There’s no question that the northern Hudson County is becoming a major treading ground for actors, enticing for its many venues and prolific support for the arts.
But the founders of Hudson Theatre Works, the newest theatre company to take up residence at Park Performing Arts Center in Union City, want to give back to the area with plays geared toward “the working people” of Hudson County. “That’s one of the important reasons for putting ‘work’ in the title,” said Weehawken resident Frank Licato, the founder of the group.
“It’s very topical right now.” – Frank Licato
New theatre company in town
After years of freelancing as a director, Licato decided he would like to have a space in his community where he could develop ideas on a long-term basis, and looked around Hudson County for a place to call home.
Last summer, he struck up a conversation with an actor and board member for the Park Performing Arts Center, Gregory Erbach, who asked him if wanted to take a look at it and see if it would be a suitable space for a professional theater.
Licato was immediately sold on the space for its accessibility and size, and, of course, the free parking.
“It’s a remarkable space. It’s bigger than some Broadway theaters actually,” he said.
He called upon another friend, Weehawken resident Karen Brady, who has an extensive non-profit background, to be the head of the board for the new company.
With a space and three founding members, Hudson Theatre Works moved forward with plans for its first performance, “Of Mice and Men.”
But performances are not the only thing you’ll find at Hudson Theater Works.
They also plan to use the theatre as an avenue of outreach for high school-age children, who would be able to attend performances, take classes, and even participate through work-study programs.
They envision that actors, too, would benefit from the theatre.
Licato sees the theatre as a “home to come back to,” a welcome retreat from lucrative yet less gratifying gigs like “commercials and soaps,” a place where actors can revel in their craft.
‘Of Mice and Men’
John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella, “Of Mice and Men” has long held its place atop high school summer reading lists. It’s the required reading that, due to its brevity, has actually been read.
Many can easily recall the tragic story of intelligent George Milton and man-child Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers during the Great Depression in California.
But the novella also claims a spot on another list, the American Library Association’s list of the “Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century,” and therein lays its notoriety – and part of its allure for Hudson Theatre Works.
Although at times banned from schools for its racial slurs and its vulgarity, Licato believes the novella is important for the lessons it has the potential to teach.
“It creates a discussion about [racism], what race is, how we treat each other,” Licato said, “We felt it was a very serious work of theater…it’s controversial, but not overly controversial.”
One tactic Hudson Theatre Works favors is the concept of color-blind casting.
“Once you commit to something like that, you realize that [skin color] doesn’t matter,” Licato said.
Hudson Theatre Works is all about connecting with the Hudson County and the human experience in general, and “Of Mice and Men,” Licato believes, is the perfect starting point.
“It’s very topical right now,” he said. “It takes place in a time when jobs and money were scarce, when people were looking to find work and community as they had less and less.”
He continued, “There’s something about people wanting to get their lives back, to have some sense of decent life despite circumstances.”
The company, said Licato, is interested in the gamut – serious plays, musicals, eventually some Shakespeare – but the theme of universality will be ubiquitous throughout.
“It’s all about the journey of human beings and life and how different it is for each of us, yet how we struggle to make that connection,” Licato said.
Already on the horizon is a performance of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
“People won’t have to go to Manhattan anymore for great theatre,” Licato said.