Bayonne’s Culture Scene Takes Off -Art, Theater and New Outdoor Stage on the Rise
By Sally Deering
Jersey City’s culture scene just got some competition. It seems Bayonne, its Hudson sister to the south has been going through a renaissance of sorts. Art galleries, theater companies and now a new performing arts pavilion are giving the city a cultural facelift.
There’s the JCC of Bayonne’s Fine Art Gallery currently featuring A COUPLE OF IMAGES, paintings and photographs by Bayonne residents and artists Billy Zbylut and Patty Mulligan; the Art Circle of Bayonne at the Bayonne Community Museum which has a Spring Art Show underway featuring Bayonne artists; the new Bayonne Theater Company is hosting a gala on Thursday, May 21, with its first show THE MUSIC MAN in pre-production; and a Bayonne performing arts pavilion which will host local theater, music and dance groups, as well as stars like Willie Nelson is breaking ground in a few weeks. .
“(The pavilion) is posed to be a great draw for Bayonne, and something that can be enjoyed by both residents and visitors alike,” a statement from the office of Bayonne Mayor James M. Davis states. “We are excited by the way things are progressing. A final signoff is set the beginning of next week, and we will know a lot more in the way of timelines, start dates, and an event schedule within the next couple of weeks.”
LAWN CHAIRS & MOZART
Bayonne’s new performing arts pavilion will be approximately 30,000 square feet and hold up to 5,000 people, says project manager Robert Donnel of Donnel Benjamin Productions, a subsidiary of Medical Tourism TV, LLC, and former owner of the Meadowlands Convention Center in Secaucus. It will be set on a concrete foundation and feature a membrane that goes over giant arches, Donnel says. Much like the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel, folks will be able to bring lawn chairs and blankets to watch the shows, and located a block from the waterfront, the location offers magnificent views of the Manhattan Skyline. Designed to be a temporary site for about three years, Donnel says, if successful, it may become a permanent structure.
Like Kevin Costner building a baseball field to attract ball players in the film FIELD OF DREAMS, Donnel says if you build a performing arts pavilion, they will come – especially New Jerseyians who may be reluctant to travel to Manhattan to pay high ticket prices and parking fees.
“New York is pretty much prohibitive,” Donnel says. “Here, you don’t have to go through the tunnel and pay for parking. I want to make clear, the pavilion is not just for Bayonne. It’s much bigger than Bayonne. If you have the Boston Pops perform, you’re going to get people from everywhere.”
The pavilion will sit on approximately three acres of land near where the Marine Ocean Terminal was located, and a block from the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail’s 34th Street station. It will be capable of hosting events simultaneously; an expo or festival can take place in the expo area while audience members can relax on lawn chairs and enjoy a concert under the stars.
“The scale of it will be on the large side,” Donnel says. “Yes, it will be located in Bayonne, but it will have a greater impact on the area because of some of the acts we will bring in, big stars like Willie Nelson.”
Donnel says the project is in the “growing pains” stage and because there are no footsteps to follow in, he and his team are breaking new ground. The land where it will be located was part of the Marine Ocean Terminal where there was once a military base.
“If you go to Google Satellite and try to get coordinates, it doesn’t come up, there was never anything there before,” Donnel says.
Donnel credits Mayor Davis and the Bayonne Community Bank for supporting the Bayonne performing arts pavilion project.
“The Bayonne Community Bank, the people there are wonderful and very interested in the arts in Bayonne,” Donnel says. “With Mayor Davis, we saw a very enlightened person and decided to jump on board to bring a spectacular venue to an area that can really use this. There’s nothing like this in Hudson County.”
A THEATER GROWS IN BAYONNE
After holding public meetings at a Chiropractic office, the Bayonne Theater Company makes an official debut at its ROCKIN’ THE ARTS FUNDRAISER on Thurs, May 21 at the Bayonne Community Museum on 9th & Broadway. Adam J. Semanchick, President of the newly-formed company says it was started to bring theater artists in the community together for a common cause – to put on shows and give the people of Bayonne another venue to connect.
For several years, Rich Dwyer of Bayonne has enjoyed the life of an actor in community theaters throughout New Jersey. He’s played Lurch in THE ADDAMS FAMILY musical for the Stony Hill Players in Summit; and Riff Raff in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW musical. Dwyer decided to get in on the planning stages with Semanchick and other Bayonne theater enthusiasts because, he says, there’s a new Bayonne arts boom and he wants to be part of it.
“In the last three years, I’ve done a lot of shows outside Hudson County,” Dwyer says, ‘and I was running into actors from Bayonne. There’s a lot of talent here. Last week I went to two art shows and they were packed, people spilling outside onto the sidewalk talking, discussing what they saw. Then they were off and on their way to the local restaurants. The New York Times once described Bayonne as a ‘fading blue collar community’ but we’ve got a lot going on here. Local artists and performing artists are coming out and expressing what they have, and are being supported in a big way by the community.”
The company – which so far is about 40 people – will use the money from the May 21st Gala to put on its first show, THE MUSIC MAN by Meredith Wilson, tentatively scheduled for September. Meanwhile, it’s in the process of obtaining non-profit status and has applied for a 501 (c) (3). Financially, the goal is to raise $15,000 to cover the costs of tech equipment and produce the show.
“We have a vast amount of resources,” Semanchick says. “Bayonne has a viable future in the arts.”
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IF YOU GO:
Bayonne Theater Company Gala
Thurs, May 21, 7-10 pm
Rockin’ the Arts Fundraiser
Bayonne Community Museum
229 Broadway (9th & B’way)
For more info, tix: (201) 780-8378
Check them out on Facebook, too.
Bayonne Art Pavilion