Kean Stage/Premiere Stages

Inside Kean Stage and Premiere Stages

For many years, New Jersey theater lovers have considered Kean University in Union one of its most valued resources. Through its Kean Stage program, the University plays home to everything from Broadway shows to concerts by award-winning artists, while its Premiere Stages program is renowned for producing new plays, performed by companies of Equity actors, many of which speak directly to issues of importance to the local community and which feature post-show Q&As with leaders of local organizations.

 

 

Kean Stage

As one might imagine, both of these programs have changed drastically since Covid-19 hit last March, but audiences have not been completely left out in the cold. “We’ve managed to do some virtual programming,” says John J. Wooten, Producing Artistic Director of Premiere Stages and Director of Arts Programming for Kean University. “We even hired a technical coordinator for producing readings, so we could build in sound cues and make it more theatrical.”

“Most importantly. last fall, we managed to do a five-person live run of a play about the activist Fannie Lou Hammer, starring Rema Webb,” he continues. “Because it was such an important election, we felt we just had to do this show. And we even used it to register students to vote. But I have to admit it was incredibly huge undertaking; due to Covid safety protocols and Equity rules, it was four times harder to do each individual task. Still, we’re hoping we can do the show again this year.”

Coming up, Premiere is planning a series of readings in March, an outdoor production in the summer, and perhaps even a new indoor production by fall. “I think overall it will be back to business as usual by then, and I’ll be glad,” says Wooten. “But I think there are some positive takeaways from the Covid crisis that we can use going forward. For example, virtual productions can lead to more availability of certain actors we’d like to use. And I’d even consider doing some of our rehearsals virtually. After all, now that we have a new skill set, we have to take advantage of it.”

 

Andrea McArdle
Andrea McArdle (© Wayne J. Gmitter)

Lovers of the Kean Stages problem first found an answer to their prayers of returning to watch live theater last October. “We did two outdoor concerts in October, and that was a learning experience to put it mildly,” laughs Steve Cochran, manager of Kean Stages. “We used our July outdoor commencement as an example of how to do this safely, but it still took the entire Kean community to put these together and make it happen. Sadly, we could only accommodate up to 100 people for each concert, but let me tell you, those people were so grateful.”

Since then, Cochran has overseen a reimagined version of their annual RealAbilities Film Festival. “We had to do it for four weeks as Zoom webinar, rather than in person, and we couldn’t do it with same professional work as we’re used to. But we did what we could and that was worth it.”

As for music, Cochran is particularly proud of a new holiday concert with Broadway star Andrea McArdle. “We recorded it in our recital hall, edited it, and then streamed it over four days,” he says. “The one thing we didn’t realize is that for this kind of show, we had to pay for every music right individually rather than in the traditional group package. And in late February, we did a one-shot livestreamed concert with Tony Award winner Ali Stroker.”

Like Wooten, Cochran is hoping the warmer summer weather will allow Kean to produce more outdoor concerts and he is looking forward to getting back indoors as soon as possible. “I think it will be a new world for us even once we’re inside,” he says. “We’re considering concerts of only 75 minutes without an intermission, for safety reasons. No mingling is a good idea, and so is not having a full lobby. We’re considering staggering entrance and exit times, just like you would on an airplane. It’s a new world and we’re willing to adapt to it.”

 

Ali Stroker
Ali Stroker

 

Article
Kean Stage/Premiere Stages

Inside Kean Stage and Premiere Stages

For many years, New Jersey theater lovers have considered Kean University in Union one of its most valued resources. Through its Kean Stage program, the University plays home to everything from Broadway shows to concerts by award-winning artists, while its Premiere Stages program is renowned for producing new plays, performed by companies of Equity actors, many of which speak directly to issues of importance to the local community and which feature post-show Q&As with leaders of local organizations. As one might imagine, both of these programs have changed drastically since Covid-19 hit last

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