Archive for January, 2009

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Report from the Children’s Theatre Showcase: Cleveland Rocks (But Sometimes It Doesn’t)

January 30, 2009

Last week in Cleveland I attended the IPAY Showcase of theater for young audiences. I got to see full-length performances of music, dance, drama, and physical theater from the U.S., Canada, Australia, Scotland, Denmark, and Israel. In all, I saw 14 shows in 4 days. Seeing the full-length performances was extremely valuable in helping to decide which shows we want to book for the State Theatre and (just as important) which ones NOT to book. As I’ve indicated in a previous post, you have to sit through a lot of mediocre/bad children’s theater in order to discover the real treasures. This year’s IPAY Showcase was no exception. 

Unfortunately, there were two productions—one from Australia and the other from the Republic of Congo—that were not allowed to perform at Showcase due to the U.S. Immigration Department’s refusal to grant them a work visa. I’ve seen the Australian show on DVD and it was so fantastic we will probably book it anyway if it ever tours to the U.S. 

My favorite performance at Showcase was The Man Who Planted Trees, from Scotland. The two actor/puppeteers have created a brilliant adaptation of Jean Giono’s short story about a French shepherd who devotes his life to transforming a barren wasteland into a fertile paradise by planting thousands and thousands of trees. The production is exactly what I look for in a show for young audiences. First and foremost, it’s an imaginative piece of theater, expertly performed. Yes, there’s an important message about caring for the environment, but it’s seamlessly integrated into the storytelling; the audience is never made to feel as if we’re sitting in a classroom instead of a theater. The star of the show is a dog puppet who was perhaps the funniest, cutest, and most talented performer in the entire showcase. 

The Man Who Planted Trees ended up winning the Showcase Audience Choice Award. This is a pretty big honor since the voters are all theater professionals. We’ve been trying to bring the show to New Brunswick ever since my boss, Wes Brustad, saw it at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland a couple of years ago. I’m thrilled to report that it will be on our 2009-10 season! 

Besides seeing lots and lots of showcases, I also attended sessions addressing important issues in the field of performing arts for young people. Particularly relevant to me was a conversation about the changing role of education directors at performing arts centers; many of us are seeing our jobs evolve beyond programming performances for schools to becoming an instrument for community outreach and engagement. We didn’t arrive at any earth-shaking solutions, but it was helpful to hear that many of my colleagues are grappling with the same concerns as I am. 

 —Lian Farrer, Vice President for Education

The State Theatre is located at 15 Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick, NJ. For information or to purchase tickets call 732-246-SHOW(7469) or visit http://www.statetheatrenj.org/.

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Mission and Purpose

January 28, 2009

In January each year, I attend several arts conferences, in particular the annual gathering of the International Society for the Performing Arts. Within the context of a world economy in chaos, it was a good time to take stock of what we do and how we serve our respective constituencies. In a time of economic upheaval, the most difficult thing an arts institution can do is to stay on mission. It is tempting to take the low road—to pick the low hanging fruit—when the going gets difficult. The pop culture beckons and the allure of easy money intrigues even the purist.

Our mission at the State Theatre clearly states that we exist to enrich the lives of people and to contribute to a vital urban environment. We are committed to excellence in the performing arts, to providing an arts education program that informs and builds audiences, and to adding to the vibrancy of a thriving city.

While arts centers and theaters play a major role in the economic development of a city, the primary outcomes of the arts experiences we offer are not economic. Obviously, economic impact is a by-product of our attendance, but it is not a result of the theater experience.

The theatre’s primary purpose is to transform individuals and our community through the artists and arts experiences that we present. We should be raising awareness of ourselves, the human condition, and of the world in which we live. As Alan Brown and Jennifer Novak so well state in a study, Assessing the Intrinsic Impacts of a Live Performance:

“The true impact of performing arts experiences is what happens to individual members when the lights go down and the artist takes the stage—and, moreover, cumulative benefits to individuals, families and communities of having those experiences available night after night, year after year.”

Right now, times are very tough. But we will get through it. The earth’s path around the sun has not changed nor the moon’s path around earth. And so we keep our eye on that goal which has guided artists since time began which is to celebrate our creativity and to shed light on the human condition which we do nightly through humor, pathos, and beauty.

—Wes Brustad, State Theatre President & CEO

The State Theatre is located at 15 Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick, NJ. For information or to purchase tickets call 732-246-SHOW(7469) or visit http://www.statetheatrenj.org/.

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Never a Dull Moment…

January 23, 2009

On the morning of January 20, while Barack Obama was getting ready to be sworn into office, Bob the Builder LIVE! was getting ready to perform at the State Theatre for students and teachers from all over New Jersey. But before the buses arrived, we had some excitement on Livingston Avenue, as right in front of the theater two car accidents blocked the street (Yes, two!). Luckily, there were police officers there to help with the accidents and to help safely guide the buses. It was a little chaotic and it took a while for the accidents to clear out and for us to get the buses where they needed to be, but we did it.

Adding to the confusion was the fact that it had snowed the day before, the streets were a little icy, and as a result, some of the school groups we were expecting were delayed BEFORE they arrived to the mess of Livingston Avenue. So, the show started 15 minutes late, not bad, all things considered.

