Catching Dreams on a Summit Stage

The mission of the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre in Summit is to, "build community with the audience by sharing life-affirming stories in an intimate environment."

Dreamcatcher cast members, from left, Laura Ekstrand, Nicole Callender and Harriett Trangucci in a production of "Motherhood Out Loud."
Dreamcatcher cast members, from left, Laura Ekstrand, Nicole Callender and Harriett Trangucci in a production of "Motherhood Out Loud."
Photo courtesy of Steve McIntyre

Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre is a dream come true for its eight-member ensemble.

“We trust each other,” says artistic director Laura Ekstrand. “Everyone is safe and can take risks and will be supported by the others. There’s very little self-consciousness and no fear of not being hired again. This allows everyone to do his or her best work.”

Ekstrand, a Livingston resident, cofounded the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre as a summer theater in 1994. Originally based in Montclair, Dreamcatcher endured several moves before settling into its current home at the Oakes Center, a former Methodist church in Summit.

The company’s name stems from a Native American belief that the night air is permeated with dreams. The Ojibwe people designed a webbed hoop decorated with feathers to hang over their beds. Called dream catchers, these devices allowed only good dreams to filter through the web and make their way to the sleeper.

Like its eponym, the ensemble works a little theatrical magic. The company “focuses on telling stories about the essential goodness of all people,” says Ekstrand. “We want to send our audiences on their way filled with hope.” The company’s mission statement, says Ekstrand, is to “build community with the audience by sharing life-affirming stories in an intimate environment.”

Each season, Dreamcatcher presents three main-stage productions that are new to New Jersey; sometimes they are world premieres. The company prefers to work with playwrights they know and have a relationship with. “Often,” says Ekstrand, “a writer lives near enough to drop in for our first read-through and to give us his blessing.

“We are also very interested in presenting the work of female playwrights,” she adds, “since they are so woefully underrepresented on stages nationally.”

Dreamcatcher artistic director Laura Ekstrand cofounded the company in 1994.

Dreamcatcher artistic director Laura Ekstrand cofounded the company in 1994. Photo courtesy of Steve McIntyre

Opening on February 8 is What Stays, written by Ekstrand and Jason Szamreta, another member of the company, about a matriarch moving out of her home. When family members come to help her, they discover both new and long-held secrets as they pack up the contents of the house. The play runs through February 25.

On March 17, Multiple Personality Disorder, the company’s improv comedy troupe, will perform. From April 26-May 13, the company will present a series of short plays in its Continuing the Conversation series. May 16 and 23, the ensemble will stage new-play readings and invite audience discussion. All of this will be preceded on March 3 by an annual fundraising party at the Oakes Center. Visit dreamcatcherrep.org for details.

All the members of the Dreamcatcher ensemble have professional experience; most have performed together for many years. “We know we are all talented,” says 10-year Dreamcatcher veteran Scott McGowan, “so there is no ego when starting a project and none of the ‘getting to know each other’ at the start of rehearsals. We all just jump right in and the work can begin.”

Adds Harry Patrick Christian, a member for 20 years: “This comfort level allows us to go deeper into the emotions and relationships of the characters.”

What’s more, the performers all seem to have an affinity for each other.

Says Ekstrand, “It makes coming to work a pleasure and takes a great deal of the stress out of doing what can be a stressful job.”

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