NJ Rep Theater in Long Branch Opens a New Arts Hub

Spaces at the theater's West End Arts Center are opening gradually, starting with a monthly play-reading series, standup comedy and jazz performances.

Jill Eikenberry (left) and Ella Dershowitz
Jill Eikenberry (left) and Ella Dershowitz Photo courtesy of New Jersey Repertory Company/Andrea Fox

When The New Jersey Repertory Company put on its first production in Long Branch in 1997, the town was a vastly different place. There was no Pier Village buzzing with restaurants, shops, and bars, and it was a ghost town at night. In fact, the nonprofit theater was founded to encourage people to visit the deserted neighborhood in the evenings.

“A couple donated an old industrial building because they felt a theater would best help revitalize the area,” says Gabor Barabas, who founded NJ Rep with his wife, SuzAnne.

Since then, the company has produced 140 plays in its Lumia Theater on lower Broadway. This spring’s production was Two Hander by Julia Blauvelt, starring Ella Dershowitz and five-time Emmy-nominated, Golden Globe winner Jill Eikenberry.

NJ Rep’s focus on new works “is a somewhat non-pragmatic mission,” says Barabas. “You’re introducing things that haven’t been done before, and it requires a somewhat adventurous audience.”

Despite the challenges, the company has succeeded in its mission. Most NJ Rep productions have been world premieres, with more than 200 subsequent performances in theaters worldwide. It also acts as an incubator for new talent, staging readings and play festivals.

And their footprint is expanding. In May 2016, the company acquired a sprawling former school in Long Branch and created the West End Arts Center. Spaces there are opening gradually, starting with a monthly play-reading series, standup comedy and jazz performances. Eventually, the center will have performance spaces, an art cinema, art museum, rooftop café, arts education space, actors’ and playwrights’ residences, and programs in acting, playwriting, sculpture, poetry, music and photography.

The Bookstore, NJ Rep’s summer show, runs every Thursday to Sunday through August 4. For tickets and information, visit njrep.org.

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