Saturday, December 15, 2012

Luna Stage & New Plays: An Interview with Cheryl Katz

Posted on December 15, 2012 by Amanda Guzman
Luna Stage is a gorgeous theater located in West Orange, New Jersey. Founded in 1992 by Artistic Director Jane Mandel, Luna Stage was located in Montclair until 2009, when they relocated to their current home in West Orange, New Jersey. It is now an important part of the ValleyArts District.
Luna's mission is to produce thought-provoking theatre that illuminates the diverse perspectives in our society.  Although they also produce revivals of classic and contemporary plays that speak to our times, they have always placed a great emphasis on new play development and have produced the world premieres of many works by emerging playwrights. Luna is committed to partnering with artists of all disciplines, businesses, and organizations within their community that embrace the notion that the arts can be a powerful tool for revitalization and transformation.
I first encountered Luna Stage as a Dramaturgy intern under Cheryl Katz (Associate Artistic Director/ Director of Play Development) in Fall 2011 of my Junior year at Montclair State University. At Luna, Cheryl Katz has contributed to the development of over 50 new works for the stage as well as several world premieres. As a Dramaturgy intern at Luna, one of my daily responsibilities was to organize the play submissions sent in from emerging playwrights across New Jersey.
I got a chance to speak with Cheryl Katz a little more about the process of selecting from these submissions.
 AG: I understand that Luna accepts submissions from emerging American playwrights. How should playwrights submit their work? What information should they include? 
CK: We accept open submissions from all playwrights who make their home in New Jersey.  Those writers should submit a hard copy of a cover letter, a synopsis, a resume, and the first 20 pages of their play.  For playwrights who either have an agent or an MFA in playwriting, or who can provide a letter of recommendation from a professional theatre, we accept a full script submissions.  Detailed submission guidelines can be found at:
We also do readings of new plays the first Monday of every month (Oct.-May).  The playwrights are always present at these readings and each reading is followed by a talkback with the playwright. Even just attending a reading and participating in the discussion is a great way for young playwrights to get involved at Luna.

AG: What is the play selection process like? Who is the first to read the submissions and where do they go from there? 
CK: I have a group of volunteers who help me review our script submissions.  Many of these volunteers are playwrights themselves, some are actors, some retired teachers, etc..  If a script has come to me with a particular recommendation, I might review it myself first, but usually, volunteer script readers are the first to review submissions. They return the scripts to me with their recommendations.  Then, I will review each script myself. If I have an interest in the writer or the play, I will ask other members of the Luna staff to read the play. I think it's very important to have many eyes on a script and to hear different reactions when assessing whether or not a play is right for Luna. 

AG: How long does it usually take for submissions to be officially chosen for a production? 
CK: It depends on many things.  It depends on what phase of development the play is in when it comes to us, what else we are considering for a season, etc...  Sometimes, we read a play and think it's ready for production and we put in right up the next season.  But more often, the play will go through some development process at Luna, involving readings and workshops. We commissioned our first play a couple of years ago and I am interested in doing more of that.

AG: What do you look for when selecting a play? (which elements of the play, ideas, deciding factors) 
At Luna Stage, we are committed to nurturing excellence in playwriting, in all phases of development. We are interested in works by diverse voices that have clearly been written for the stage, as opposed to other mediums. We look for well-told stories, in all shapes and configurations. We are attracted to writing that has a depth and a texture in its language and characters, and/or a novel use of structure. We produce material of all genres, but look for work that transcends its immediate story to resonate with audiences on many levels.

AG: Why do you feel it is important that Luna is open to receiving and producing new work? 
Well, I think theatre, like any art form, has to be responsive, and at its best, can be an incredible catalyst for introspection and understanding. So, while I think it is important to revisit timeless works and to discover how the meaning and implication of those works changes over time, I also think it is imperative to hear new voices, living in our time, and writing for our time.

