Bringing it back home
"I'm very excited about being able to participate in, and add to the fabric of this community," said Licato, who has been working in theater for over 30 years. Though he has traveled throughout the country and the globe, Hudson County has been Licato's home base since moving here with his family in the 1980s.
"I feel at home in Hudson County," Licato said from his new office this week. Originally from Brooklyn, Licato moved to Hoboken with his family after the birth of his son. He now lives in Weehawken.
He said has seen the county change over the years, and believes it is coming into its own in the area of the arts. "Hudson County is ripe for a strong cultural presence," Licato said. "In terms of theater, the potential is there." He listed Jersey City's arts tour as just one of the artistic outlets in the area, and said that he is excited to be able to add to that creative community.
Chris O'Connor, the theater's founder and artistic director, agrees. "Hoboken and Hudson County have really experienced a renaissance in development and in the arts. Each year there's more to take in [in the field of] the arts."
A similar vision
Shortly after founding the Mile Square Theatre in 2002, O'Connor said that Licato was one of the people who contacted him about getting involved in the company, but it wasn't until a couple of years later that the two connected.
"Over the years as [the theater company] has grown. I've really been looking for an art and business partner," O'Connor said.
After the Mile Square Theatre grew to need more staff, O'Connor went to see Licato's production of "My Italy Story" at Bloomfield's 12 Miles West Theatre.
He was impressed by what he saw, and got in touch with Licato. According to O'Connor, one thing that came across in the production was that Licato shared a theater aesthetic similar to his own.
"We both use theatricality and the tools of theater in our artistic expression," he said.
Licato also shares O'Connor's concern for reaching out to the people that the theater serves. "He also believes that an arts organization like ours really has to be a part of the community," said O'Connor.
It all started in Boston
Licato, 50, got into theater almost by mistake, when he decided to try out for a production of "The Boys in the Band" at Emerson College, where he was studying. From there he went on to participate in several plays in the Boston area, and was named best actor in Boston for his performance as Lt. Vuvkov in the American premiere of Barry Collins' play "Judgment."
He has also worked in Los Angeles and New York, and was nominated for an Obie - The Village Voice's Off-Broadway Awards - at the age of 24 for his role in "Deathwatch." About 10 years ago Licato transitioned into directing, and has gone on to direct some of New York's best actors, including Edie Falco, Vincent Pastore, John Ventimiglia, and Gia Carrides. He said he hopes to bring some of those talented actors to work at the Mile Square Theatre.
And though he has worked outside the realm of theater, he admits that is where his heart lies. "I've worked in advertising, in commercials. Theater has always been my love," he said.
A cornerstone of the community
And Licato hopes to share that passion for the performing arts with the young people of Hudson County. "It's always a challenge to bring in [young audiences], but I think we can do it," he said. One way is through theater education and outreach programs. Both O'Connor and Licato have experience as theater educators. Licato teaches at Clarke University, and O'Connor at Colgate University, and the Mile Square Theatre runs a series of workshops and residencies for local teachers.
"I'm excited about Frank coming on board because it also means that we can put more focus into education," said O'Connor, who is currently working with children at one of the local elementary schools. He added that he was looking forward to implementing an outreach program in Hoboken for the next school year.
Licato too said that outreach and education were very important to his work at Mile Square. "That's something we very much care about and want to develop," he added. "We want to make this theater a cornerstone of the community."
Licato and O'Connor are gearing up for the Mile Square Theatre's fifth annual "7th Inning Stretch" play festival, which brings together acclaimed playwrights to write seven 10-minute plays about baseball. The short plays celebrate Hoboken's role in the birth of the great American pastime. This year's festival will be performed at DeBaun Auditorium on June 16. Tickets will go on sale at the end of May.
For more information on The Mile Square Theatre and its productions, go to www.milesquaretheatre.org.
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