ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Performing Arts Hit Hard By Bad Economy; NJPAC Looks to Draw a Wide Audience

Performing arts groups in New Jersey have been struggling mightily to survive for the past several years as a result of the down economy.

For instance, the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn has gone from 6 productions per year to 5. “We’ve seen a few years of a difficult time. We’ve had a a tougher time raising donations, filling our seats and selling our shows,” said Todd Schmidt, Vice Chairman of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.

Several opera companies throughout the state have had to be creative in finding ways to cut costs. The New Jersey Association of Verismo Opera has been using a room at the Bergen Family Center in Englewood for studio rehearsal. “This is the only place that’s available at a reasonable price that we can rehearse” said Artistic Director Lucine Amara. She says that the expense of running an opera company is especially challenging during economic hard times.

Amara’s sentiment is echoed by Jason Tramm, Artistic Director of the New Jersey State Opera which called the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) home for 10 years. According to Tramm, a typical production there cost between $350,000 to $400,000, and about $150,000 went to the NJPAC for production. By 2006, it could no longer afford the venue. “It became economically unfeasible for us to be there,” said Tramm. “Our productions there received no support from the PAC itself. We were just strictly a rental. Even though we’re on their charter, we never got any assistance with the marketing.”

This year, the opera company found a new home in Clifton, a smaller but more cost-effective venue. Lauren Wanko files this reports.

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NJToday’s Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke with NJPAC President and CEO John Schreiber about the current environment for raising revenue and the need to appeal to a variety of audience tastes.

Schreiber said NJPAC’s greatest challenge is increasing revenues in a highly competitive environment, citing the proximity of New York City and nine other theaters within 45 minutes of NJPAC. He said the arts center aims to attract different types of acts with various audiences and has differing price points to accommodate commercial and non-profit groups. There are also different price structures based on the show size. NJPAC has a 2,800-seat, Carnegie Hall-sized area as well as smaller spaces that can seat 250.

Schreiber said the NJPAC mission is to serve as diverse a set of communities possible within its geography.

“When I think of NJPAC, I think of us as the people’s arts center,” he said.

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