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A Tale of Two Theaters

10-25-13

By Susan Wallner
State of the Arts

Tanya Thai McBride and Amy Kim Waschke in The White Snake, written and directed by Mary Zimmerman. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

In Princeton, home to one of the world’s great universities, Tony award-winning theater can be found at the McCarter Theatre Center. Each season features new interpretations of the classics as well as works by contemporary playwrights such as Edward Albee and Christopher Durang, whose Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, commissioned by and premiered at McCarter, won the 2013 Tony for Best Play. More surprising is another theater found in Trenton, a mere 13 miles away from Princeton, but far distant by any other measure. Passage Theatre Company makes its home in a city plagued by gang violence, a corrupt mayor and struggling schools.

What many people don’t know is that these two theaters share a history and a close working relationship. This week, the New Jersey Theatre Alliance honored both theaters at Curtain Call, an annual gala celebrating the state’s professional theater community. According to the Alliance’s Executive Director John McEwen, McCarter and Passage were singled out in order “to applaud the individual contributions that they both bring but also to recognize and celebrate their collaborative spirit.”

Amy Kim Waschke in The White Snake, written and directed by Mary Zimmerman. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Over the years, many of McCarter’s staff members and interns have worked at Passage, and actors and others who have appeared on Passage’s stage have gone on to appear on McCarter’s. For instance, actress Amy Kim Waschke is currently starring in The White Snake at McCarter; in 2008, she starred in Cecilia’s Last Tea Party at Passage. Adam Immerwahr is associate artistic director at McCarter; he has also been Passage’s resident director since 2009.

“The crux of the collaboration between McCarter and Passage is in the people,” says Immerwahr, “and it starts from the beginning of Passage which was founded by a group of McCarter staff members. And now to this day, Passage continues to be a place where many of the folks who work at McCarter who are themselves amazing designers, really interesting artists, find a way to explore those passions even further at Passage.”

Both theaters nurture new playwrights and work and seek to serve their communities through their outreach programs. Community is certainly front and center for Passage Theatre, which later this season will premiere Profiles, a new play about race based on stories collected from Trenton residents. Passage also works with students. A recent story on State of the Arts featured high school students and recent graduates working with Passage Theatre. The play-writing and production process gives students a voice, and a chance to reflect upon their lives in the troubled city that is their home.

VIDEO:

“This Trenton Life” is a play written by Trenton teens working with Passage Theatre. State of the Arts was there during a performance at the Gandhi Garden.

Actors, playwrights, directors, stage managers and costume designers may find themselves working at both Passage and McCarter, perhaps in different artistic roles or at different stages in their careers. But the primary aspect that theater professionals working at one or the other or both theaters share is passion. Passion for the work, passion for the process and belief in the power of what a theater can do for a community.

The White Snake is on stage at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton through Nov. 3. In Trenton, Passage Theatre Company’s next production is True Story, running Nov. 7-24.

Susan Wallner is an award-winning producer with PCK Media. She is a long-time contributor to State of the Arts, now airing on NJTV Sundays at 8 p.m. and Thursdays at 11:30 p.m.