The Drama Seasons

George Street

At Mercer College

McCarter Theater

Shakespeare Festival

Bristol Riverside

Off-Broadstreet Theater

Paper Mill Playhouse

Passage Theater

Shakespeare ’70

State Theater

Corrections or additions?

Prepared for the September 13, 2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper.

All rights reserved.

Season Preview: Drama

New plays by A.R. Gurney, Athol Fugard, and Arthur

Laurents, revivals of musicals by Jerry Herman, Cole Porter, Rodgers

and Hammerstein, and classics by Shakespeare, Maeterlinck, and

Sheridan

will all be staged by New Jersey’s professional theaters this season.

For the middle-aged core audience that regularly attends and values

theater, no hard sell is needed. Generating enthusiasm among younger

elements of the population is something else again. Call it a

challenge.

For all their ambitious and earnest outreach programs for the very

young, high school, and college students, and special nights catering

to targeted business and social groups, what efforts, initiatives,

and marketing strategies does New Jersey’s theater community employ

to lure young adults into the theater and make believers of them.

What, in fact, does live theater mean to under-35s in an era when

highly visceral, electronically-charged entertainment appears to

dominate

the airwaves and competes so aggressively for attention? I talked

to a few of the marketing directors at prominent New Jersey theaters

to see how they are armed to meet this challenge.

Although Gabriel Shanks is departing as the director of marketing

at New Brunswick’s George Street Playhouse to assume similar duties

for Morristown’s Community Theater, a performing arts center, he

understands

the need to attract young adults to all kinds of theaters, whether

they are focused on dramatic or concert programs. As Shanks points

out, that theater once represented a central force in people’s lives.

"It has become rarefied along with opera and dance. Today young

adults tend to look to the specific event."

Acknowledging the expense of going to the theater (a single seat at

George Street costs about $32), as opposed to the movies, or staying

home to choose among 500 television channels, Shanks, who is himself

31 years old, sees his contemporaries readily supporting plays with

themes and topics that address their lives. "Angels in

America"

comes to mind as one such play.

"It was the first time that I had been to a theater, looked

around,

and saw that everyone around me was young," says Shanks, citing

the long-running "Rent," and Off-Broadway’s "De La

Guarda,"

as shows that also speak directly to young adults. Shanks regards

the plays selected for this George Street season, as having the

potential

to bring in a whole new audience.

Among the premieres artistic director David Saint is targeting at

young adults is "The Spitfire Grill," about a relationship

between Hannah, the owner of a restaurant, and Percy, a young woman

recently released from prison, is a musical based on the movie that

developed a big following among young adults. Another play that the

theater hopes will appeal to that target group will be A.R. Gurney’s

"Human Events," in which an over-zealous British teacher tries

to revitalize the humanities department in a small New England

college.

One of the more innovative moves at the George Street

Playhouse is the concierge service specifically designated to make

going to the theater easier for young working adults. The service

includes restaurant reservations, parking, and traffic updates. While

no figures are available, Shanks is sure more young adults are coming

since Saint arrived three years ago. "Theater must make the

Internet

work for it," says Shanks, who says the theater has just begun

online purchasing of tickets. Looking into the future, Shanks sees

scenes from the plays and songs from the musicals being downloaded

from the web, as well as increased interaction — interviews,

dialogues,

chats — between artists and the potential audience. Beginning

this year is a "collegiate initiative," which allows anyone

with a student ID to get a ticket for $10. Web address:

www.georgestplayhouse.org

"We are in danger of losing young audiences, but I’m

optimistic,"

says Steven Favreau, director of marketing at the Paper Mill Playhouse

in Milburn. Certainly at this theater, more than any other, where

revivals of classic operettas and popular musicals from Broadway’s

"Golden Age" are the norm, hard choices are being made.

Favreau

is well aware that producing shows that are both attractive to young

adults and that keep the core "Golden Age" subscribers is

not an easy task. While no one can guarantee that by bringing a new

hip esthetic to an old show will always work, bringing in a new

associate

director is one way to help broaden the artistic vision. This season

Mark S. Hoebee, who has demonstrated his abilities as a choreographer

and director for Paper Mill’s "Dreamgirls" and "Will

Rogers

Follies," joins the permanent staff that will continue to operate

under the artistic direction of Robert Johanson. Hoebee, who was in

the Broadway cast of "Victor/Victoria," will direct that

musical,

which opens at the Paper Mill on November 1.

