Jersey's in the Know

Elsewhere on this site, you can read my review of Jersey Productions' 'Oklahoma!', which represents more than the opening of Jersey's fourth season. It's part of an innovative arrangement with Know Theatre. The two companies are moving forward with compl

Elsewhere on this site, you can read my review of Jersey Productions' Oklahoma!, which represents more than the opening of Jersey’s fourth season. It’s part of an innovative arrangement with Know Theatre of Cincinnati.

Some history: Back in 2006, as Covington’s Carnegie Center launched its renovated theater, a new summertime musical theater company was established. Eric Vosmeier was managing the theater and recruited Kelly Martin to oversee the musical side of the new company and handle its business affairs. (Martin and Larry Smiglewski, the first artistic director, hail from New Jersey, hence the group’s name.)

Last summer, after two seasons at The Carnegie, Jersey moved to the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater, which offers more exposure and parking. The J-K’s spacious stage made possible more ambitious productions. Last summer Jersey presented The Sound of Music and West Side Story.

But Smiglewski left Jersey a year ago, and Martin — who spends much of the year in New York City as a music teacher — had to find a new way to sustain her company’s future. She turned to Vosmeier, who’s now managing director of Know Theatre. Following some conversations between them and Know’s artistic director, Jason Bruffy, the groups decided to collaborate.

Here’s how it works: Know provides a variety of support services, with Bruffy serving as Jersey’s interim artistic leader, a job that includes directing Oklahoma!. Martin handles marketing and the musical aspects of Jersey’s shows in addition to recruiting performers from beyond Cincinnati, such as Broadway-experienced Case Dillard, playing Curly in the current production.

“Jersey Productions is still a new company,” Vosmeier says. “They are still finding their footing. Their success last season proves they are beginning to carve out an audience for themselves, and I want to help them continue to grow.”

Bruffy adds, “Jersey is filling a niche that downtown Cincinnati has not had for a while — a quality summer-stock theater."

That help is coming from Know Theatre. After the successful but labor-intensive Fringe Festival in June, Know wasn't producing a summer show. That meant the experienced team from the Over-the-Rhine theater could assist Jersey: Liz Vosmeier is choreographing Oklahoma!, while tech director Doug Borntrager is the production manager. Know’s stage manager, Kristen Ruthmeyer, is keeping Jersey’s actors organized and operations backstage running smoothly.

The connection also means that some of Know’s actors have performing opportunities: Courtney Brown, who had leads in several Know productions during the 2008-09 season, is playing Laurey in Oklahoma!.

Martin was grateful for Know’s assistance and expertise: “I’m grateful to be able to learn from the entire Know Theatre staff and produce another successful season.”

What does this mean for theater fans in Cincinnati? The bottom line is simple — it’s a win/win: Rather than two theaters struggling to make ends meet during a difficult economy, Jersey and Know are producing better theater and keeping actors and backstage personnel busy and working.

Know, which presents works that push the envelope (like last season’s satirical Reefer Madness: The Musical or Sarah Ruhl’s poetic drama Eurydice) is never going to add classic musicals to its season. And Jersey’s traditional summer fare occurs at a time when Know is at low tide.

In other words, the two companies are not only moving forward with complimentary programs, they're strengthening one another with this collaboration. That’s good news for everyone who cares about live theater in Greater Cincinnati.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]

Rick Pender

RICK PENDER has written about theater for CityBeat since its first issues in 1994. Before that he wrote for EveryBody’s News. From 1998 to 2006 he was CityBeat’s arts & entertainment editor. Retired from a long career in public relations, he’s still a local arts fan, providing readers (and public radio listeners)...
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