I am heartened that Mayor Fulop is taking action to restore the Loew’s Theater into an active venue. This presents a much-needed opportunity for Jersey City to raise its cultural profile, to encourage and enable its local performing artists, and to present performances for and by its diverse communities.
However, I am concerned to hear the plan so far is to retain the auditorium’s 3000-seat size. As a modern dancer who has performed in theaters of all sizes in the US, Europe, and Asia, I understand that this is too large for anything but nationally and internationally-known mass-market performers, who are likely to charge ticket prices beyond the reach of many Jersey City residents. This would represent a missed opportunity.
The Loew’s has enormous potential to be an incubator for Jersey City’s own performing artists, as well as an entertainment destination. Careful choice of theater size and providing space for rehearsal and development can make that happen. A great challenge performing artists face is a shortage of work and performance space.
If we really want the Loew’s to enable local artists across a wide range of genres, it should approach this purpose with a realistic sense of scale. The smaller audiences that local and regional talent might attract would feel marooned in the Loew’s vast, deep auditorium. A performance that would feel successful in a smaller theater would feel like a flop. A 3000-seat house is also not appropriate for many genres – plays, dance, small music ensembles, spoken word – that require good visibility and the emotional engagement of the audience.
To the mayor and the organizations now charged with restoring and developing the Loew’s, I suggest creating at least two theaters within the Loew’s building: one large scale, and at least one more with no more than 300 seats. All the stages should be large enough for dance, theater, and musical groups – the existing stage is too shallow. And, if the concept is that the Loew’s become a performing arts center, a place where Jersey City’s diverse cultures can coalesce and synergize, the building should also provide space for rehearsals and classes at affordable rates.
The recent action on the Loew’s makes me cautiously optimistic that Jersey City might at last be home to a thriving performing arts center.