BWW Interview: Gabor and SuzAnne Barabas of NJ Rep Talk About New Plays and the Future
Broadwayworld.com interviewed Gabor and Suzanne Barabas, a charming couple who have been the driving force behind the beloved year-round theatre, New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep). In the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, it is essential to learn about our Garden State theatres and support them.
NJ Rep is a professional, non-profit theater located at 179 Broadway in Long Branch. It was founded in 1997 by SuzAnne and Gabor Barabas and over 22 years has become a nationally recognized cultural institution making important contributions to the American theater. The building was donated to the theater by a young couple, David and Margaret Lumia, who wanted to give their property to a non-profit organization that they felt would do the most to help revitalize the community. In the first year $350,000 was raised from private donors to renovate the building into two performance spaces with a beautiful art deco facade. The New Jersey Repertory Company has two complementary missions. They make a lasting contribution to the American Stage by developing and producing new plays and also facilitate and serve as a catalyst for community and economic development through the arts.
Get to know Gabor and SuzAnne, a dynamic pair!
Executive Producer, Gabor Barabas received his B.A. from N.Y.U. and his M.D. from the University of Cincinnati. He was co-founder of the Cincinnati Repertory Company and the American Repertory Theater of Philadelphia and practiced for over 25 years as a pediatric neurologist. His poetry has appeared in various literary journals and his collection of poems, "Russian Chronicles," was published by Gray Falcon Press. His most recent book, "Miklos Radnoti: The Complete Poetry in Hungarian and English" was published by McFarland, Inc. and is available through Amazon.com. An animated film, The Spider, by Juan Delcan, based on a poem dedicated to his friend, the artist Louise Bourgeois, has been featured in film festivals throughout the world. He has written several plays including Find Me a Voice, Immortal Interlude, and Hyde and Seek. He is the director of the Long Branch Arts Council.
Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas is the Artistic Director for NJ Rep where she directed Find Me a Voice, North Fork (premiere), Immortal Interlude (premiere), Octet (premiere), Till Morning Comes (premiere), Maggie Rose, Getting in Touch With My Inner B*tch (starring Christine Lavin, premiere), The Adjustment, 10% of Molly Snyder, Romulus Linney's Klonsky & Schwartz (premiere), Apostasy (premiere), Women Who Steal, Apple, The Housewives of Mannheim (premiere), Evie's Waltz, Dead Ringer (premiere), Steven Dietz's Yankee Tavern (NNPN premiere), Puma (premiere), Night Train (premiere), Just In Time: The Judy Holliday Story, Bakersfield Mist (NNPN premiere), Annapurna, Happy (NNPN premiere), Broomstick (premiere), Lucky Me (premiere), Swimming at the Ritz (U.S. premiere), The Realization of Emily Linder (premiere), The Seedbed (premiere), Villainous Company, Wild Horses (NNPN premiere) and Iago. SuzAnne directed productions of The Housewives of Mannheim at 59E59 Theater (NYC), Ensemble Theater of Santa Barbara (CA), and Phoenix Theater (Indianapolis). In addition, she directed regional productions of Ibsen's A Doll's House, The Fantasticks, The Roar of the Greasepaint the Smell of the Crowd, Cabaret, Shaw's Heartbreak House, A.R. Gurney's The Perfect Party, Marsha Norman's 'Night Mother, Philip Barry's The Philadelphia Story, Christopher Durang's Beyond Therapy, Mark Dunn's Belles, Lee Blessing's Down the Road among others. She is a member of Actors Equity Association, BMI, the Dramatists Guild, SDC, and LPTW.
Gabor and Suzanne answered our questions about the success of NJ Rep and what's planned for the future.
NJ Rep has been one of the very notable theatres producing new works. What is the greatest challenge of getting a world premiere to the stage?
When one produces exclusively new plays one is constantly dealing with the unknown. You need to bring to life something that has never existed before and give physical form on stage to something that until then has resided only in the imagination of the playwright. This is a great responsibility and you have to do it with as much fidelity to the work as possible.This requires an elaborate team that includes the playwright, director, designers, and actors among many others, which makes theater the quintessential communal art form.
Your most recent show, The Promotion is your 137th production in 22 seasons. Tell us about a few of the groundbreaking plays you have brought to the stage.
