Festivals Theater Visual ArtsSeptember 26, 2017

1 week. 28 new plays. 100 photographs of 100 extraordinary women. Plus poetry, music and great restaurants – all just a couple of blocks from the beach.

New Jersey Repertory Company’s “All About Eve” Festival starts next Sunday, October 1, and it’s a perfect time to visit historic Long Branch. We recently spoke with NJ Rep founders (and dynamic married duo) Gabe and SuzAnne Barabas about the festival, which is a benefit for their dream project: the West End Arts Center.


Culture Vultures: So, after 20 years of running NJ Rep, how does it feel to be taking on this really big, new project?

Gabe Barabas: Very daunting and very exciting. I think the impact of this cultural center on Long Branch will be very important. This festival is a reflection of what we’re planning with this new property. There will be two theaters, an art cinema, a museum, apartments for out-of-town actors and playwrights, a rooftop café and parking for more than 100 cars – and it’s two blocks from the Jersey Shore.


CV: And what’s the concept behind the festival? Why is it called the “All About Eve” Festival?

SuzAnne Barabas: The idea for the festival’s theme came about right after the recent presidential election and the Women’s March. I participated in the march and there was a wonderful feeling of hope and empowerment – and so it really came from the Women’s March.


CV: The festival and the West End Arts Center go beyond the theater arts, but theater is still central to your company, NJ Rep. A big part of the “All About Eve” Festival is something called “Theatre Brut.” Where did that name come from?

GB: There was a movement in the visual arts called Art Brut – or Outsider Art. Basically it means “raw” or “rough” art. The term came from the French artist Jean Dubuffet, referring to art that was created outside the mainstream art world. We got the idea from that to start an annual theater festival called “Theatre Brut” to capture that spirit of innovation and experimentation. And so the 28 plays we’re presenting during the “All About Eve” Festival range from straightforward storytelling to stuff that really pushes the envelope.

SB: We sent out a general call, and circulated it through our networks – a lot of social media – and we received over 450 submissions. From that, 28 plays were chosen. We’ve got a great variety, and 17 of the directors are women. And many of the plays are written by women. It’s really wonderful. We’re presenting seven cycles of four plays, and each play is only presented once. I think it’s going to be a really remarkable festival.

GB: When we started NJ Rep 20 years ago, we had a number of goals – the main goal was focusing on developing and producing new plays, which is not an easy mission because it’s not the most pragmatic mission. When you’re running a theater, you usually present plays that people have heard of, or that have some momentum. But we wanted to focus on expanding the repertoire of the American stage. And the way to do that is championing the work of living playwrights.

SB: Yes, we’ve always been open to all kinds of plays, all kinds of styles – we don’t adhere to any specific kind of material. We want playwrights to feel free to send us anything, from the most traditional play to a very challenging theatrical experience.


CV: You acquired the property that is now the West End Arts Center in 2015, and it seems like education has become a big part of your mission – kind of fitting since your new building is an old school.

GB: Over the past 20 years, we’ve had many educational programs – classes in acting, writing workshops for adults as well as high school students – but they were always periodic programs of our theater, mostly because we didn’t have the space. Now that we have this remarkable new property, we’ll be able to fully realize our vision: a broader and more regular program of classes for adults and young people, not just in the performing arts, but also in the visual arts, poetry and lots more.


CV: There’s an art gallery opening happening right in the middle of the festival – a photography exhibit called “Shine:100.”

SB: Yes, the photography exhibit we’re featuring during the festival is work by local artist Andrea Phox – black and white photographs of 100 women who have contributed to the life and culture of Long Branch. From teachers to activists to police officers to artists. Women who have contributed to the fabric of our community here in Long Branch.


CV: What do you think people should know about Long Branch?

GB: Well, Long Branch has a very rich cultural history. In the 1960s, the neighborhood where NJ Rep and the West End Arts Center are located was the bohemian section of town. We’re looking to bring that artistic spirit back. At one time, there were five or six theaters in town, and it was a major cultural destination in America. Seven presidents vacationed here. It was a magnet for theater and entertainment. But, starting in the 1930s, that element of the town began to disappear. What is happening now is the beginning of a cultural resurgence, and we hope to be a catalyst for that.

SB: This is a pivotal moment in the history of NJ Rep – we’re really spreading our wings. We are the only arts organization in town, so we feel that we have an obligation to create a more comprehensive cultural center. Theater will always be our anchor, but now we’re championing all of the arts.


“All About Eve” Festival: A Benefit for NJ Rep’s West End Arts Center takes place October 1 – October 8, 2017.  For tickets and a schedule of events, visit http://www.njrep.org/plays/allabouteve.htm.


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Christopher Benincasa
Christopher Benincasa

Christopher Benincasa is an Emmy Award-winning arts and culture journalist.