjoy the performance. Often times, people will bring food and picnic before the various performances.
The Dell has a special place in my heart, as I have watched the annual musical each summer for many years. I loved supporting actors and musicians from all over the Richmond community perform some of my favorite shows, such as Hairspray, Footloose, and Man of La Mancha. Even more impressive was the fact that the actors often performed difficult dance routines in 100 degree weather, still smiling and seemingly unaffected by the heat. However, the most incredible fact to me was that all of these talented actors and shows were free. And it was only a 15-minute drive from my house.
My love for the Dell has only continued to grow, and last summer I was lucky enough to be cast in their summer production of the musical Spamalot. What ensued from there was a quick six-week rehearsal process, where we rehearsed almost every night. We had a cast of about 28 people, and as I was one of the youngest members, I had the opportunity to learn from the different actors, teachers, dancers, and production staff almost every day.
As we drew closer to the performance, we rehearsed inside the Carillon Bell tower, which is located very close to the Dell stage. Inside the Carillon, we had many evening rehearsals and worked with what were to be the dimensions of our stage. We also housed all of our costumes within the tower, and had our sitzprobe with the orchestra (a run-through of all the music) before we began our transition to the amphitheatre. For the final week of rehearsals, we moved to the Dell stage and proceeded with tech rehearsals. However, at the Dell everything is very dependent on weather, and due to scattered storms throughout the week, we never held a full run-through on stage with all the different elements of the show until opening night.
As we went into performance, I gained even more insight into just how much the events that take place at the Dell mean to people around the community. At each show we had over 2,000 people in attendance, and people would come hours before the show to ensure seating. Some nights, the amphitheatre was full, and we would see people gathered along the edges to watch the performance. In addition, after each show, members from the audience went out of their way to thank the actors involved and showed immense support for the production.
The amount of support and excitement ingrained in Dogwood Dell is something that I noticed almost immediately. One of my most memorable moments was when the Dell lost power during one of our Spamalot performances as we were mid-musical number. However, instead of leaving, the audience began to cheer and took out their phones to shine light upon the actors and the orchestra. That amount of support is typical of Dell audiences, as many people come to enjoy the shows and make the most of their evening.
Anna Galanides (‘17), a veteran of Oates productions and rising freshman at Christopher Newport University, stated, “Over the past summer I was a part of the Spamalot costume crew. This job entailed helping organize costumes, building some of the costumes, and being backstage to help with quick changes and potential costume problems. Being part of this crew was incredibly fun and some of the most rewarding work I’ve done in theater. I was immediately taken into the crew family and trusted to do my part.” When asked further about her experience working on Spamalot, Galanides said, “Other than the work, the people were phenomenal and gave me wonderful advice about working in theater in college and professionally. Through hot summer rehearsals, long nights, bug bites, costume malfunctions, and the ever-present rain storm, I wouldn’t trade my experiences working there for anything.”
I would recommend venturing to Dogwood Dell for anyone in search of some fantastic entertainment over the summer. It is host to many amazing concerts and productions and provides people with the opportunity to take advantage of and experience all different kinds of art all summer long. So plan a picnic, gather some friends, and go enjoy a fun-filled evening under the stars at the Dell.