“When people asked me if I thought it was a good time to start a theatre company, I said there’s never really a good time per say,” Union City-based Hudson Theatre Works Artistic Director Frank Licato said at their first fundraiser. “It’s like having a baby. Is there ever really a perfect time?”
Licato then recanted slightly and said that it was, in fact, a great time – and a great place – to start.
Hudson County is full of top-notch, professional artists, with a wide talent base, in part because of its proximity to the city, and also because of the artistic freedom such an “off-off Broadway” group allows, he said.
“We’re in the fundraising stages now,” Hudson Theatre Works’ co-founder Greg Erbach explained. “Next year we’ll begin our first outreach to local schools and try to start community theatre for kids. It’s important to make ourselves accessible, and to generate interest with our younger people.”
The third floor of Union City’s Park Avenue Bar and Grill, with a setting that lent itself to the sort of coffee-house-on-steroids atmosphere of the event, was packed with patrons of the arts on March 21.
They maxed out at around 80 people, all of whom were willing to pay a generous price to help the Hudson County theatre scene thrive.
“The positive response we’ve received is encouraging,” Erbach said. “People want this to happen, and they’re really starting to participate.”
“If you do good work, people will come,” Licato said, “Field of Dreams” style, optimistic that the company would continue to grow as it has been since its inception only seven months prior. “The turnout is kind of humbling; now I have to do it!”
The three-hour fundraiser was hosted by CBS News’s own Nancy Giles, and those attending were regaled by the musical stylings of woodwind players Alan Brady and Jeff Nichols, film and television actor Patrick Richwood, and world-renowned violinist Eric Grossman. Erbach and actor Sean Patrick Riley performed a preview of the company’s upcoming and first fully-staged production “Of Mice and Men.”
“Tonight is all about art and music,” Giles said, “two things none of us can live without.”
Licato himself performed a scene written by Weehawken resident Joanne Hoersch, who received a prestigious grant from the NJ State Council of the Arts in February for her play “Jackson is Gone.” Out of a pool of 316 applicants, five received grants in order to help artists focus on their craft.
Hudson Theatre Works premiered the play last November in a reading during their “Play Works” series which featured the theatrical creations of several local playwrights over the course of several weeks.
“She got a perfect score,” Licato said. “We’re very proud of her, and we’re very proud about what we can accomplish here.”
The event was sponsored by Karl Halligan, owner of Park Avenue Bar and Grill. Food was prepared by executive chef Todd Villani, former chef at Manhattan’s famous Aquavit.
“Besides being a great venue, with a talented chef and staff, [Park Avenue Bar and Grill] is a place that keeps on welcoming you as if it were the first time,” secretary of the group’s board of directors Joan LeFosse said. “That is what I hope for Hudson Theatre Works: that the audience we build become regulars, on a first-name basis, who not only feel welcome but who are invited to continually share their experiences with us.”
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, whose town lies just across Park Avenue, also joined the festivities that evening.
“This is a great initial gathering,” he said. “As you know, we have many different types of artistic activities in Weehawken, and somehow we’ve got to get everybody working together on this. We wish you well and we want to be part of it.”
“Theatre is a collaborative process and we cannot do it without your help.” –Karen Brady
“Now is a good time for us because I think that we live in a particular point in history where people are hungry for ideas and hungry for genuine discussion about who we are and how we can debate these things within a civil discourse,” Licato told the crowd. “I think that theatre helps us do that more than any other media; we have to get out of our chairs and away from the television set and have a communal experience.”
Erbach mentioned plans to turn Hudson Theatre Works into a veritable community center for the arts. “It’s particularly important to develop a dialogue with our young students,” he said. “If we can relate to them, we can grow our audience. They never get as much theatre as they should, and we hope to change that.”
The company hopes to put on “Of Mice and Men” in late September or early October, LeFosse said.
“Art, theatre and music,” president of the board of directors Karen Brady told the audience. “Our lives would be so diminished without those things. Theatre is a collaborative process and we cannot do it without your help.”
For more information on Hudson Theatre Works, visit www.hudsontheatreworks.org, or call (201) 401-3337.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.