BWW Interview: Frank Licato, Artistic Director of HUDSON THEATRE WORKS
Broadwayworld New Jersey continues our interview series with theatre professionals to learn about their future plans during temporary closures. Frank Licato, the Artistic Director of Hudson Theatre Works shared with us some interesting insights.
Hudson Theatre Works has been committed to reasonable pricing so everyone can enjoy live theatre. They celebrate ensemble collaboration as well as artistic risk through its permanent company, guest artists, partner institutions and the surrounding community. Hudson Theatre Works' primary focus is on bringing a Living Theatre community to Hudson County, and the wider metropolitan area through performance, affordable pricing, outreach and theatre arts instruction. They are a professional Equity company and a proud member of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.
Licato is the recipient of the 2018 Tanne Foundation Award for continued artistic excellence. Tanne Foundation awards recognize outstanding achievement and are an expression of gratitude to artists for their passion and commitment to their work. Besides directing all of Hudson Theatre Works productions, some of his other credits include: Off-Broadway: Sprits of Exit Eleven, Lamppost Reunion, Centennial Casting, Requiem For A Heavyweight (Best Director, Off-Broadway Review), Seduced, Sounds of a Better World Concert and the Sexual Harassment Plays. Off-Off Broadway: 3 Men (Award winner at the NY Solo Festival) , Asylum, The Balcony, Tannhauser, Golden Boy, Rocket to the Moon, Fever (NY Fringe Festival, Audience Choice Award), White Noise, La Compagnie, Columbus in the Age of Gold, The Nest,, Action, The Tempest, Deep Dish. Regional: Grapes of Wrath (Chatham Playhouse - Perry Award, Director, Best Production), Best Man, The Late Christopher Bean, Good People (Summit Playhouse), Imagining Madoff, Enigma Variations, Ashes to Ashes, Afterplay (Garage Theater), Talk Radio, A View From the Bridge, Noises Off, The Shape of Things (Kennedy Center Finalist), Neil LaBute's I Love This Game (World Premiere), Fat Pig, My Italy Story (12 Miles West), The Engagement (Los Angeles), American Buffalo (Athens, Greece). He is a member of the Playwrights/Directors Unit at The Actors Studio and Applause Award winner - NJ Theatre Alliance. As an actor his most recently appeared as Juror #3 in the Company Theater's "12 Angry Men" and at Luna Stage in the premiere of Andrew Rosendorf's "Tranquil," as Rick.
We appreciate Frank Licato's responses to our questions about his background and Hudson Theatre Works.
Tell us a little about your earliest interest in theatre and performing arts.
Besides playing a caboose in kindergarten, it wasn't until I got a football scholarship to Blair Academy that I first acted. I was bored with football and I had a very progressive teacher who brought back a play from the early days of Cafe Cino called, "It's your thing baby," that I got cast in. I had no idea what I was doing but I imitated my father and got lots of laughs and positive feedback and thought, "I can do this." I was also very lucky in that the plays presented there included Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter, and others that were highly unusual for High School and got me looking at theatre as something more then a way to present myself but to see it as something that was a true form of artistic expression.
Have you had any particular mentors?
I never really had mentors but I had people who were influential and believed in me. A woman named Joann Green ran a small theatre company in Boston called the Cambridge Ensemble (there were lots of small theaters there at the time) and she gave me many opportunities to act in plays that were meaningful. One in particular was a production of Genet's "Deathwatch," in which I played Green Eyes. The show moved to New York and was a tremendous success getting a great review by Walter Kerr in the NY Times. I was lucky to have come up in a time where gesture was just as important as the actor's inner life, so people, like Joe Chaiken, Peter Brook (both of whom I was lucky enough to have worked with) and Growtowski influenced my training and idea of what it was to build a character. It was very freeing.
We'd love to know about the inception of Hudson Theatre Works.
