Theater Company to Enrich Jersey City’s Cultural Life with Performances, Readings and Workshops
By Sally Deering
Sometimes friendships lead to creative collaborations and nobody knows that better than Marsha Trice, Artistic Director of the Phoenix Ensemble theater company in Jersey City. Trice and several company members met taking acting classes and doing plays in college and now they are collaborating as producers, actors, costumers – you name it – as the Phoenix Ensemble once again becomes a viable theater venue on Jersey City’s cultural landscape.
Phoenix Ensemble began in the early 1990s and it has been on again-off again until recently, when the company regrouped with Trice as artistic director with co-founders Tony Wilkes, Oliver Pinkard, Michael Laval and Dave Robinson sharing the helm. Together with producer Michele Baldwin, the creative team supports Phoenix Ensemble’s mission to bring theater, workshops and classes to Jersey City residents, especially to kids and teens who need creative opportunities to express themselves.
“Theater gives people an outlet, a chance to bring out their inner selves,” Trice says. “Everybody has gifts. A lot of children have gifts, but some are shy and don’t know where to go, what to do with those gifts.”
On Sat, Feb. 28, at 12 noon at the Mary McLeod Bethune Center in Jersey City, the Phoenix Ensemble presents its first play of its play reading series, MOMMA’S PORCH, a drama by Greg McQueary about a 104 year-old southern woman who reminisces with a reporter about the people she saw pass by her porch. Some of the people were important figures in history. Karen Sweeting of Montclair plays Miss Sini, the older woman, Toni Gray of Jersey City plays her daughter Sissy, and Oliver Pinkard, a resident of Plainfield plays Mike Cordes the reporter who comes to get her story.
“Theater is an extension of real life,” Pinkard says. “At Phoenix, we want to entertain you and give you a message.”
Playing two roles for the company as producer and actor, Pinkard began honing his acting skills in a production of THE DUTCHMAN at the University of Nebraska in Omaha back in the 1970s. He met Trice when they were in Richard Adler’s acting class in Manhattan and the two have remained friends and collaborators ever since.
Also a playwright, Trice wrote the last production put on by Phoenix Ensemble, IMPERFECT WOMEN OF THE BIBLE, a play about several Biblical women and their complicated lives.
“When I wrote it, I was dealing with issues of my own,” Trice says. “It was borne of my trying to find answers.”
Trice earned a BA in Media and Theater Arts from New Jersey City University. She retired after working many years for the Jersey City Board of Education where she taught drama in Public Schools No. 39 and No. 17. She was the drama teacher for New Jersey City University’s Upward Bound Program, and for many years she ran the drama ministry at the Abundant Joy Community Church where IMPERFECT WOMEN OF THE BIBLE was first presented.
In the future, Phoenix Ensemble plans to host acting and playwriting workshops, classes in filmmaking, and costume design, too. Meanwhile, they are at work on HIP HOP SHOP, a new musical debuting in June. A fundraising campaign is also in the works to raise money for the company and attract benefactors who will support Phoenix Ensemble’s programs.
“Jersey City is filled with undiscovered talented gems that only need a platform to shine,” Trice says. “Phoenix Ensemble is on the rise to help make that happen.”
If you go:
Sat, Feb. 28, 12 noon
Mary McLeod Bethune Center
140 Martin Luther King Drive
Admission: $10 (donation)
(201) 376-9810 or (201) 220-7054