AG: What can we keep an eye out for coming up at Luna Stage? 
In February, we'll be producing the world premiere of a new play entitled Carnaval by Obie-Award winning playwright Nikkole Salter.  The play is about three young African-American men who take a trip to Rio De Janeiro for a taste of the good life: sun, fun and, of course, women paid to serve. But what starts out as a joyride takes an unexpected turn and the three sex tourists find themselves in a situation that will change their friendships and their lives forever. This play was read in Luna's New Moon Reading series in June of 2011.  For tickets and more information, go to

Amanda Guzman is currently appearing in the Off-Off-Broadway production of Grimm Women. Her film debut Concussion will be playing the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Miss Guzman is also a featured actress in the upcoming Page to Stage documentary produced by the Princeton Public Library.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Local talent makes for an intimate evening at Hat City Kitchen

Posted on December 7, 2012 by Ally Blumenfeld

Father and Son duo Bobby & Cam Cole
Photo credit Ally Blumenfeld
In a room lit by candles and stage lights, filled with tables and chairs pivoted toward a stage and the sounds of a bar muffled by guitar chords, musicians and patrons alike sit among guitar cases and pints of beer to watch an eager and diverse group of artists do what they love.  It's a far cry from the $100  seats in the nosebleed section of a packed and painfully loud arena.  The lyrics of popular artists today are also a far cry from the meaningful, socially aware, highly personal, and relatable words of the musicians at the All-Acoustic Open Mic at Orange's Hat City Kitchen.

Every other Tuesday, Hat City Kitchen hosts their All-Acoustic Open Mic.  I have to admit: I walked into the restaurant with just the slightest tinge of hesitancy.  I had never attended an open mic before, and my only reference points were formed by the popular characterizations: screechy voices, out-of-tune guitars, and bad 80s covers.  I was not expecting the songs to be so personal, the artists to be so passionate, nor the night to feel so intimate.  It was quite magical to watch ordinary people become transcendent with just a guitar and stage lights.  Set lists included songs both new and old: a feeling of nostalgia swept in as the audience was treated to Joni Mitchell and David Crosby, and the sense of community in the room was strengthened by the original words and stories-through-song of musicians such as KO and Rostafa.

Host Michael Reitman with sigh-up sheet
Photo credit Ally Blumenfeld
Hat City Kitchen has been holding open mics for the past three years, but it wasn't until late 2011 when  blues musician and host Michael Reitman came on board that there was a night just for acoustic aficionados.  I had the chance to chat with him about halfway through the night, when I learned about the history of and mechanics behind HCK's All-Acoustic.  About 30 minutes after a 7pm sign-up, Reitman himself takes the stage to get early audiences ready for a long night of guitars and harmonicas – the last act typically closing down around 11 or 11:30pm.  Each act is allowed three songs or fifteen minutes, “just like every other open mic in the world,” according to Reitman.

Yet this open mic was anything but run-of-the-mill.  Whether it was the talent, the atmosphere, the venue, or perhaps all three combined, there was definitely something special about HCK's All-Acoustic.  In the audience were community members, family, friends, and strangers alike, yet the common thread was clear: we were all there to support real music and true music-makers.  The intimacy of the space made it feel like I was in someone's living room, watching a relative perform just for me.  For lyrics that give this community a voice, and for a sense of community unparalleled by most other music venues, Hat City Kitchen's open-mics are a must for any music lover.

After a stirring cover of Mumford & Sons' Little Lion Man in which some profanity was thoughtfully edited out, the singer quipped, “This is a family joint!”

Family joint indeed.

All-Acoustic Open Mic: every other Tuesday at Hat City Kitchen, 459 Valley Street, Orange, NJ.  Check out to find upcoming open-mics and other events happening every week.

