Count Basie Centre Theatre
Jul 02, 2018

New Jersey Theatre News

By Joanne Colella

Count Basie Centre Theatre

Count Basie Center for the Arts

In May, Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre was reintroduced with a new name: the Count Basie Center for the Arts. The updated title has been heralded as a finer representation of everything that the facility – which is the top-selling nonprofit performing arts center in the state and one of the top venues of its kind nationally and globally – has to offer and its “mission to entertain, educate, and inspire,” according to Adam Philipson, president and CEO. Construction is currently underway on the ambitious $26 million expansion that was first announced in 2015 and broke ground in September 2017. The project will nearly double the size of the Basie and exponentially expand its offerings to the arts, education, and the community at large. Philipson proudly announced on May 14, “For 34 years, the ‘Count Basie Theatre’ name has been synonymous with the region’s very best in arts and entertainment. Today, we raise the Basie name to represent all that this regional center for the arts stands for: our nonprofit mission of arts and education, our work in schools and the community, and all of the excellence and excitement that comes from that. Today, we are the Count Basie Center for the Arts.”

The new name continues the renowned worldwide legacy of jazz legend and Red Bank native William James “Count” Basie, whose famed performances included those for Queen Elizabeth II and President John F. Kennedy, but never forgot his local roots. He passed away in April 1984, and the theater was named in his honor later that year.

The west end of the project is now being built and will house the Jay and Linda Grunin Arts and Education Building, with studios, classrooms, rehearsal spaces, and administrative offices, plus a second performance space that has yet to be named. Coming later will be construction on the east end, creating an expanded lobby and a new lounge for donors housed in the Stillwell-Larkin Pavilion, new concessions, expanded restrooms, a rooftop lounge for concertgoers, private parties, and events, and a spacious outdoor performing arts plaza. A modernized backstage area and state-of-the-art production technologies are expected to delight artists appearing at the Basie and attract even bigger productions.

Follow the ongoing calendar of events, as well as updates on the bigger and better Count Basie Center for the Arts, at thebasie.org.

Two River Theater

The Two River Theater, also in Red Bank, is simultaneously undergoing an expansion of its own, which was announced as the venue approaches its 25th anniversary season. Ground was broken in May for what will become the new state-of-the-art Center for New Work, Education, and Design. Since the current facility was first built, it has reached the limits of its physical space, which includes not only the two intimate performance areas (the Joan and Robert Rechnitz Theater and the Marion Huber Theater) but also the administrative offices and the production building across the parking lot, where scenery and props are created and costumes have been stored.

The Center for New Work, Education, and Design will connect to the existing theater, with three floors housing two rehearsal studios, expanded scene shop spaces, a wood shop for the props department, a larger costume shop, offices for the Production and Education staff, and multiple storage areas. There will be offices and writing spaces for playwrights, lyricists, and composers, and room for additional retreats, readings, and workshops, many of which will be open to the public. Popular events that now have capacity limitations will be able to accommodate more patrons. Annual education programs such as Summer Theater Intensives and First Monday Masters (a series taught by great artists who are working at the theater) will be enhanced, and there are plans to introduce activities that will literally take audiences behind the scenes to view the production process, such as construction of sets.

The enthusiastic goal of the project is to support better communication and productivity among the technicians and artists and to expand the reach and impact of education programs, new play development, and the numerous free community events offered by the Two River Theater. It is recognized for its new-play commissioning program, which creates a pipeline for unique and innovative work, and for hosting artist residencies, workshops, and readings to support the development of American theater and cultivate a new generation of theatergoers.

The area of the theater parking lot is now fenced off while construction, which will begin in earnest in July, continues through the 2018-2019 season. Completion is scheduled for late summer of 2019; until then, on-site parking is limited to handicap spots and all other parking can be found for free at 11 am at the Red Bank Train Station and the garage at Pazzo Restaurant (enter on West Front Street or Water Street). Metered street parking is also available around the theater.

For updates on the Two River Theater and the Center for New Work, Education, and Design, as well as details about the 2018-2019 production season, visit trtc.org.

Paper Mill Playhouse

Further north in the Garden State, another of the country’s leading regional theaters, the popular Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, is also undergoing changes. Over the course of this summer, the theater’s interior is being renovated, including replacement of all the seating. The project is scheduled to be completed in time for the start of the illustrious venue’s 80th anniversary season in September.

“Paper Mill Playhouse has been delighting visitors in Millburn for nearly a century, offering a unique cultural experience for the entire state,” said Mark S. Hoebee, the facility’s producing artistic director. “This renovation…ensures we can impact the lives of our audience and students for generations to come.”

The historically charming Paper Mill Playhouse, which is also one of the country’s oldest regional theaters and the recipient of the 2016 Regional Theatre Tony Award, has staged numerous critically acclaimed productions that were ultimately launched onto Broadway or on national tours.

Find out more about Paper Mill Playhouse and what’s planned for the 2018-2019 performance season at PaperMill.org.