Entertainment

Algonquin Arts Theatre Offers Culture and Opportunity to Students

If you’re looking for a night of culture and art, there is Algonquin Arts Theatre in the middle of downtown Manasquan.

The Algonquin’s mission statement reads, “Our mission is to provide cultural enrichment and arts education for the Jersey Shore through high-quality performances and programs.”

Brooke McCarthy, business administration major, participates in three community theaters and does acting at the University. “Community theater is a great way for people to express their love for and talent in the arts without it necessarily being professional. The locations are key as well because not everyone can travel to the city all the time for rehearsals,” said McCarthy.

She also said, “Participating in community theaters has helped me as a person because it allowed me to step farther out of my comfort zone to audition in front of complete strangers. It gave me more experience auditioning and getting comfortable being in front of people.”

McCarthy can be seen in “Almost, Maine,” a student production at Woods Theater this weekend.

According to David Applegate, Head of Marketing for Algonquin Arts Theatre, they attempt to have seven to nine Broadway or musical-style productions each year. He also said that the reason for adding live theater was because it was a passion of Jack and Fran Drew, the owners.

The auditions are normally connected to their education programs such as acting, improv, film, musical theater and glee classes, which the students pay for. Following those classes, there is the Algonquin group ensemble, which takes the students from the classes performing at a higher level and allows them to participate in live shows. Applegate said that the participation among children is so active that they double casted the child roles in their spring production of “The Sound of Music.”

With 540 seats in the theater, normally, the theater is at 60 to 70 percent capacity. According to Applegate, the theater budgets between 200 and 500 people at each show for their Broadway show series. Their last production, “Always Patsy Cline,” had such an overwhelming response that the theater added another show.

“Always Patsy Cline” that had Sally Struthers and Carter Calvert, both professional actresses, came to the Algonquin and Applegate said the quality of the performance led to the most successful show in the theater’s history. Struthers also mocked the First Aid squad horn that is known very well locally.

The largest age group that participates in classes is middle school and early teenagers. Then most go onto try out for their high school productions or go to performing arts high schools.

Applegate said he believes that the theater has offered more than “cultural enhancement.” He also said it has helped the local economy.

“Every night we have 500 people at a show, we have 500 people dining at a local restaurant, shopping in downtown Manasquan and in some cases staying at local hotels,” said Applegate.

According to Applegate, the contribution financially to the local economy is 1.3 million dollars annually when shows are going on at the theater.

Maurice Moran, adjunct professor of theater, has been part of community theaters in Westfield and Cranford and said there are over 100 community theaters across New Jersey. He said they offer great opportunities for children but there is a downside to community theaters, which is the reliance on volunteers.

Moran said, “The one disadvantage of community theater is that it relies completely on volunteers - actors are not usually paid, nor is the staff. This cuts down on expenses, but can often exhaust a volunteer who builds a set, sells tickets, and sings in the chorus for eight months of the year.”

Moran said that community theater give students more than the confidence but even a job in some cases.

Moran said, “I was told that while I had experience with teens, I needed to work more with adults to get that level of experience. So I joined the local theater which eventually let me work with their adult cast members in a number of plays and musicals. After 10 years of that, I was hired to direct by a professional theater in north Jersey.”

Alex Appolonia, junior theater major, interned at Algonquin Theater, where she was an assistant teaching artist. “I learned so much from assisting the director as well as focusing on organizing classes, assisting with lessons plans and coordinating student performances. I was able to fully see all the aspects to consider and what it takes to create a whole production,” said Appolonia.

Appolonia said that her internship was more than just about job experience. “I enjoyed working with various age groups of children ranging from six to 17 years old. The intensive workshops offered allowed students to choose whether they were interested in participating in improvisational, musical theater or dance classes,” said Appolonia.

Some believe that arts are dying, but Applegate seems to think this is not the case. While he does acknowledge it is a struggle with government cuts towards the arts, he believes that the arts community is thriving in terms of quality.

However, Applegate said that becoming involved with the arts is easier than ever with the Internet. He said it is as easy as producing a movie on a cellphone. A few shares, tweets and donations and an artist is born, explained Applegate. “As long as the education component remains and we can still inspire creativity, the arts have nothing to worry about,” he said.

As far as professional successes go, Applegate said while the theater does have students go onto professional careers in multiple areas of the arts, the sentimental aspect is more important according to Applegate.

“If any of the kids who leave our programs have the confidence to try out for high school and college productions, it’s not whether they make it professionally or not, we are just trying to give them the opportunity to explore the arts,” said Applegate.

The theater does hope to expand to have a costume shop and a place to build sets. Applegate mentioned that because of the lack of space, the set is often built the week before the show which makes it a challenge for rehearsal to continue. He said that the theater must make budget on a show by show basis because of their status as a non-profit organization.

Applegate went on to say that there are fundraising programs to help continue the work the theater has started such as the “Save a Seat” campaign. Through this, patrons can buy a seat and the funds go to upgrading the building and replacing the 75 year old seats. The donor will receive a plaque that will remain as long as the seat.

Applegate said the Spring Lake Theatre and Two River Theatre is not as much about competition. “We want to be part of a vibrant art community,” said Applegate.