The Play’s the Thing at STAGEfest 2013, the Loew’s Jersey Theatre’s First Play Festival
By Sally Deering
In her prime, she was a real looker. Decked out in red velvet and adorned in crystal and gold, the Loew’s Jersey Theatre was a glamorous show palace when it opened in 1929. Today, the Loew’s is a New Jersey Registered Historic Site owned by Jersey City and after many years of restoration by the volunteer group Friends of the Loew’s, the movie palace has ‘come back to life’. Like an aging Ziegfeld showgirl with gorgeous gams. the Loew’s is a grandly vintage venue for film festivals, film retrospectives – even weddings – and for the first time this month, the Loew’s will host its first every performing arts festival, STAGEfest 2013.
Starting Fri, Mar. 22 and running through Sun, Mar. 24, STAGEfest 2013 raises the curtain on a weekend of theatrical, dance and musical performances highlighting Hudson’s arts and artists. The festival will feature three days of shows by local playwrights, musicians, dancers and solo-artists who will perform their works not just on the theater’s main stage, but also in its lobbies, salons, promenades and hallways. The weekend event also features a costume exhibit by Leading Lady Costumes and refreshments by local vendors in the Grand Lobby Café.
“This marks the return to live theatre – in addition to classic film and concerts,” says Colin Egan, Executive Director of Loew’s Jersey Theatre. “We always said we wanted theatre to be part of the Loew’s, but with all the work of renovating it and running the other shows here, we kept putting it off. So STAGEfest is the first of an annual (and maybe more frequent) theatre festival the Loew’s will host.”
Coordinating the event with Egan and the Friends of the Loew’s volunteers are Christine Goodman, Founder of Art House Productions in Jersey City, and David Zimmerman, Executive Director of the DeBaun Center for Performing Arts at Steven’s Institute of Technology in Hoboken. Zimmerman knows his way around play festivals; DeBaun formerly hosted the Hudson County One Act Play Festival.
“We were looking for variety as well as artistic integrity, something that had quality to it and something that was going to work well in the spaces at the Loew’s,” Zimmerman says. “Some shows are operating in multiple spaces. Some are performing on the main stage, some in the lobby and in spaces upstairs. This has never been done at the Loew’s. Audience members can go from one show to the next to the next to the next.”
For STAGEfest 2013, Zimmerman, Goodman and the rest of the STAGEfest 2013 committee chose 18 acts: eight plays, four musicals, three dance acts and three singer-soloists.
“Because we are so close to New York, we forget there are a lot of artists here,” Zimmerman says. “They’re telling a local story and it’s important for our artists to have a local venue to do that. It’s great for the Loew’s to have live theater. Hopefully this is the start of more things to come.”
Audience members will get a big bang for their buck with ticket prices only $10 and $15, Zimmerman says. (Those ticket prices are for online purchases; tickets bought at the door are $5 extra.) Theater-goers can also buy a 3-day pass for $25; $30 at the door.
“That’s cheap,” Zimmerman says. “You can see five different shows on Sunday for 10 bucks. How amazing is that? It’s ‘public-transportational’ and we have discount parking around the back.”
Many local playwrights are being featured in STAGEfest 2013 including Summer Dawn Hortillosa of Jersey City who wrote, directs and stars in “Before, After and Always,” a comedy that explores three stages of a relationship. The two-character play also stars Sergio Caetano, 22, a resident of Lake Hiawatha and student at Montclair University.
Hortillosa, 22, was the winner of the 2007 New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival, Governor’s Award for her first play, “The Not-So-Lovely Tale of Strawberry Fructose” about the daughter of two candy makers who is cursed with an allergy to sweets. “Before, After and Always” will be performed in the Loew’s ‘Upstairs Left Lobby’ and its performance schedule is Saturday at 3 pm and 7:45 pm; and Sunday at 2:45 pm.
“I’m really excited,” Hortillosa says. “This will be my first time performing and presenting at the Loew’s. Theater is my real passion and this is what I’m meant to do and what my talents are best for. There’s nothing like seeing your words come to life on stage.”
A former member of the musical theater workshop at the BMI in New York City, under the direction of Maury Yestin, Annie Kessler of Jersey City co-wrote the music and lyrics with Libby Saines to the musical “Woman with Pocketbook” with music by Tony Award nominee Jeff Blumenkrantz (“Urban Cowboy”).
“Woman with Pocketbook” is a musical comedy about a woman who goes to heaven but refuses to relinquish her purse. The half-hour musical has played St. Louis, Dallas and Los Angeles, and this production – the East Coast premiere – is produced by Christine Goodman of Art House Productions and directed by Art House Production’s Artistic Director Jack Halpin. It features a cast of 15 (mostly) local residents including Norrice Raymaker, Judith Moss, Brad Brenner and Roland Ramos.
Thrilled to have her musical performed at the Loew’s, Kessler remembers the movie palace before its renovation and seeing the theater ‘come back to life’ is like a dream come true, she says.
“I love the Loew’s,” Kessler says. “I think STAGEfest is a great idea and there’s a lot of great stuff being done.”
Audience members can see “Woman with Pocketbook” on Saturday at 1:45 pm and 6:30 pm; and Sunday at 5:45 pm in the Loew’s ‘Upper Balcony’.
On the Fringe
Bill LaRosa, Director of Hudson County’s Cultural and Heritage Affairs/Tourism Division is a strong supporter of STAGEfest at the Loew’s and compares it with the very popular Fringe Festival that takes place every summer in Edinburgh, Scotland. LaRosa says if a festival of plays and other performing arts can be successful there, it can be successful here in Hudson, too.“I have always been intrigued by having an event like STAGEfest take root in Hudson County,” “Years ago, I made a private visit to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Fringe showcases experimental, emerging, and classical performing arts. I was convinced then, as I am now, that something like this can work in Hudson County. The Friends of the Loew’s has taken the first important step in establishing STAGEfest as an annual event, with the potential to grow like the Fringe Festival, and with the promise of becoming a successful cultural tourism event.”
IF YOU GO:
Fri, Mar. 22-Sun, Mar. 24
Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre
54 Journal Square, Jersey City
Tickets: All-day pass: Fri, Sat, $10; Sun, $15;
Weekend pass: $25; $20 for students/seniors.
(Tickets are $5 more at the door)
To Order Tickets Online: