Hudson Theatre Works, a not-for-profit regional group based in Weehawken, will launch its second production at the theater at Weehawken High School in early May.
Karen Brady, co-founder of the group and president of its Board of Directors, said, “‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ – That’s the play we’ve chosen to do. It’s the right play at the right time.”
She should know. Last spring, HTW premiered its first play, John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” at Park Performing Arts Center in Union City, and it was a huge success. Guided into production by Brady, artistic director Frank Licato, and Board of Trustees Vice President Greg Erbach, as well as an active board of directors with seemingly boundless energy, they were able to gather technical and artistic talent “as good, or better,” says Brady, “than anything you’d see in New York.”
The work adheres to what the group calls a “rugged aesthetic,” keeping the actors in close proximity to the audience, favoring actor and text-driven plays over high concept ones, with themes that relate to contemporary social issues.
“But also,” Brady smiles, “it’s a commitment to affordable ticket prices. Theatre is for everyone.”
That meant, however, when “Of Mice and Men” finished its run, even with full houses almost every night, the bank account was nearly empty. And they had reached the end of their rental agreement with Park Performing Arts.
Low on money, with no theatre to perform in, they needed a white knight.
Enter the mayor
When one of his Township Council members reported back to Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner that she’d seen a terrific theatrical production of a John Steinbeck classic right on his doorstep, Turner decided to take a look himself.
The result was a question from the mayor: “What does your company need right now to keep going?”
He not only offered them one performance space, he offered two.
“You see, we have a playwright development arm of HTW,” Brady says proudly, “It’s called PlayWorks. It’s a series of readings for three weeks every year, where three area playwrights each present a reading of his or her unfinished play. The admission price is low, but the feedback from the audience on their perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses in each play is invaluable.”
Mayor Turner opened up the water tower on Park Avenue for the reading series. It was the first time the restored building had been used in over 100 years. It became an event and a celebration in itself.
And then he made the Theatre at Weehawken High School available to them for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” for a three-week run in May.
Community is the operative word
Their original vision, which is in the company’s mission statement, was not only to present plays, but to educate people about theatre. To that end they have decided to offer a limited amount of stage craft and administration internships to local kids to help put together “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
The interns will help to build the sets, create the lighting, work on costumes and props and participate in administering the day-to-day operations of putting up a show every night.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for them,” Brady says, “Plus it’s such a great play. Here’s this man, this unique, charismatic character, McMurphy, who can’t conform to the usual rules of society. He just has to do things his way. And of course, society doesn’t like that; it can’t allow his level of individualism. They see it as destructive. So we have conflict. We have drama. And we are back to the rugged aesthetic. I think a contemporary audience will find many connections with McMurphy’s struggle with conformity in their own lives.”
She emphasized that reaching out to include interns during the development of the production will make this experience even more enriching than the last. Plays tell the story of all of us, and everyone, no matter what their income level, should be given the opportunity to see good theatre.
Brady is a driven and energetic individual. Clearly she loves her job, even though at this point, everyone works for free. Landing at HTW seems like a natural progression for her from being a dancer, singer and actor – known as a “Triple Threat” in theatre parlance – to working in development for non-profit organizations. With Hudson Theatre Works, she dovetails both of those skills seamlessly.
And it’s all taking place in a town that’s very dear to her. Her father, Ben Wisniewski, was born in Weehawken, and later moved his family out to the suburbs. But Karen came back, got married, and has lived her for 33 years.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is scheduled to run Thursdays through Sundays, May 10-24, at the Theatre at Weehawken High School, 53 Liberty Place, Weehawken, evenings at 8 p.m. and matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 each, with senior and student discounts available.
Check out hudsontheaterworks.org or call 201-401-3337 for more information.