Local theatre lovers may have caught a production by the Mile Square Theatre during one of their free performances along the waterfront. Or at a reading hosted by the Hoboken Historical Museum. Or at Frank Sinatra Park. Or the high school. Or the court house.
The Mile Square Theatre, which was founded in 2003 by Chris O’ Connor, has been trudging along without a proper theatre space they could call home. Until now.
The theatre is happy to announce their new performing arts center in the newest part of town at 1400 Clinton St., to open in March 2016.
“Everyone in the neighborhood is excited that we’re here,” said O’Connor. “I think the arts are vital to our society. I think it connects us, makes us smarter, more empathetic, and helps us understand other opposing views in the world.”
The quaint theatre floor comfortably seats 130. And though construction is currently underway, it will ultimately make way for a lobby, three studios, a dressing room, administrative office, a donor wall, storage room, and new restrooms.
Since the space is part of The Artisan apartment complex, they also have the option of renting an outdoor courtyard with tables and adjoining community room. O’Connor emphasized the nature of the theatre brand as all-encompassing.
“We are inevitably going to have holes in the schedule and so the space could be also be used for community events,” he said. “Say a school wants to hold a fundraiser or the city wants to do a lecture, we will offer a low-cost event space.”
History and his story
A Hoboken resident for the past eighteen years, O’Connor was a graduate student at Rutgers University when he decided to launch the Mile Square Theatre along with some friends – many of whom have moved on to other projects.
At the time, he was flabbergasted by the fact Hudson County, Hoboken in particular, lacked theaters.
“I think it’s partly because we’re right next to New York City, arguably the greatest theatre city in the world,” he said. “People leap frog over their hometown and they go into the city to get their theatre.”
“Because we’re building this facility, this theatre will outlast all the people involved in it now.” Chris O’Connor’s
In many ways like a traveling circus show, the theatre made rounds throughout the mile-square city until 2008, when they partnered with the Monroe Center for the Arts to create a theatre space.
“That was very significant because it really helped us build an audience base,” O’Connor said. “We could produce on regular basis, also [since] the theatre was for young audiences it brought in families. The parents then recognized we knew what we were doing and started to come for the more adult productions.”
However the Mile Square Theatre was not the only habitants of the Monroe Center’s new theatre space, as the Hoboken Children’s Theatre also held shows there. This led to the children theatre’s artistic director, Chase Leyner, pulling double duty as the education director for O’Connor’s program. The course typically has about 100 students.
“To be able to expand the programming that I have created over the past 14 years and give our hundreds of students a more professional world in which to learn is something very special,” said Leyner. “This will also allow us to add classes for the behind the scenes jobs, like set design, sound, lighting and stage management.”
Leyner founded her own theatre brand in 2002, playing an instrumental role in sending students to land roles on Broadway, in films, national TV commercials and competitive BFA programs.
It was 2014 when O’Connor’s and his team discovered a vacant two-floor space in a building zoned for a non-profit organization; a recipe for success.
“We decided to do a $1 million capital campaign,” he said, noting that $600,000 was established as the budget for the project’s build out.
They have been able to temporarily use an intimate space across the street at the Edge lofts after building owner Larry Bijou donated it.
‘Be part of the drama!’
O’Connor invites residents and arts advocates to donate to help continue the theatre. Half of the campaign funds have been raised so far, with various incentives in place.
Of the 130 seats that will make up the new theatre, 80 are available for residents to dedicate to someone for a $2,500 donation. The studio on the ground level, the main stage, upper lobby, the administrative office and the theatre’s façade are also available for donors to place their names on. The Jill Biggs Group has already claimed the lower lobby.
“I think if people are interested in elevating arts and culture and feel that it’s important to the community, they should invest,” said O’Connor. “Part of our appeal is that people love being able to walk from their apartment or home in Hoboken, have dinner locally and see really good theater while not having to leave their hometown.”
The Mile Square Theatre’s first move when they officially launched is to honor America’s pastime.
In June of 1846, the first officially recorded baseball game reportedly took place on the Elysian Field between the New York Base Ball Club and the Knickerbockers.
In honor of the city’s connection with the sport, the Mile Square Theatre launched the “7th Inning Stretch” series in 2003 – in which seven playwrights write short works that revolve around baseball. O’Connor believes the series, held every year except 2014 thus far, fit right in at the new space at The Artisan.
In addition to laying the groundwork for the new performance space, the theatre also recently launched the Mile Square Theatre Dance Academy (temporarily operating at the Monroe Center for the Arts).
In terms of productions, the theatre is working to (pending legal rights) feature Joseph Gallo’s one-man semi-autobiographical show, “Long Gone Daddy,” at The Edge, as well as upcoming matinees of “Goodnight Moon” in April and a rendition of the very funny “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” by Christopher Durang in June.
The Mile Square Theatre will also look to perform their first musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” sometime next year, and stun audiences with a retelling of “Dracula” in time for next Halloween.
O’Connor, who will head to Florida to perform in a production of “Billy Elliot” later this month, said he also hopes to move toward more “theatrically daring” work in the future.
A mere months from opening the doors to the new art space, O’Connor feels he will be a kid in a candy store having full artistic control there.
“Because we’re building this facility, this theatre will outlast all the people involved in it now,” he said. “That’s all that’s important to me.”
To donate to the theatre, visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/mile-square-theatre-2016-season.
Steven Rodas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.