Musician KO
Photo credit Ally Blumenfeld
Ally Blumenfeld is a working writer, dramaturg, and photographer based in Montclair, NJ. Two of her original one-act plays have been produced Off-Off-Broadway. She is currently the Gallery Coordinator for the ValleyArts Firehouse Gallery. Follow her on Twitter at @allyblume.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Firehouse Galley Opens, Features Art of Dan Fenelon

                                        Posted on November 25th, 2012 by Ally Blumenfeld
The Art of Dan Fenelon, photo credit Ally Blumenfeld

Inside the new Firehouse Gallery and Artist Lofts, very few vestiges of the 1905 Forest Street Firehouse remain.  In fact, it is quite hard to imagine that the building was once populated with firemen, fire trucks, and an ever-present sense of urgency.  Now, it is mostly quiet inside the walls of the gallery, but it is certainly not without energy.

On Friday night the firehouse was transformed yet again, this time into the world of artist Dan Fenelon.  'The Art of Dan Fenelon' opened to an impressed and excited crowd who had the pleasure of mingling with Richard T. Bryant and Patrick Morrissy, executive directors of ValleyArts and H.A.N.D.S. respectively, and Fenelon himself.  The hardwood floors, exposed brick, and freshly painted white walls were the perfect canvas for Fenelon's colorful and intriguing work.  It wasn't your typical four-wall gallery, however, as artwork hung not only on the walls but on stands, from poles, and from the rails of the large white garage door – perhaps the only clue to the previous career of this beautifully renovated building. 

Many of Fenelon's pieces were, much like the gallery that housed it, repurposed.  There were tables, shelves, hangers, a wheel, a television, a bass, and a toy truck – all now art.  One of Fenelon's many talents seems to be turning the ordinary into the extraordinary: taking a “non-art” item, and by using color and imagination, transforming it into something creative.  It became clear that this exhibit mirrors the vision of at-the-helm organizations ValleyArts and H.A.N.D.S. in its insistence on finding art in new places, and creating where others may not see space for creation. 

The Art of Dan Fenelon,
photo credit Ally Blumenfeld
This is exactly what is happening in the ValleyArts District. About halfway through the opening, Bryant, Morrissy, and Fenelon spoke to a captive audience of community members, friends, art aficionados, and supporters.  Morrisy explained that their vision for bringing art to the Valley is not “chardonnay and expensive paintings” – it's about creating: creating an arts district, creating a strong community, and most importantly, creating opportunities for expression for those whose voices are not always heard.  So far in the Valley, thirty-nine artist spaces have been built and occupied, seven are just opening (including the Firehouse), and fifteen are currently under construction.  Their wish is to build 100 spaces where local artists can live, work, share, and create with the community of Orange.  As an artist, Fenelon is also a part of this creation.  He often includes community members – mainly those who are not artists – in the creation of his public projects and murals.  He has said that it is important for locals to have a chance to take ownership in his work, which is an ideal way to truly bring arts into the Orange community. 

'The Art of Dan Fenelon' is the perfect exhibit to open the new Firehouse Gallery because, like Fenelon's incredible art itself, the ValleyArts District consists of old spaces becoming new, the archaic becoming the accessible, and the “non-art” becoming art.  Just as a blank canvas emblazoned with Fenelon's signature designs becomes a piece of artwork, so too does a previously abandoned firehouse, with a black and white mural signed by Dan Fenelon on the facade, become a place for art.

Outside the ValleyArts Firehouse, photo credit Ally Blumenfeld
'The Art of Dan Fenelon' is not to be missed.  Open through Sunday, January 6 at the Firehouse Gallery and Artist Lofts, 580 Forest Street, Orange NJ 07050.

Ally Blumenfeld is a working writer, dramaturg, and photographer based in Montclair, NJ. Two of her original one-act plays have been produced Off-Off-Broadway. She is currently the Gallery Coordinator for the ValleyArts Firehouse Gallery. Follow her on Twitter at @allyblume.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

'The Art of Dan Fenelon' to mark inaugural exhibit for Firehouse Gallery: An Interview with Dan Fenelon

Posted on November 13th, 2012 by Ally Blumenfeld

Dan Fenelon- photo credit: Ellen Denuto
This Friday, a re-purposed firehouse in Orange, NJ will begin its career as a gallery and artist loft.  I had the pleasure of talking with Dan Fenelon, the renowned artist whose work will be featured in the inaugural exhibit at the new ValleyArts Firehouse Gallery. 