The show started and you could hear the kids’ excitement from the lobby. During intermission, some little kids were lined up with chaperones to use the bathroom and others were sitting in the lobby having a mid-morning snack. Hearing the students talking about how great the show was is one of my favorite parts of education matinees, especially when the students are very little. They went back into the theater and responded when Bob asked them questions (“Can we fix it?” “Yes we can!”). As the show came to a close, the kids waited to be led out to their buses, getting zipped up, and putting a hand on the rope that a lot of teachers bring to help herd their students. Jumping up and down as they left, it was pretty clear that they had fun watching Bob, and I had fun watching them, and that all of this was well worth it.
—Jennifer Cunha, Education

For more information on the State Theatre’s performances for schools, visit: http://www.statetheatrenj.org/education/performancesschools.asp

The State Theatre is located at 15 Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick, NJ. For information or to purchase tickets call 732-246-SHOW(7469) or visit http://www.statetheatrenj.org/.

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Plumbing problems are the least of our worries

January 20, 2009

There are lots of things to worry about as a nonprofit performing arts center in the packed arts community of New Jersey in today’s economy, and they are challenges that we face every day. However, it was not any of those things that effected the work flow of State Theatre employees today. Today, the State Theatre adminstration staff was blindsided by a backed up sewer that resulted in the closing of all the bathrooms in the building. You may or may not know this, but the State Theatre adminstration building is NOT in the theater. The offices are actually located in the same building as the George Street Playhouse (directly above the stage to be exact). So, that means, if we have to use the bathroom, we need to bundle up (and brave the 16 degree weather) and go next door to the theater. Now, it’s not the end of the world and the problem will be fixed soon enough. But when things are already running along the rough side (and in the theater world, they are), it hurts to let go of the things that you took for granted. So, when we lose sight and forget about the little comforts that we still have, we need to wake up, bundle up, and be thankful that we have a theater that’s up and running (complete with indoor plumbing) because not everyone is so lucky right now.

The State Theatre is located at 15 Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick, NJ. For information or to purchase tickets call 732-246-SHOW(7469) or visit http://www.statetheatrenj.org/.

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VP for Education, ISO Great School and Family Performances for State Theatre Audiences

January 15, 2009

I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting work to present for our school and community audiences, and theater conferences are a great way to see a lot of performances in a short time. This past week my staff and I went into NYC to check out a few of the hundreds of performances being showcased during the mother-of-all-booking-conferences, APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) 

Attending theater showcases is a lot like the dating scene: you have to sort through a lot of mediocre, annoying, incomprehensible, inappropriate, and just plain stupid options before you find one that’s right for you. This year’s APAP conference was no exception. We were pleasantly intrigued by a couple of shows that were part of the Under the Radar Festival at the Public Theater. Both incorporated performance poetry to illuminate powerful personal stories about class, race, identity, and culture. The quality of both productions was great—original, well-written, and movingly performed. Due to some of the language and subject matter, we’re not sure whether these pieces would be considered appropriate for school audiences. We’ll need to look into whether the artists would be willing to do some editing. 

As anticipated, we found ourselves sitting through some showcases that weren’t quite so successful. A couple of these showed promise, but will need a lot more polish before they’re ready for the State Theatre. We’ll be keeping an eye on them as they go through their development. Then there was another show that we all agreed was perhaps the longest hour we’ve ever spent inside a theater. (No, I’m not going to tell you what it was.)  

I will be flying off to Cleveland next week to attend my favorite conference: IPAY (International Performing Arts for Youth), which specializes in programs for school and family audiences. As the name implies, the conference showcases performers from all over the world. Since the productions are required to go through a screening process in order to be selected for a showcase performance, the quality tends to be pretty high. I’ll let you know how it goes. 

 —Lian Farrer, Vice President for Education

The State Theatre is located at 15 Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick, NJ. For information or to purchase tickets call 732-246-SHOW(7469) or visit http://www.statetheatrenj.org/.
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State Theatre staff takes a trip to Brooklyn for STREB’s new show, Invisible Forces

January 13, 2009

Elizabeth Streb, the founder of STREB Extreme Action, is known for her use of odd mechanical devices for her performance pieces. As odd as they are, they make sense and wow you in ways that you never thought a piece of metal or wire could.

In their latest show, Invisible Forces, there are new devices, new tricks, and new performers. Last time that they visited us at the State Theatre in New Jersey, they brought with them a large human-sized hamster wheel, that they spun at great speeds and leapt in and out of continuously. This time around, the wheel is a lot smaller, bright yellow, and kind of reminds you of a circus act (particularly those death-defying motorcycle cages). Even though it’s another wheel-contraption, as they have conquered in the past, this wheel is just different. The dancers or “action” engineers run and jump inside the wheel and as you watch you them, you feel like time has stood still (but in a good way). I guess what I am trying to say is that STREB shows give you a very optimistic outlook on life. Every time I have seen them perform, I have walked out of the show feeling like I can conquer the world (and that I should get to the gym). The few of us staff members that went that night, left in high-spirits and in a time like this, who couldn’t use a little skip in their step.

Catch STREB Extreme Action in their new show INVISIBLE FORCES at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ on Friday, February 6 at 8pm.

The State Theatre is located at 15 Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick, NJ. For information or to purchase tickets call 732-246-SHOW(7469) or visit http://www.statetheatrenj.org/.

Check us out on Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace.