The Theater Project and WhatExit? Join Forces
Two organizations with rich histories will be in residence at the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts.
Breakfast was served at the Burgdorff last Friday to an excited mix of local artists, politicians, and press to witness the mariage of two local professional theater companies.
Christened “A New Jersey Treasure,” by TalkinBroadway.com, The Theater Project (previously performing at Union County College) is joining forces with the What Exit? Theater Company, one of the state’s leading comedy platforms. Under the banner, The Theater Project, the new organization will produce main stage productions along with a host of other programming out of the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts in Maplewood. The Theater Project’s Mark Spina will remain artistic director, and What Exit? founder and artistic director Bev Sheehan will take on the roles of casting director and special events coordinator.
“Both Bev and I have always been committed to producing theater that tells us about the world we live in,” said Spina. “Sometimes we do it with a laugh, sometimes with a tear, but always with a point. This alliance puts us in a position to carry that mission to a new audience in one of the most arts-friendly communities in the state.”
“Mark and I have always been about doing material you won’t find at the big houses in New York, or even the more mainstream theaters here in our state,” said Sheehan. “We like to feel that we open the audience’s hearts and minds one play at a time—and give them a great night’s entertainment in the process.”
Both companies—each founded separately 17 years ago—are among the most respected in New Jersey. The Star-Ledger has described The Theater Project as the “best company in the state for finding off-Broadway plays and premiering them for New Jersey audiences,” and Worrall Newspapers dubbed the company “a gem.” Theater Project productions such as Music from a Sparkling Planet and Omnium Gatherum, were listed among The Star-Ledger’s Top 10 productions of the year, and Spina was cited several times as Best Director. The quality of the work of both organizations has been recognized with grants from such prestigious organizations as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the New Jersey Council for the Arts.
The two companies have a long history of joint efforts. Sheehan had previously performed in a number of The Theater Project’s productions, and Spina had directed work for What Exit? Joining forces comes as a strategic response to the huge economic challenges facing all arts organizations.
“By bringing both companies together under one banner,” said Spina, “we are taking a problem and using it as an opportunity to create a stronger,even more vibrant company.”
“This partnership feels like such a natural fit for me,” said Sheehan. “Mark directed one of What Exit?’s best—and one of my favorite—productions, The Memory of Water. And some of the funniest, most outrageous shows I’ve acted in have been at The Theater Project. The bottom line is we both believe that going to the theater should move you and make you think.”
“Bev has always been part of The Theater Project family,” said Spina. “We finally decided to make an honest woman out of her.”
With the Burgdorff’s close proximity to NJTransit bus and rail lines, and Maplewood’s vibrant community of arts professionals, the merged organization hopes to expand on their respective original commitments to bring—according to Spina—“Off-beat, Off-Broadway quality theater to local audiences at New Jersey prices.”
The union of the two companies will allow the organization to expand its ancillary programs, including an annual Young Playwrights Competition, a festival of one-act plays, a professional writers’ group, classes for children and teens, the Theater Project Jr.’s summer youth musical, staged readings, and comedy nights.
The first production, running April 12- 29, will be Christopher Durang’s comedy about the pitfalls of reincarnation, Miss Witherspooon. For ticket information, call Brown Paper Tickets, 800.836.8006 and use Promo code: SKYLAB.