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    Posted November 16, 2012

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Equity Theatres Recovering from Hurricane Sandy

NJ, Staten Island Theatres Lost Power, Performances

Many Optimistic About Recovery

Two weeks after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the NJ and Long Island coast lines, Equity theatres were struggling to recover from the effects of the "Frankenstorm, " which has cost billions of dollars to the region's economy and tragically taken more than 100 lives. The damage, suffering and recovery efforts were compounded by a strong nor'easter which came a week later, blanketing the region with an early snow-fall.

New Jersey Repertory Company, based in the shore community of Long Branch, was one of the most severely impacted by the hurricane.

Artistic Directors Gabor and SuzAnne Barabas reported that the 65-seat venue suffered damage to its roof, awning, and offices which, combined with ticket losses, is expected to cost $50,000. In addition, a century-old cottage in which out-of-town actors have stayed throughout the theater's history was destroyed. Estimates to save it are over $300,000.

The theatre lost electricity, phone service and internet for 14 days, shutting down its current production of ANNAPURNA. Power was finally restored on November 12, in time to resume the play's final weekend of performances.

Peter Galman, Gina Bonati
Photo courtesy of Gabor Barabas

Despite the damage, Barabas was optimistic about a recovery: "NJ Rep will continue with its scheduled season without interruption and will produce five world premieres in the next twelve months. Although it is a bit too early to gauge the over-all impact of the storm, we are confident that we will weather its effects and will also reach out to our friends and donors for their assistance."

In nearby Red Bank, Two Rivers Theatre Company was forced to cancel 13 performances of HENRY V and Ethan Lipton's NO PLACE TO GO due to power outages and a city-imposed curfew. The storm personally impacted the theatre's staff and visiting artists, many of whom live in nearby coastal communities.

Associate Artistic Director Stephanie Coen said that "on the positive side-once the theater regained power, we were able to open our lobby for the public to use as a charging station for phones, laptops, etc., and we provided free coffee and tea. We also made several performances pay-what-you-can. We took to heart one of the famous lines from Henry V ("we band of brothers") and, in the spirit of Ethan Lipton's show, gave people who had "no place to go" an opportunity to gather, be together, and enjoy great theater." TRTC's next production will open on schedule.

Sam Kitchin and Nick Piacente in the Liberty Live world premiere of Talking to Westfield at Premiere Stages
Photo by Ben Gancsos

Premiere Stages, the professional Equity theatre company in residence at Kean University in Union, had to cancel all of the performances of LIBERTY LIVE: TALKING TO WESTFIELD. With Equity's assistance, the theatre was able to reschedule the event to December 7th-9th.

Unfortunately, the costs of the delay - extended rentals, the need to move the production to a different venue, and set and lighting modifications - have put Premiere in the red. Producing Associate Clare Drobot said: "The production had strong advance ticket sales. We will have to wait and see if we can match those levels, particularly given how hard Westfield was hit by the storm. Ultimately we find ourselves holding our breath regarding the financial implications of the storm. Still, we feel lucky to be able to present the production at all and are grateful to AEA for allowing Premiere to reschedule the dates without penalty.

Further inland, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison had to cancel four performances of its critically-acclaimed MAN OF LA MANCHA. "We immediately, we made the decision to extend La Mancha one week through 11/25," wrote Marketing Director Rick Engler. "As things have improved in the area, we have seen ticket sales pick up again and we are looking forward to terrific houses for the final two weeks."

Nearby, the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn was also fortunate, sustaining only minor damage. Paper Mill's press rep Shayne Miller said the theatre only lost four days of rehearsal for their upcoming production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC. "We are thankful that we are back in business and that New Jersey is slowly recovering."