I asked Favreau if perhaps too many of us remain overly sentimental

about the long-standing mission of the venerable Paper Mill Playhouse,

which is to keep the great musicals alive and refreshed (with a little

time out for comedy). And why do so many young people regard theater

as somewhat archaic?

"It’s a reality that 66 percent — that’s 30,000 — of our

subscribers are retired," says Favreau. "Turning our backs

on them would be crazy." However, marketing shows to the young

adult is something Favreau says they talk about all the time. He is

particularly enthusiastic about the potential popularity of a new

subscription program (one of seven plans) called the "Date

Pass."

Here the buyer purchases four passes which may be used for four shows,

or to bring four people on a single night. You also don’t have to

commit to a particular night, although Favreau says, "Come on

Friday night and you’ll see a majority of young people."

The opening of Paper Mill’s Lilac restaurant on site, which will also

be home to cabaret-style performances, is expected to draw young

adults

before and after the shows. The web address: www.papermill.org

Seeing more and more young faces in the audience is McCarter Theater

artistic director Emily Mann’s goal. Getting more young people into

the theater is director of marketing Barbara Andrews’ task. Aside

from the increased use of mailing lists purchased from hip venues

and distributing the more pop designed literature at area bookstores,

Andrews is especially enthusiastic about McCarter’s "After-Hours

Theater Party" which she says is becoming "the hot party in

town." One night per production is set aside for the party that

includes post-show lobby entertainment, food, and theme decor. It

costs the same as a general admission ticket.

McCarter has again upgraded its website to reach a younger audience.

When the initial response to a "Youth" subscription was weak,

they changed its name to "Twenty-Five and Under." Andrews

says that with the name change backed by a promotion push, the series

went from 200 to 750 subscribers.

Like the Paper Mill Playhouse, the core audience at the McCarter

before

Mann’s arrival eight years ago was considerably older. This, despite

the fact that Princeton is a university town. An aggressive campaign

to attract young audiences continues. Given that students can attend

free through the university’s "Passports to the Arts" program,

Andrews reports that there has been a 175 percent increase last year

in youth passports. "Through our website, we have built a

relationship

with AOL and Culture Finder," she says, referring to the impact

that electronic newsletters have had on ticket sales. These high tech

portals to culture tell what’s happening in New Jersey, its night

life, hot restaurants, music, and theater. When a special promotion

is started, these portals will enable the viewer to directly link

to the McCarter.

When single tickets went on sale on the Web a couple

of weeks ago, 250 tickets were sold there. Last year at this time

the theater did not have website sales. Andrews now credits McCarter’s

new full-time Web producer and editor for creating links with other

arts organizations. "The increase of sales has been amazing,"

she says, "but we don’t have the software yet that can track and

tell us where the sales are coming from. We don’t have streaming video

yet, but we do have MP3 audio files to download if you want to hear

sound clips from an upcoming music event."

What the McCarter site does have for those interested in the coming

season, which features among its six shows, Lily Tomlin in "The

Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe," beginning

October 17, is a link to Tomlin’s own website. Web visitors can also

access an interview with Mary Zimmerman, the adapter and director

of "The Odyssey," which opens the season on September 15 (see

related story). "We’ve come a long way in a year, and we’ve got

a long way to go," says Andrews, who sees the future of theater

depending more on the Internet where young people surf and search.

Web address is www.mccarter.org.

Also employing high technology to market traditional theater is the

New Jersey Theatre Group which publishes a weekly electronic

newsletter,

sponsored by Verizon. The E-News lists all the current productions,

with Web links and box office numbers for the statewide alliance of

professional theaters. E-News usually opens with a discount ticket

offer for its subscribers. To subscribe, send an E-mail to

NJTG@nj.com.

The website is at www.njtheatregroup.org.

Elizabeth Murphy, known for her past production work at Trenton’s

Passage Theater, and more recently at the New Jersey Theater Group

where she spent four years director of development and marketing,

also specializes in new audience development. Now beginning her first

season as a producing director at Madison’s Playwrights Theater of

New Jersey, she says new audiences are still very much on her mind.

