BWW Interview: Executive Director, Brian Remo of UCPAC and the Rahway Venue
We continue our series of interviews with leaders of the New Jersey theatre community to find out how they are dealing with the current times and their plans for the future. Broadwayworld had the opportunity to learn about Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC) in Rahway, thanks to the Center's Executive Director, Brian Remo.
Brian found a life in the management of historic theaters and the presentation of the arts in a far less commonplace fashion than one might expect. A semi-retired professional from the golf course management industry and former landscape architect, Brian founded and Artistically Directed Fearless Productions, a small theater troupe that soon became a resident at the UCPAC stages, producing 27 events in less than a two year period. In 2015, his adoration for the arts community and the theater itself provided a seamless transition into the lead position at the 1928 historic facility which boasts three venues of 60, 200 and 1334 seats. A proud resident of Rahway and the County of Union, Brian and his current administration have guided the UCPAC through its most successful five year period both financially and from a programming perspective. Brandishing a mission statement that centers around the advocacy and celebration of the arts through the provision of OPPORTUNITY, the UCPAC continues to stand as the proud hub of the Union County Arts District and humbly celebrate their branding motto: "This Place Matters."
Brian answered our questions about UCPAC and his expectations for the future.
UCPAC has grown a great deal as a result of your leadership and your team. What motivates you most as the Executive Director?
Thank you for such a kind compliment. I am so glad you used the word team in the question because we truly are that, and therein lies a good portion of the answer. Each and every staff member and volunteer is diligent and dedicated to the likes of which I've never experienced. They are truly an inspiration on the day to day and a collaborative asset. On a more personal note, I think the overall evolution that has become visibly present in our City, County and within our organization is the greatest inspiration that motivates me. The patrons of the arts community and how they have embraced the significance of our growth has truly presented unlimited fuel to bring 100% to each and every endeavor.
UCPAC has multiple venues in downtown Rahway. Tell us a little about each of them.
We are fortunate to manage four venues within the UCPAC, The Historic Main Stage has 1334 seats and is the venue that most know as the "UCPAC." About 10 years ago the City of Rahway added a second building, the Hamilton Stage, which contains a 200 seat state of the art theater, and a 99 seat capacity hall, The Fazioli Room. These two venues are as sought after by renting producers, as they are versatile to the presenter. Lastly, above the Main Stage, we have a 60 seat black box theater, the LOFT, which has affectionately acquired the nickname the "Yes Factory." Keeping in line with our mission statement of OPPORTUNITY, the LOFT has been a breeding ground for new ideas and ground level projects. We rarely turn away an opportunity in the LOFT.
We know you have a lot of support in Rahway and the Union County area. Can you tell us about some of the individuals that make UCPAC such a great entertainment venue?
The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders are unquestionable champions of the arts and of the UCPAC. The County holds three seats on our Board including Chairman Al Mirabella, Freeholder Chris Hudak and County Manager, Ed Oatman. Victoria Drake also serves as a liaison to our Board for County affairs and has done so for over five years. The City of Rahway's commitment to the arts community is a visible and flourishing beacon for its residents to celebrate. Led by their Mayor Raymond Giacobbe, whom I consider among the very highest in a list of supportive patrons, who has appointed Joe Brown (currently serving as Secretary to the Board) to hold the City's seat among the trustees. The UCPAC is proud to play a vital part in the the local community and I can say without hesitation that the relationship is reciprocal. Moving into this fiscal year, we have a Board of Trustees, Chaired by President Al Faella, that are connected, involved, dedicated and passionate about this organization and I am so fortunate to have the years of experience from so many diverse industries to consult and guide me.
What have been some of the most memorable performances at UCPAC during the time you have been Executive Director?
This past January, our sold out performance by Broadway's Jeremy Jordan might very well be the highlight of the last four years. Filling all 1334 seats is not something that happens every day for us, but this past Fall/Winter season we had four months of sold out shows including SINBAD's second sell out, in as many visits. I guess what really set Mr. Jordan's performance apart, was the energy that surrounded the entire event cycle. When we first announced (a year in advance) we sold 100 tickets in a matter of hours for a show that was 13 months in the future. That night, Mr. Jordan did NOT disappoint. It was one of those nights where even the staff were frozen in awe. I'll not soon forget it.
The Covid-19 outbreak has caused big challenges for the arts community. How is UCPAC adapting to these difficult times?
There really was no way to prepare for what we are now experiencing. On March 3rd the CFO, Len Vanderwende and myself began running the forecasts for how we might proceed, taking every scenario into consideration, but I don't think anyone can truly plan for a pandemic of this magnitude. When it came down to it, we looked at the infrastructure of the strong individuals we have on our staff and focused on how we could do two things without fail for as long as possible: 1. Protect this center and the men and women that it employs as well as those who patronize it; and 2. Play our part in providing hope and connectivity throughout these times of hardship.
How can patrons continue to support UCPAC?
First... They can stay safe. They can continue to put the needs of their family and their fellow citizens in the forefront of their minds. They can continue to be passionate about SOMETHING. They can continue to dream and create and sing and dance and love the life they live. That's all that we are; a by-product of their spirit. They can visit our website and social media in their daily surf. They can like and comment and share and... sure... if the spirit so moves them, they can donate. But what we want more than anything else is for each and every patron of the UCPAC to make it through to the other side of this and be here stronger and more joyous than before. Because you can bet your ass we will be here ready to greet them. This place matters, but not as much as them.
What are you looking forward to in the future for the Arts Center?
I feel like the UCPAC is a very different place than it was in 2015. Likewise, I am a very different person than I was the day I took on the position of Executive Director. There was a time when I think the significance of the historic Union County Performing Arts Center may have been somewhat diffused or even in jeopardy of becoming forgotten. Today, that significance and the people who support the UCPAC will not allow this organization to fall short of it's true potential. I am truly looking forward to each and every day I get to do the job I was asked to do.
Anything else, absolutely anything you want BWW NJ readers to know.
The UCPAC began as a Vaudeville theater and then had a pretty substantial stint as a movie house in its early years. We still maintain and operate the 35mm and 16mm projectors in our booth. Part of our programming calendar includes our Classic Film Series. We present a different classic film in the original 35mm format, include free popcorn, a historic pre-show on our Wurlitzer Organ, and all for 5 dollars. I would love to urge anyone who has not had the opportunity to visit the UCPAC to perhaps take a nostalgic trip back in time to share an evening with us at one of these film presentations. Sure, you can watch JAWS or ROCKY or THE BREAKFAST CLUB for free on Netflix. But why not join us to experience the film and the theater as it was originally intended?
I'd also like everyone to know that all of us at UCPAC hope everyone is safe and we look forward to seeing you soon... Thank you Marina for your interest.
Union County Performing Arts Center is located at 1601 Irving St, Rahway, NJ 07065 in the heart of the city's arts and restaurant district. There is plenty of parking available and the Center is a short walk from Rahway's NJ Transit train station.
Visit their web site at www.UCPAC.org. You can also follow them on Facebook: @UCPAC ; Hamilton Stage Facebook: @UCPACHamiltonStage; Twitter: @UnionCountyPAC; YouTube: Union County Performing Arts Center; Instagram: @UCPAC; LinkedIn: Union County Performing Arts Center
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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Brian Remo