I was being hired as a director by small theaters in New York and New Jersey but I wanted more control over what I wanted a theatre to express. So I met with a friend, Gregory Erbach, who is an actor and producer and co-founder of HTW, and I mentioned the idea to him and he said he knew of a space in Hudson County where we could perform. It's no secret that space is everything, especially in Hudson County, so we produced our first show 8 years ago which was "Of Mice and Men," at the Park Performing Arts Center in Union City. It was a great success and Mayor Richard Turner of Weehawken, which is where I live, came to see it and asked if we'd consider moving our base to Weehawken, which we did. We started by using the High School, then moved to the Weehawken Water Tower and finally to the Wilson School, where we have built a theatre space in what used to be their old auditorium. We like to think of it as a version of Peter Brook's "Theatre des Bouffes du Nord," in Paris, in that it's a 'raw' space, flexible and intimate.
What are some of the memorable productions you have produced recently?
We are very proud of most of our work but "3 Men," by Mike Folie, was developed in our in-house workshop, The Forge and it went on to win awards at the Solo Festival in New York. We also produced "Jackson Is Gone," by resident playwright, Joanne Hoersch, which also came out of our workshop. We produced two New Jersey premiers, "A Steady Rain' by Keith Huff, which was named one of the top 10 shows in NJ by the Star Ledger and Dan O'Brien's " The Body of an American." We have also produced Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' and 'Macbeth,' and Pinter's "The Caretaker," and a new version of Chekov's 'Uncle Vanya' which was adapted by Michael Puzzo and set in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.
How is Hudson Theatre Works staying connected to the public in these unprecedented times?
This is a hard question to answer. We are doing a zoom reading, sponsored by the NJ Theatre Alliance's Stages Festival. Normally we'd be presenting our PlayWorks readings of new plays at this point in the season, where the audience gets to give feedback to the author but since that is not possible we are presenting it on our youtube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyZXsYvCvAA&feature=youtu.be.
We are excited about the "Playworks" event that benefits Weehawken Emergency Services Volunteers. Why do you think this is such a successful model for reaching the theater lovers?
I don't think it's a perfect model but I think it's all we have at the moment and if we can raise funds for some worthy causes it makes it worth while. The 'liveness' of theatre can't be replaced by this technology and nor should it be. When we are all in a room together we take our cues both positive and negative thru the shared experience. This is just not possible in this medium. I think patience is what's called for until new models come forward. We have put a lot of effort, however, into making, what we hope will be the best experience it can be. And since it's a new play it can become more about the language and less about presentation.
What are some of your future plans?
We are following the guidelines that Broadway has set for itself, which means, hopefully, this fall. We have moved our spring production, "Bunnies," by Joanne Hoersch to the fall. It is a play that takes place in 1973, at the New York Playboy Club, where five Playboy Bunnies find themselves uplifted by the rise of feminism, haunted by the Good Bar murder and conflicted about their jobs as sex symbols, while they bond in humor and compassion over the course of one evening. It is based on her experiences of being a Bunny in the early 70's.
In any case we are lucky in that we can be patient. We are thinking of plays that can be socially distanced, for the audience of course but also for the actors on stage, which means new models of putting up work while at the same time keeping the emotional range and depth of character that one is accustomed to and why one goes to the theatre in the first place. I have some ideas for this (besides one person shows) but these ideas will mean carefully thinking thru the presentation and the challenge of filling the emotional space between the actors without them being in close contact.
What else would you like our readers to know about Hudson Theatre Works?
I think we are unique in the body of work that we have presented so far. I can safely say that no one else is doing the kind of plays we do and will continue to do. Our work is meant to be thought provoking and challenging and everything we do, from original plays, to classics to reinterpretations of modern story telling is meant to be provocative as well as entertaining. We are committed to keeping our ticket prices low and to a dedicated ensemble of playwrights, actors, directors and technicians. One of our sayings is that we bring Off-Broadway theatre at affordable prices.
Hudson Theatre Works is located at 80 Hauxhurst Ave, Weehawken, NJ 07086. For more information, visit their web site at https://hudsontheatreworks.com/. Follow them on social media; Facebook; Instagram; Linkedin; and Twitter
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Frank Licato