Some of our plays may be ground-breaking, some may break your heart, and others may make you laugh and smile as we constantly search for and present provocative plays that grapple with the complexities of the human condition. We produced BUTLER several years ago by Richard Strand that was set during the American Civil War and was produced by eight theaters afterwards as well as on off-Broadway. It began at our 62-seat theater and was ultimately seen by over 40,000 throughout the country. The play dealt with escaped slaves seeking refuge in a Union Fort whose commander, General Benjamin Butler, goes against the law of the land to protect them. Based on a true story, the incident contributed to the development of the Emancipation Proclamation. Our play, ISSEI, HE SAY by Chloe Hung dealt with two immigrant families in a neighborhood in Canada, one Chinese and one Japanese whose historic enmities have followed them to their new home. A friendship develops between the teenage daughter of one of the families and the aged patriarch of the other that begins to transcend age-old hatreds.
BOOKENDS, was a musical by Katharine Houghton that dealt with the six decade friendship of two women from childhood who are antiquarian book sellers. The play moves from their time of innocence through the upheavals of the Second World War and Nazism. A recent play, FERN HILL by Michael Tucker closed not long ago on off-Broadway after a successful run.
As plays that have started at NJ Rep continue to be performed worldwide, what feedback can you share from other theatres that have produced your world premieres?
We have had the wonderful opportunity not only to introduce new plays at our theater but to champion these plays way beyond our four walls. As a consequence there have been hundreds of subsequent productions of plays we've premiered at theaters throughout the U.S. and overseas. Most recently, THE TANGLED SKIRT by Steve Braunstein had a ten theater tour in Italy. We do not shy away from difficult subjects and gravitate toward plays that deal compelling stories and subjects. We run the gamut from comedies, to dramas, to musicals. We deal with many regional theaters throughout the year and are frequently contacted by other theaters asking for scripts of various plays that we've introduced to our audiences.
We know that in addition to your theatre on Broadway in Long Branch, you also have another venue in Long Branch that you are developing. Can you tell us more about it and a few of your plans for it as an area arts facility?
One day we were driving by a school near our theater when we saw a "For Sale" sign on the fence. We found out that the property was being auctioned to the highest bidder the following week. This remarkable property included not only the 30,000 square foot building but also the 2 1/2 acre property with space for over a hundred cars. Lt is located in the West End section of Long Branch which is historically the old Bohemian section of town. An anonymous donor who knew our work provided the funds to purchase the property after we expalained that we wanted to protect the property for the cultural sector and ultimately build an arts center that would serve generations to come. Our plan is to transform the school in phases into two theaters, an arts education building, spaces for the visual arts, and an art cinema. Clearly, we have a great challenge ahead of us but the acquisition of the remarkable property makes the goals and dreams we've had for our theater possible after over two decades of building our organization.
During the Covid-19 outbreak, many NJ theatres have had to shut their doors temporarily. What are you and your staff doing during this unprecedented shutdown?
The outbreak represents a great threat to our theater's stability and future as it does to all other theaters around the country. Like most theaters our cash reserves are limited and we rely greatly on the ongoing support of our subscribers, audiences, foundations, corporations and individual donations. We are all currently working from home and are working on rescheduling our season of six new plays when we can start up again, and strategizing on developing new programs and ideas once we reopen our doors.
The future of NJ Rep is a bright one. How can our readers support your company in the near future and in the long term?
In the short term we need donations and the support of the public. We are especially concerned about our loyal staff who have been with us for a long time and who rely on us for their livelihood. In the short and long term we need people to subscribe and to sign up for our season of six new play. We promise a remarkable journey throughout the year. We have several unique and discounted options for both subscribers and single ticket buyers.
Like many Americans, our readers look forward to getting back to their normal routines and visiting NJ Rep once again. What plans do you have for NJ Rep that you can share with theatergoers for the future?
We are in the process of developing a broad range of new programs for young people in acting, playwriting, and various facets of theater.
Anything else, absolutely anything you'd like BWW NJ readers to know.
THANK YOU SO MUCH MARINA. SEE YOU SOON.
New Jersey Repertory Company located at 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ 07740. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.njrep.org/ or call 732.229.3166.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gabor and Suzanne Barabas