A New Era at the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ

Brian Crowe may be the new artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, but he’s not exactly new to the company; 28 years ago, he arrived in Madison for a summer internship and never left.

“It was meant to be a stepping stone,” he says of coming to the Garden State from the Dayton, Ohio, theater where he was working post-college. “Afterward, I was going to run off to Chicago with my classmates.”

But the internship turned into a one-year position, which then turned into a staff position as director of education. “The professional development and artistic opportunities that were available to me here were quite remarkable,” says Crowe.

He had the good fortune to arrive five years into the 33-year tenure of Bonnie Monte, who stepped down in January as artistic director. Monte, who had just launched the capital campaign to renovate the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, was “doing some challenging artistic work,” he says. “It was a really exciting time. It was great to be part of the team that was helping to rebuild that beautiful space that we have now as our home.”

Monte, a legend in the state’s arts community who remains involved as artistic director emeritus, “really transformed the organization,” says Crowe. In addition to renovating the Kirby theater, she oversaw the transformation of an old valve factory in Florham Park into the Thomas H. Kean Theatre Factory, which houses administrative offices, rehearsal and classroom spaces, and shops for costumes, scenery and props. The factory, completed in 2011, is “part office, part crafts workshop, part interactive museum; a work of art in which we get to create our art every day,” he says.

The summer performances at the outdoor stage and stone amphitheater at Saint Elizabeth University in Florham Park is another of Monte’s achievements. (You can catch As You Like It there through July 14.) “Through her 33 years of leadership, she built a reputation for exceptional work,” says Crowe. “The biggest challenge for me is to uphold that level of excellence that has become the hallmark of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. She’s left behind some enormous shoes to fill.”

In addition to bringing in talent, Crowe is himself directing. In May, it was A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, the company’s first musical in 12 years. In October, he’ll direct Macbeth.

He also aims to bring in new audiences. “Classical theater is a bit of a niche market,” he says. “But there’s such a wonderfully rich and diverse population in Morris County and the state. Despite its stuffy reputation, classic theater, when done well, has broad appeal. When you get to see Shakespeare and other classics live onstage, and it’s fresh and thoughtful and engaging, it’s super exciting.”

Getting bodies in theater seats has been more challenging post-pandemic, however. “We’re in a really critical time,” he says. People haven’t returned to theater the way they have to restaurants and sporting events, thanks to the proliferation of streaming services, he says. But TV is no substitute for live theater. “When we’re in a theater together, our heartbeats align; we’re a community of strangers who now are one entity,” he says. “That’s thrilling. We need to remind people why it’s so exciting and unique to be in a theater.

No one knows New Jersey like we do. Sign up for one of our free newsletters here. Want a print magazine mailed to you? Purchase an issue from our online store.

Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button