Although Centenary Stage in Hackettstown did not lose power, thousands in the surrounding communities were without electricity for almost two weeks. The Lackland Center, home to Centenary Stage, became a 'refuge' for local residents as well as theatre patrons, who came to charge their cell phones, work on their computers, take a hot shower in the gym (and dressing rooms) and get a hot meal in the dining room. General Manager Catherine Rust reported that they did not cancel any performances, but found it impossible to find housing for their guest artists, as the local Holiday Inn was out of power for over a week, with no heat, no light, no hot water and filled with utility crews. "We were able to get in on a couple of radio stations to let people know we were proceeding, and we donated a portion of every ticket sold to the RED CROSS, as well as collecting canned goods from patrons - which were delivered to Mantoloking. Although we lost about 60% of our anticipated audience, the folks that did come were glad for an escape/respite from the elements and the anxiety."

Across the bay, Staten Island was one of NYC's hardest-hit boroughs. Harbor Lights Theater Company - the only Equity theater company in the history of Staten Island - was preparing to open THE KING AND I when the storm struck.

"We lost six days of tech, build and rehearsal time and a week of performances," said Associate A.D. Jay Montgomery. "Because Harbor Lights produces at Snug Harbor, a NYC park, when the Mayor's office closed the city's parks for the storm and the subsequent clean-up, HLTC was shut down also." HLTC estimates that it will sell 1000 fewer tickets as a result of Sandy, and cannot extend its run. THE KING AND I is by far HLTC's most expensive and ambitious show to date.

Harbor Lightís THE KING AND I
Mel Sagrado, Mag Huyop, Tamara Jenkins
Bitten By a Zebra Photography

Montgomery added: "HLTC is a brand new company, completing only its third season with and its future is in real peril. It's ironic that the show that was going to put us over the top may ultimately be our demise. In our short history, we've been thrilled with the product we've been able to put on the stage, and we've been consistently building our audiences. We've offered tickets to relief volunteers, as well as to people displaced by Sandy, and we're going to have a great final week of shows. Our mission is to bring Broadway to Staten Island, and we've been able to do that. Despite the obstacles, we're determined to continue with the community's support. We have to -- our underserved borough needs and deserves it -- and hopefully we can aid Staten Island's healing and rebuilding in the process."

Another theatre that faces a daunting recovery is the Surflight Theatre, located in Beach Haven, NJ. Surflight's production of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK was cancelled mid-run and it abandoned rehearsals for its big holiday show, IRVING BERLIN'WHITE CHRISTMAS.

Miraculously, no damage was done to the main stage, according to Executive Director Ken Myers; however The Show Place Ice Cream Parlour, costume shop and marketing office experienced flooding, and will need to be renovated.

Inside Long Beach Island's Surflight Theatre in which no damage was reported to the main stage. The Show Place Ice Cream Parlour, costume shop and marketing office experienced flooding, and will need to be renovated.
Photo by Ryan Morrill for The SandPiper

Despite the damage, Myers is optimistic about Surflight's future: "Like a Phoenix rising from the swirling eye of the super storm, Surflight Theatre has begun the road to recovery. Though suffering tremendous damage due to Hurricane Sandy, causing the cancellation of the greatly anticipated holiday production of WHITE CHRISTMAS, the theatre will begin its 64th season on schedule. The debris has been removed from the theatre complex and the reconstruction is already in progress. Surflight Theatre is working with State and Federal agencies for funding to assist in the massive clean-up operation. We thank all who send Surflight Theatre their good wishes and offerings to provide personal and financial resources to aid the theatre in this post storm restoration."

Literally a few miles down the beach, Cape May Stage was spared the havoc that hit Surflight. Producing Artistic Director Roy Steinberg said "Our hearts go out to our colleagues further north. The mandatory evacuation forced us to cancel two performances (including a gala opening night). Our storage space for scenery had sustained some flooding, but we are truly very lucky indeed. Due to some of our patrons' misfortune, several have been unable to travel or have needed to cancel their reservations which in turn impacted our advance sales. However, our lights remain on the magic of theatre that survives in Cape May."

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