Fenelon's art will catch your eye, and you won't be able to look away.  At first glance, it's tribal art.  Then, wait – is that Krusty the Clown?  From murals to installation art, each piece seems to come from the same explosive, vibrant, cartoon world where colors never clash and where lines and patterns serve not as restraints but as layers.  Endlessly exciting and always thoughtful, Fenelon's work has seen both coasts, been exhibited at numerous galleries in his home state of New Jersey, and been displayed at museums, in libraries, and on the sides of buildings. Fenelon was recently commissioned to design the Peace Mural to welcome the Dalai Lama to the 2011 Newark Peace Summit, and this winter the eyes of the nation will be on his artwork, as he was chosen by Governor Chris Christie to design the Christmas ornaments for New Jersey's Christmas Tree at the National Christmas Tree Display on the White House Lawn. 

I got to chat with Fenelon, where he shared a bit about his experience working within communities to create public murals, his relationship to the ValleyArts District, and why art programs and organizations are vital to an artist's success.

AB: First, I'd like to ask you about your artwork in general.  I'm sure you get these kinds of questions a lot, so I'll simply ask: what do you want people to know about your art?

DF: I have a lot of influences in my work.  Some are serious and others are playful and fun.  I do appreciate humor and satire.  I am fascinated with the spiritual and the tribal aspect of man and the psychology of modernism.

AB: What do you strive for your art to accomplish in the communities in which you work?

DF: I know that my work comes from a core style and from that I am trying to branch out and challenge myself to keep it interesting and vibrant.  A lot of the public projects I have been doing involve other people getting their hands into it.  Most of the time they are not artists, but I have found a way to adapt my style to be accessible to their skill sets.  This has been very rewarding to me and everyone involved.  I want them to have ownership in the work, especially because it will be seen in their own community.

AB: What do you feel is the significance of artists making a name for themselves locally?  How has this benefited you as an artist?

DF: I like being involved in my local community and the support I get in New Jersey is overwhelming.  I feel honored to be chosen for so many great projects around the state.  I think that for different artists there are different approaches to take and it has been my fortune to make my name locally.

AB: Your show is the inaugural event at the Firehouse Gallery in Orange.  Could you tell us a bit about the space?  How did you adapt your work to the space?

DF: Richard Bryant approached me about the show and I was already involved in creating an installation called Insta-Freaking-Lation for Gallery Paquette in Boonton.  Now I will repurpose the work to fit in the Firehouse Gallery.  There is one spot in particular that caught my eye and will work as a centerpiece for the exhibit.  One large archway that is sealed with plywood will be the place for a sight specific piece.  That's all I am telling you!

AB: Why are you excited to bring your work to the ValleyArts District?  What was it like to work with ValleyArts in the past?

DF: Valley Arts was the first place to grant me a public mural.  I have been able to turn that opportunity into over 20 murals throughout NJ and elsewhere.  Every project I have worked on for ValleyArts and H.A.N.D.S. has been a delightful experience.  One of my favorite parts its the thanks I get from local people as they pass by to admire the work.

AB: What do you feel is important about an organization like ValleyArts?

DF: Without these think tanks for creativity the world would be a dreary place.  Artists need to be around other artists in order to grow.  We all need our communities and organizations so society can flourish.  During WWII When Winston Churchill was told that parliament was cutting art programs he responded by saying, “Good God, man, what do you think are we fighting for?”

'The Art of Dan Fenelon' can be seen at the ValleyArts Firehouse Gallery November 16th-30th, located at 580 Forest Street in Orange, NJ.  Free admission.

Ally Blumenfeld is a working writer, dramaturg, and photographer based in Montclair, NJ. Two of her original one-act plays have been produced Off-Off-Broadway. She is currently the Gallery Coordinator for the ValleyArts Firehouse Gallery. Follow her on Twitter at @allyblume.