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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the October 23, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
New Life at Crossroads
With almost a quarter-century of experience under its
belt, Crossroads Theater is thrilled just to be putting on another
show. There’s a tremor of excitement in her voice when executive
Roberta Coleman tells me, "the cast for `Moms Mably’ is on the
premises and rehearsing today."
Emerging from a $2 million debt that plunged Crossroads into darkness
beginning in October, 2000, Crossroads is back polishing its image
as winner of the 1999 Tony Award for the nation’s best regional
Founded in 1978 by Rutgers graduates Ricardo Khan and L. Kenneth
Crossroads started its life as a 60-seat black box in a converted
New Brunswick garment factory. Such was its success — with the
community, with theater lovers, and with critics — that in 1991
it moved into a $4 million bijou 264-seat theater, custom-built for
it at 7 Livingston Avenue.
"Now we’re rebuilding Crossroads one brick at a time," Coleman
announces in measured tones. "Our building blocks are based on
the assistance, love and patience of our extended family of
Quite simply, this is a family reunion and we need everyone to bring
something to the table."
Crossroads marks its re-opening on Thursday, October 24, with a
season of four plays beginning with "An Evening of Comedy with
`Moms’ Mabley," written by and starring Clarice Taylor. Taylor,
who played Grandma Huxtable on the Cosby Show, based "Moms"
on the life of the pioneering African-American raunchy comedienne
Jackie "Moms" Mabley. The show opens on Thursday, October
24, and will play a total of nine performances, through November 3.
The second offering of the season is "Monk," a play with music
based on the life of jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. Rome Neal stars
as Monk in the show that opens November 14 and plays to November 24.
This is followed by "From the Mississippi Delta," another
one-actor drama based on the life of Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland.
Holland grew up poor in the nation’s most punishing region before
she became an award-winning writer. This show opens December 5 and
plays to December 15.
"We are not ready to produce at the scale we were during prior
years, and these pieces represent a new beginning for Crossroads,"
explains acting artistic director George Faison. "While not a
full theatrical season, these works clearly reflect a season of
Coleman characterizes Faison’s role as that of a
selecting existing productions to import into the theater for a short,
economical season. "The theme that runs through these is family
and the achievement of overcoming obstacles — certainly consistent
with what we’re doing here at Crossroads." They can also be
with the utmost economy.
"We have had an enormously positive response from the community
and particularly from our subscribers," says Coleman, who clearly
has her work cut out for her. At the time of its collapse, many of
the theater’s 1,500 subscribers were holding subscriptions to the
non-existent season; many donated their subscriptions back to help
rescue the theater.
Hopes are once again pinned on an executive director who respects
fiscal reality. Appointed in September and working for a deferred
salary, Coleman replaces Leslie Michael Edwards, a former TV producer
who helped revive Harlem’s Aaron Davis Hall. Hired as Crossroads’
executive director in July, 2001, he was dismissed by the board less
than a year later.
Coleman, a patron of Crossroads since long before the move into the
new building, says her previous theater experience has been purely
as an audience member. Coleman is a native of Courtland, Alabama,
and majored in mathematics at Fisk University (Class of ’67) in
A career statistician and analyst, she has worked as labor market
analyst for New Jersey’s Department of Labor and Industry for seven
years, and as an executive for AT&T.
"I do enjoy live theater," says Coleman. "There’s
about a live performance that draws you in and makes you a part of
the performance and it just doesn’t happen on the big screen or on
the small screen."
In mid-September, Crossroads’ 10-year lease on its building expired,
and the New Brunswick Cultural Center, the nonprofit organization
that owns the building, chose not to renew it. The Cultural Center
is managed by New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco). Although
Crossroads has been given free office space and scheduling priority
by Devco, it is currently subject to the same rental terms and payment
schedules as any other organization.
"Our doors have been closed for two years and we share an interest
with Devco in having these assets maximally utilized," Coleman
explains. "We both want people coming into New Brunswick to
arts and culture and to support the economy of the city."
"All indications I’ve had from the New Brunswick Cultural Center
and DevCo is that they want to see Crossroads back as a vibrant
of New Brunswick’s artistic landscape," she says. Granting that
the free use of office space is a boon, Coleman says "a win-win
situation would be Crossroads doors re-opening and us putting on an
affordable yet artistically relevant season." The most costly
element of the new season will be the musical Crossroads plans to
present in spring, 2003.
For the future, Crossroads is looking to provide other artistic
Focus groups would like to see other types of programing — spoken
word, concert programs, and children’s programs — added to the
Coleman, still finding her feet at Crossroads, gives attorney Rhinold
Ponder, until recently president of the board, a lot of credit for
re-igniting the light. "The point at which we find ourselves now,
offering this modest and celebratory season, is due largely to the
work of Rhinold Ponder," she says. "Now I want to build on
that, build a solid financial footing for Crossroads."
Ponder, who during one stretch was Crossroads’ only visible connection
to the media, resigned as president of the board in early October.
Ponder was honored by Governor James E. McGreevey earlier this year
with the Governor’s Volunteer Award in the Arts, for "his efforts
to help get Crossroads Theater back on its feet."
In his resignation letter, Ponder said: "We are at a defining
moment in Crossroads’ history. With the help of a great core of
we are one step from accomplishing what some thought was impossible
— the re-opening of a national treasure. To ensure that we open
this theater and move to the next phase with strong partnerships,
I believe we need someone in the forefront who can be received as
an ambassador, not a tough advocate at this time."
Marguerite Mitchell-Ivey has been appointed as the new president of
the board; she is former first-vice president of Crossroads and a
project manager for AT&T.
Coleman sees her mission to keep Crossroads afloat financially.
I don’t have background in the arts, I do have 30 years of management
and leadership experience. And what’s needed is a sound operational
structure that supports the Crossroads artistically and
— Nicole Plett
Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-545-8100. The Tony-winning theater company
re-opens with "An Evening of Comedy with `Moms’ Mabley,"
by and starring Clarice Taylor. Weekends through November 3. $42.
Thursday, October 24, 8 p.m.
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