"Once young adults come to a performance at Playwrights, they

realize it is not just their grandparents’ theater," she says.

While acting and playwriting classes attract the young, who are also

encouraged to attend the readings and full productions, Murphy says

she has learned to recognize the popularity of movies as a marketing

tool.

"It’s the perception of what theater is that we are fighting

against,"

says Murphy. "Criminal Acts," one of the three plays to be

given a full production this season, is about a teacher and students

seeking revenge. "It has just those topical and frightening

elements

that will appeal to 20-year-olds as well as to an older audience,"

she notes. But how to get 20-somethings into the seats is the

challenge.

Encouraged by the success of annual Fringe Festivals, pioneered in

Edinburgh, Scotland, and now found in New York, Philadelphia, and

many other urban center’s PTNJ’s producing artistic director John

Pietrowski intends to attract the young and adventurous to Newarks

first Fringe Festival, currently being planned for 2002. In the

meantime,

in addition to the customary press releases, postcards, posters and

flyers, they are using the power and availability of the Web, E-mail,

and newsletters. Web address: www.ptnj.org

For one-stop access and links to all New Jersey Theaters, try

www.njtheater.com

and www.njtheatregroup.org.

— Simon Saltzman

Top Of Page
The Drama Seasons

Top Of Page
George Street

George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New

Brunswick,

732-246-7717.

Wit, The season opens with the inspiring play by Margaret

Edson, winner of the 1999 Pulitzer for drama, and long-running New

York hit. It tells the story of Vivian, an English literature scholar,

battling ovarian cancer. October 14 through November 12.

The Spitfire Grill, World premiere of a new musical based

on Lee David Zlotoff’s film. It is about an ex-con who tries to

reestablish

her life in a small town, where she finds a loving, new confidant.

November 25 to December 24.

Human Events, A.R. Gurney’s latest play about the

Humanities

Department of a New England College, and the man trying to make it

more "humane." January 6 until February 4.

Venecia. Arthur Laurents directs and adapts Jorge Accame’s

comic fable that was a hit in the playwright’s native Argentina.

February

10 to March 11.

TBA. Directed by newly appointed associate artistic

director

Ethan McSweeny. March 17 to April 15.

Claudia Lazlo. World premiere by Arthur Laurents starring

Turkish actress Cigdem Onat as a wartime opera star. April 21- May

20.

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At Mercer College

Kelsey Theater, Mercer County College, Old Trenton Road,

609-584-9444.

Arsenic and Old Lace, Season opens with the classic

homicidal

comedy about the elderly Brewster sisters and their misplaced charity.

$12. September 29.

Little Shop of Horrors, The Pennington Players perform

this very popular and very unusual dark musical comedy. $12. October

13.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Playwright Rupert Holmes

created

an ending to this Charles Dickens’ novel, but in a very un-Dickens

manner. This murder mystery has been transformed into a

play-within-a-play

musical comedy. $12. January 12.

Agnes of God, This powerful classic by John Pielmeier

reveals the secrets of one mind, and how when exposed, changes lives

forever. $12. February 23.

Godspell, Playful Theater Productions presents this

original

pop-rock gospel musical version of the world’s most famous story.

$12. March 30.

Fiddler on the Roof, Pierrot Productions presents this

musical story of love, devotion and defiance in a poor Jewish family

in Czarist Russia. $12. April 27.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Starving Artists

Productions

presents this warden versus patient rivalry drama that is set in a

loony bin. $12. May 18.

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McCarter Theater

McCarter Theater, 91 University Place, 609-258-2787.

The Odyssey. Homer’s 3,000-year-old action-packed epic

adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman, September 12 to October 1.

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,

Lily Tomlin’s one-woman show, written and directed by Jane Wagner,

October 17 to November 5.

A Christmas Carol. The annual holiday heartwarmer,

December

5 to 24.

Another American: Asking and Telling. On the Second Stage

OnStage series, Marc Wolf’s solo show about public policy and gays

in the military. January 11 to 28.

The School for Scandal. The Richard Brinsley Sheridan

restoration comedy, directed by Mark Lamos. February 13 to March 4.

