‘The Show Must Go On” is an adage long identified with those who work in the theater. Accordingly, it sums up New Jersey’s professional theaters attitude during and after Superstorm Sandy.
Despite the fact that it is January and a full two months after the havoc, it is not too late to recall how our theaters were able to survive as well as be a support to their communities.
Throughout the state, there exists a thriving professional theater community consisting of 23 theaters, quite a few of which had to test their ability to carry on, indeed, survive in the wake of the most destructive storm ever recorded in our state.
While many theaters had to contend with loss of power, damaged gas lines, and flooding as well as with the loss of performances and revenue, most were up and running within a week thanks to emergency relief funding. The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation has been at the forefront in the recovery with an umbrella grant of $250,000 designated to help cover theater losses to its grantees.
Most severely impacted, however, by the intensity of the storm in the shore area was the Surflight Theater in Beach Haven, where its production of “Barefoot in the Park” was brought to a halt.
No need to invent drama as one listened to the Surflight’s executive director Ken Myers admit that the theater was not only having “money difficulties, followed by a fire, then a flood.
“We cope,” he said, revealing that the theater had no income for the past seven weeks to support the staff. He is hoping for a good response from the insurance company and support from the Small Business Association.
Surflight did get a check for $10,000 from the Rauschenberg Foundation and emergency funding from the Dodge Foundation. Myers says, “We lost 3,000 costumes. The business offices, including group sales and public relations, had two feet of water. In the theater, up to row H was under water. We lost 18 computers and with it lost data, some of it being dried out and recaptured. We’d just finished a refurbishment. Now we had to tear those repairs out, ripping out the dry wall again. The lights were saved except for ground circuitry.”
Myers adds, that they still can’t drink the water, but “we were the first to offer our neighbors free coffee and we gave a ‘thank you’ concert for the first responders and the community. We plan to have our season open in April as planned. But mid-February, the theater will host a production by a local group: ‘Our Gang.’ They don’t have a stage so they’ll use ours.”
The New Jersey Repertory in Long Branch also had considerable water damage and had to abort a number of performances of “Annapurna” during its run. Directors SuzAnne and Gabe Barabas also had to deal with the destruction of a cottage residence specifically used to accommodate actors.
“Annapurna” reopened within a week and played out the remainder of its run to full houses. The world premiere of a new comedy “Esther’s Moustache” by Laurel Ollstein, an original member of Tim Robbins’ award-winning theater company, The Actors’ Gang, opened mid December and will play through Sunday, January 13.
The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn and the Two Rivers Theater Company in Red Bank kept their theaters open as energizing centers for the community. This availability allowed those in need an opportunity to come together, recharge their spirits, as well as their electronic devices. The same was true at McCarter and Passage theaters in Princeton and Trenton.
While the storm hit during Two Rivers’ production of Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” about a king who unites people, the theater is happily (and appropriately) ushering in the New Year with Noel Coward’s valentine to theater, “Present Laughter,” starring the Tony nominated (“End of the Rainbow”) Michael Cumpsty. It begins Saturday, February 16.
Performances of “Man of La Mancha” were brought to a halt midway through its hugely successful run at the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey in Madison. Despite its location on the campus of Drew University, which lost power, performances resumed within the week to ever-growing audiences.
Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey managing director Jeanne Barrett remembers the scramble to get everyone in the company home, some back into New York City or, as the actors’ housing was already full, to find additional places for them to stay. A trustee whose home had a generator was able to take in three actors.
“Fortunately none of the big trees on the Drew Campus or near the Florham Park offices fell on the buildings. There was a loss of $100,000 in ticket sales and expenses,” she says, adding that “Man of La Mancha” resumed on Friday evening when the well-patronized musical was extended for a week.
Leadership at all of our state’s professional theaters was never more apparent than it was during Sandy. Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey’s managing director Barrett summed it up best: “Theater people are used to crisis on a daily basis. You pick up, deal, and go on.”