University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 6, No. 1/1996
Ensemble specializes in contemporary theatre

     There's certainly nothing wrong with such staples of
American theatre as The Music Man or The Odd Couple. But, Tom
Shade, Delaware '88, and Michael Gray, Delaware '89, '91, co-
founders of Wilmington, Del.'s City Theatre Company, had
something more ambitious in mind when they first dreamed of
creating their own theatre ensemble.
     Their goal was to develop a company that would specialize in
contemporary and cutting-edge theatre-equally adept with the
biting comedy of a Christopher Durang and the intellectual
musicals of a Stephen Sondheim.
     "We knew from the beginning that we were going to start with
contemporary, absurdist comedy," Shade says. "We didn't have the
money to do a musical, but both of us had the background of doing
Sondheim. We knew we wanted to join the two-the modern, biting
sensibility of Sondheim that fits in with the other material we
     Now entering its third full season, City Theatre has won a
loyal core audience with productions of Durang's Baby With Bath
Water and the musical Godspell. This season, City Theatre will
present its first show, Sondheim's Company, through Dec. 21 at
OperaDelaware Studios in Wilmington.
     The company has performed in the OperaDelaware rehearsal
studio adjacent to the Amtrak station in downtown Wilmington
since 1994, but is seeking a new theatre because the opera
company needs its space.
     Friends from their days in the University's undergraduate
theatre program, Shade and Gray hatched the idea for City Theatre
in May 1993, after the closing night of a production of
Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, at the Upper Darby
(Pa.) Performing Arts Center. Gray had directed the show with
Shade's assistance.
     The show earned good reviews, but was their last for a
while. Gray was headed to the University of Maryland to begin a
doctoral program in counseling psychology. (He continues to
pursue his Ph.D.) Shade was involved with several theatre
companies in Maryland and was tending bar at O'Friels in
Wilmington to make ends meet.
      During an all-night brainstorming session, the idea of
forming their own company went from "What if" to "Let's do it."
     "I said to Michael, 'We've gotta keep doing this,'" Shade
recalls. "The show was wonderful and we got wonderful reviews. We
had a conversation from 10 o'clock to 10 o'clock and decided we
were going to form a company."
      The two enlisted the help of Jon Cooper, Delaware '90, an
old friend from the University's 1989 production of The Sly Fox.
It took nearly a year to raise enough funds from family and
friends for the first production, an evening of short plays
presented in a space above O'Friel's. They did one more show at
O'Friel's, a Durang play called Laughing Wild, before learning of
the studio space at OperaDelaware.
     Among the highlights of City Theatre's tenure at
OperaDelaware Studio was the company's first annual Delaware 10-
Minute Play Festival, an event partially underwritten by the
Delaware Division of the Arts, that closed the season last
spring. More than 80 authors, from high school students to senior
citizens, submitted over 130 works for consideration. From those,
Gray, Shade and Cooper chose 20 plays, which were performed over
four nights.
     "We had great publicity," recounts Shade, who said the
company would seek additional grant money to make the festival an
annual happening. "On two nights, we had 150 people. It was
standing room only. It's the best thing we've done."
     The festival will be repeated four nights this year, July 28-31.
     While City Theatre has enjoyed success in its few years of
existence, challenges lie ahead for the fledgling ensemble.
Foremost among them is finding a new home after the May
production of Nicky Silver's Raised in Captivity.
      "The hardest part is trying to be artistic and wanting not
to be bound by money, but realizing you can't do things unless
you have money-trying to be a businessman and an artist," Gray
                                -Robert DiGiacomo, Delaware '88