BecauseHeCan. Arthur Kopit’s new drama, directed by Emily

Mann. Part Internet thriller, part psychological mystery, it is about

a high-powered New York City couple who awake to discover their

private

lives are no longer private. Opens March 27.

Sorrow and Rejoicings, Previews begin for the world

premiere

by South African playwright Athol Fugard. May 1 to 20.

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Shakespeare Festival

New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, F.M. Kirby Theater, Drew

University, Madison, 973-408-5600.

Antony and Cleopatra, Bonnie J. Monte directs

Shakespeare’s

drama of passion. Opens September 5.

The Merchant of Venice. Richard Corley directs the

production

of the Shakespeare Festival’s most often requested play, October 24

to November 19.

The Blue Bird, Bonnie J. Monte directs the play for adults

and children by Maurice Maeterlinck. November 28 to December 17.

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Bristol Riverside

Bristol Riverside Theater, 120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol,

215-785-0100.

Wait Until Dark. Season opens with the thriller written

by Fredrick Knott and directed by Edward Keith Baker. October 10

through October 29. $27 to $34.

Best Friends, Written by Thomas P. Carr, directed by Susan

D. Atkinson. November 28 through December 17. $27 to $34.

Forever Plaid, The popular musical, written by Stuart

Ross, directed by Susan D. Atkinson. January 30 through February 8.

$32 to $39.

A Moon for the Misbegotten, Written by Eugene O’Neill,

directed by Susan D. Atkinson. March 13 to April 1. $27 to $34.

Evita, The "My Argentina" musical with lyrics

by Tim Rice, music by Andrew Lloyd Weber, directed by Edward Keith

Baker. May 1 through May 20. $32 to $39.

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Off-Broadstreet Theater

Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue,

Hopewell,

609-466-2766.

Mass Appeal, Written by Bill C. Davis, the 1986 play about

a young priest who challenges the validity of an older priest’s

routine.

September 8 to October 14.

Swingtime Canteen, "Swingtime Canteen" takes place

in 1944 during World War II when a couple of ladies decide to sing

a few songs for the GIs across the Atlantic. October 27 to December

9.

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Paper Mill Playhouse

Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn,

973-376-4343.

Anything Goes, Cole Porter’s musical, starring two-time

Tony Award-winner Chita Riviera, directed by Lee Ray Reams. September

6 to October 15

Victor/Victoria, Based on Blake Edward’s romantic musical

comedy movie, with music by Henry Mancini. November 1 to December

10.

Art, Yasmina Reza’s critically acclaimed play about three

men, thrown into turmoil by a piece of modern art. January 3 to

February

4.

Funny Girl, Jule Styne’s award winning musical chronicling

the life of stage and screen comedienne, Fanny Brice. April 4 to May

20.

Carousel, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical love story,

featuring famous songs like, "If I Loved You" and "You’ll

Never Walk Alone." Begins today and runs to July 15. Preview.

$37 to $60. May 30.

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Passage Theater

Passage Theater Company, Mill Hill Playhouse, Front and

Montgomery streets, Trenton, 609-392-0766.

Marion Anderson: A Credit to her Race. A new musical play

about the famed operatic singer who went up against the D.A.R. October

12 to 29.

Top Of Page
Shakespeare ’70

Shakespeare ’70, Studio Theater, College of New Jersey, Ewing,

609-882-5979.

English Music Hall 2000, Tired of hearing about the new

millennium? Try an evening of bawdy music and comedy from London

at the turn of the last century. September 14 to 23.

Top Of Page
State Theater

State Theater, 15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick,

877-782-8311.

Footloose. This movie turned musical drama is filled with

classic ’80s music and cut-loose dancing, December 2. Chicago,

Broadway’s murderously swanky and seductive musical that includes

Bob Fosse-inspired choreography and a jazzy score, February 16 and

17. Man of La Mancha, Cervante’s classic story of Don Quixote

and his quest for the impossible dream comes to life on stage, March

30 & 31.

Cyrano de Bergerac, Aquila Theatre Company presents this

bittersweet love story about Cyrano and his love for Roxane, April

4. Phantom, Tony Award winners Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston,

join forces to create this new version of Gaston Leroux’s classic,

April 26.

Jekyll & Hyde, This musical drama is the retelling of

Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of good vs. evil, May 11 & 12.


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