Part of the experience of Shakespeare in the Park at Delaware Park is bringing a picnic to enjoy before and during the performance. Clockwise from bottom left are Kerturah Stevens, Vicki Barr, Kim Zittel, Bonnie Barr, Alex Ash with daughter Hazel, 1, Jerusha Stevens and Janice Stevens, who is celebrating her birthday. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Every summer, something magical takes place on Shakespeare Hill, in Delaware Park behind the Rose Garden:

Picnicking becomes a spectator sport.

Normally, picnics in Delaware Park are regrettably rare. Too often, the picnic tables scattered hither and yon hold only water bottles and tennis rackets. But with Shakespeare in Delaware Park, a new spirit descends. Proudly, Buffalonians spread blankets and unpack grapes, bread, cheese and chocolate.

“If music be the food of love, play on,

Give me excess of it ...”

Saturday night, well before “Twelfth Night” opened with those famous lines, there was already a lot of excess.

One gathering featured a gluten-free birthday cake dubbed “Q’ake.” It was made from watermelon, with grapes stuck into it with toothpicks.

“You missed the pretty part. It had pineapples on top,” said Kerturah Stevens, displaying the Q’ake with pride.

Homemade hummus and homegrown tomatoes rounded out that feast. On hand to wash it down was a bottle of mead, a honey drink popular in Shakespeare’s day. The mead was made by a New York State winery, Magpie Farms.

Be not afraid of greatness, to quote another line from “Twelfth Night.” A stylish urban group of friends reclined alongside strawberries, blackberries and grapes from Guercio and Sons. A round loaf from Bread Hive added a Renaissance touch. Three bottles of wine lay side by side. Candies were strewn artfully about.

Lou Feliciano said the spread had come together naturally.

“Everyone brought their own stuff,” he said. “And we just put the blanket down.”

Love was in the details. Davina and Aleks Porock sipped wine from glasses etched with snowflakes. Twelfth Night refers to the twelfth day of Christmas.

Claudia Villaman joked that her friend Rebecca Bremiller was “Martha Stewart’s little cousin.” Bremiller had arranged their food skillfully in trays. She had purchased plums that morning at the Clinton-Bailey Market. And she had not only brought grapes – a must, it seems, for a picnic in the park – but she had frozen them, and used them to chill the white wine.

Two hours before show time, thunder had rumbled. Fearing rain, the two friends had vowed that their picnic would go on. “We were auditioning porches,” Villaman laughed.

The play’s not the thing. The picnic is. Saul Elkin, the founder of Shakespeare in Delaware Park, smiled as he surveyed the feasting from the top of the hill.

“Someone once said to me, ‘This is a community picnic where a play happens to go on,’ ” he laughed.

“Twelfth Night” is on stage at 7:30 p.m. every night but Monday through Aug. 16. But even when it closes, let the food of love play on.

It is in the soul of every Western New Yorker to picnic in Delaware Park. Be bold and dine at that table on Ring Road across from the workout area. Or seek out a shady knoll by Hoyt Lake. Bring grapes. Invite a friend who plays guitar.

Be not afraid of greatness.

email: mkunz@buffnews.com

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