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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

mainstage season.

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

Opening Night, Crossroads Theater, 7 Livingston

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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