"There’s nothing like a live performance,” says Mark Jones, who arrived as CEO of New Brunswick’s State Theater in January. He steers a theater with space for almost 2,000 that attracts audiences of various ages interested in family fare or jazz or classical music or ethnic offerings or dance or acrobatics or other enticements.
Jones brings a major innovation to the State’s programming by drawing on high definition technology. This season, the State inaugurates HD showings of opera and ballet programs from premiere venues thousands of miles from central New Jersey.
The first of the HD programs, a performance of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Tosca,” from London’s Royal Opera House, takes place Wednesday, November 2. During the season, State Theater audiences can see performances from Milan’s La Scala, Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater, Barcelona’s Teatre del Liceu, and Florence’s Teatro del Maggio Musicale. Operas on the roster include Verdi’s “Aida,” Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” Puccini’s “La Boheme,” and Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” among others. Among the ballets are “Don Quixote, “Swan Lake, “Coppelia,” and “La Fille Mal Gardee.”
Richard Russell, the enterprising general director of Opera New Jersey, hosts the State’s programs with a pre-concert talk and question period before each HD presentation. “It’s always good to have a professional opera producer’s point of view,” Jones notes. (Opera New Jersey, collaborating with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, presents performances of “Tosca” in February at Newark’s Performing Arts Center and McCarter Theater.)
“The HD series is a way to bring high quality performance arts to New Brunswick with very little diminution of the joys of seeing live ballet or opera,” Jones says in an interview in his New Brunswick office. “We would never be able to afford to bring in La Scala. But technology enables us to do that.
“We are advertising what we are doing as ‘captured live,’” Jones continues. “The HD showings are unchanged live performances by international companies.” The series consists of un-edited recordings of live performances, archived for additional showings.
The HD presentations are an addition to the State Theater’s customary offerings. In order to show them to advantage, the theater has acquired a new state-of-the-art projector and a new cutting-edge viewing screen that completely fills the proscenium. Jones calls the equipment “a ‘wow’ factor,” adding, “We now have a projector with the highest resolution possible and a massive screen that measures 46 feet diagonally and is specially treated to enhance luminosity.”
The projector is made by Barco and the screen by Stewart, companies at the forefront of technology. The glowing Stewart screen is one of the largest the company has manufactured.
Taking a hands-on approach, Jones has seen to the placement of additional speakers inside the house. “We have ample surround sound beside the screen and above the proscenium,” he says, “But you can never have enough speakers. Installing the new speakers must be tastefully done. We don’t want them to be visible and mess up the look of the hall. It’s a lovely space.”
Under Peter Gelb’s leadership New York’s Metropolitan Opera pioneered transmitting high definition live performances of opera in movie theaters throughout the world. Begun in 2006, the transmissions have increased both in number and in geographical scope. However, access to the Met’s transmissions is available only in a limited number of outlets.
“The Met made agreements with cinema chains, who blocked us from presenting the Met’s high definition transmissions,” Jones says. “And I thought, ‘we’ll find alternative providers.’” For this year’s series Jones turned to Emerging Pictures, a supplier of high-definition presentations. “They provide the content from which we selected the offerings that fit into our plan,” he says.
“We have the whole world at our disposal,” Jones observes. “I love the Met. But other opera companies in the world have the same high level performances. A second consideration is that folks in central Jersey can get to the Met, but it’s not so easy to get to foreign companies. Seeing HD at the State Theater broadens the experience of viewers. It’s another window into the world of opera or ballet.”
Jones was born in Trenton and grew up in Ewing. As a boy he studied voice and organ in summer programs at Westminster Choir College, now a part of Rider University.
He started playing piano “for payment,” as he puts it, at age 15. “My first long term position was at Har Sinai Temple in Trenton and Cantor Marshall Glatzer taught me enough Hebrew to manage. I played at churches throughout the area. I was the organist and choirmaster at Christ Church in Riverton, NJ, for a spell.” He still plays both the piano and organ, when pressed, and he played for a concert last Sunday in Hillsdale, NY, where he has a second home.
Jones decided to attend Rider University because of an irresistible offer. As an entering freshman he was to serve as piano accompanist for the Rider choirs and also as organist for the then new Rider Chapel. This was in the days before Rider College (now University) acquired Westminster Choir College.
Jones majored in philosophy and history. In the early 1970s, after graduating from Rider, he found his way into arts management, by way of dance. “When I was looking for my first job, I was interviewed by the Pennsylvania Ballet,” he says. He served as company manager for the Pennsylvania Ballet beginning in 1973. “I went into the arts management field before it was a field. I got in on the ground floor and learned from my mistakes. There were no programs in universities. I could have worked in performing arts other than dance. The principles of good management are the same in all areas.” After arts administration became established as an academic specialty, Jones taught at Columbia University, New York University, and Brooklyn College.
Jones drew on his professional experience in dance to write “Dancer’s Resource,” a handbook for the dance world. Published in 1999, the book contains a state-by-state directory of academic programs, internships, workshops, and other programs of interest to dancers, as well as essays on various kinds of dance and major dance organizations. The Library Journal called it an “attractive, compact presentation.” The publication is a companion volume to “Writer’s Resource” and “Photographer’s Resource.”
During his career Jones has repeatedly saved troubled arts organizations. Among his rescues are Lenox, Massachusetts’ Shakespeare and Company; New York state’s Glimmerglass Opera; the Jose Limon Dance Company; and Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn.
“There is no real secret to saving arts organizations,” Jones says. “The arts always operate marginally. There is a thin margin between success and failure. A miscalculation about sales or about cost overruns can be disastrous.”
Essential to a successful arts organization, he believes, are efficient management and financial discipline. He maintains a happy balance between short-term and long-term goals. “A good organization wants to serve audiences,” he says, “not to lay up cash for a rainy day.”
Jones searches out mutually beneficial collaborations with arts providers outside of the organization he works for. The appearance of his office reflects the openness of his approach. Uncurtained windows and ample indirect lighting give an unencumbered feel to the space. We sit comfortably in an area with a traditional sofa and chairs, some distance from the desk. Against pale walls, the color scheme of muted solid reds and blues firmly whispers, “No nonsense.”
Someplace in the working parts of the room must be a bulging contact list. Networking is a way of life for Jones. He has reached out not only to Opera New Jersey’s Russell for the HD series. Opera New Jersey performances at the State Theater are on the agenda.
Jones was involved in scheduling the 2011 commencement of Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts at the State Theater. “That permitted including performances as part of the ceremony,” he says. He keeps an eye on the newly funded Opera Institute at Mason Gross and has talked with Mason Gross’s Dean George Stauffer about presenting small operas on the Douglass College Campus and large operas at the State Theater. He is attempting to coordinate performing arts schedules for the 2012-’13 season with Mason Gross’s theater and dance departments. And he has talked with Suzanne Delehanty, head of Rutgers’ Zimmerli Art Museum about possible joint activities.
“I’m more a coordinator for common interests than an autocrat,” Jones says. “I think of myself as a collaborator. I draw inspiration from working with others and sharing ideas with them.”
Opera in Cinema, State Theater, 15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. Wednesday, November 2, 7 p.m. “Tosca” captured live at the Royal Opera House. $22. Visit the website for full schedule. 732-246-7469 or www.StateTheatreNJ.org.