During hard economic times, grant funding for the arts is an easy target for the chopping block, with regional dance companies and theatre groups feeling the brunt of dwindling financial support and audiences limiting entertainment choices due to reduced disposable income. Despite such dire circumstances, one Dumont couple is refusing to let the current state of the arts dim their dream of keeping regional theatre alive and well in Bergen County.
In 2007, eager to bring their style of collaborative theatre to local audiences, Louis Scarpati and Andrea Prendamano, partners in life, joined forces with three like-minded friends who were actors, writers or directors to form one of Bergen County’s only professional theatre companies.
“Back then, we met in Louis’ living room, and drawing inspiration from the acclaimed Group Theatre, decided the time was right to start our own repertory company,” recalls Prendamano, actor and group secretary. Today, she, along with Scarpati, and two other original members of The Company Theatre Group, Inc. (affectionately known as “The Company”) are more determined than ever to provide thought-provoking entertainment to everyone who comes to their productions.
The group is guided by five basic principles: to create outstanding Theatre; present “life in fiction” in every performance; develop a safe, non-judgmental home where artists can grow, take risks and explore the creative process; produce exciting, thought-provoking and interesting plays and support new artists and playwrights through workshops, classes, and readings.
Prendamano explained the group’s unique philosophy: “We differ from other companies in that our shows are just about completely spontaneous, almost improv-like. If you see a show on Saturday and come back to the same show on Sunday, you will have a different experience. This is because Lou, who currently directs all of our productions, prefers that rehearsals and performances be both completely communal and team-oriented where the actors are encouraged to bring their ideas and just ‘play.’ This gives them the freedom to continually discover who their characters are and portray those characters honestly and without restraint, even during a performance.”
As a result of this novel approach, The Company has an opportunity to virtually bring a play to life on the stage, and since every performance is highly organic, no two shows are ever the same. As Scarpati, the managing artistic director puts it: “When we’re firing on all cylinders, a typical audience member feels as if they are seeing real life unfold right before their eyes. In large measure this is because it is the first time the show is being performed in exactly that way. Our talented actors live in the moments of a production. And just like in real life, things can go in many different ways, so that’s what happens each night on stage as well.”
Taking on such a venture, while a noble undertaking, is no easy task, especially when working on a limited budget while striving to keep the doors open and offer North Jersey quality, professional theatre.
“As with most arts organizations, funding and ticket sales are always a struggle,” Scarpati notes. “Additionally, our location is not ideal, and we do not get any real ‘walkups’ to the box office.” (The group currently rents space from the city at the Hackensack Cultural Arts Center.)
“We are looking to get a new and permanent home to help alleviate that,” Prendamano adds.
Notwithstanding such challenges, it’s the mission that motivates this company. According to Scarpati, “We have a shared love of theatre, reality based-production, and creating characters, which comes through in all of our shows. Even though budgets are tight, The Company offers free public readings of classic and new plays, as well as donates a substantial number of tickets to every senior center in Bergen County.”
“We believe in presenting authentic human behavior on stage; ‘life in fiction,’ we like to call it,” Prendamano notes. “Our goal is to create an environment and experience where each audience member can feel like the proverbial fly on the wall, watching the lives of real people unfold—and sometimes unravel—right before their eyes.”
It’s a page that could be taken from the Group Theatre, which was established in the 1930s by a community of actors, directors, writers and composers with the intention of mounting original American plays that would reflect the times. In due course, they actually altered the direction of American theater.
“We hope to model ourselves on the kind of repertory company that they created, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish that,” says Scarpati.
To that aim, The Company, which now consists of Prendamano and Scarpati, a team whose credits include several off-Broadway productions, including Last Jew in Europe and Queue; Joe Curran, a founding member and set designer who works both in front of the audience and backstage; and David Russo, actor and the fourth founding member, consistently adds talented actors and theatre professionals to its ongoing roster. This year, the group celebrated its fourth year in operation. Looking ahead to 2013 and beyond, The Company Theatre Group continues its search for a permanent residence. In March 2013, group members will present an evening of one-act plays at the Nunnbetter Dance Theater in Bergenfield and in June they’ll be back at The Hackensack Cultural Arts Center with the comedy Cahoots.
For more info, visit www.theatrecompany.biz