October 18, 2017

Arts Council, Local Groups Partner In Expanded Free Programming

A COMMUNITY FOCUS: Arts Council of Princeton Executive Director Taneshia Nash Laird, left, and American Repertory Ballet II dancers Julia Lloyd and Greta Battistin at the announcement of the Council’s new Community Stage Series on Monday. The dancers are among several groups collaborating with the Council on the new initiative.

By Anne Levin

Since taking over as executive director of the Arts Council of Princeton last January, Taneshia Nash Laird has noticed that its Solley Theater was not being used to its full potential. Different organizations would rent the space for various functions, but there was no process in place for making it available on a non-rental basis.

“We started thinking,” said Laird after a presentation on Monday morning, “What could we do to open up our theater to the community, and bring free or nearly free events to the public in partnership with other groups? That’s how the idea for Community Stage got started.”

The new performing arts series is a collaboration with local arts groups and organizations that can make use of the intimate theater. “In a community like Princeton, where you have some incredible stages like McCarter and Richardson, this gives access to smaller presenters who wouldn’t otherwise be able to present,” Laird said. “The thing we all have in common is that we are looking to be inclusive. It’s about community, diversity, inclusion, and opening our doors and welcoming people into the theater.”

First in the series is OnStage Seniors of McCarter Theatre, an ensemble of locally-based actors over 55 who share their memories and experiences. Their program, “Insights and Revelations,” is Wednesday, November 8 at 7 p.m.

On November 20 at 4:30 p.m., the Neighborhood Children’s Choir of Westminster Choir College in collaboration with the Princeton YMCA presents young singers in grades three to five. The youngsters in this program have the opportunity to sing together, play musical games, and develop music reading skills.

“Princeton, Slavery and Me” is a Princeton University project exploring the town’s relationship to slavery, with many local collaborators. For the Community Stage Series, students in the University workshop course will tell stories from the project in various modes, from stand-up to songwriting. The performance is on December 13 at 7 p.m.

The African American Cultural Collaborative of Mercer County performs February 8 at the theater. Founded in 2011, the organization is focused on “cohesiveness among generations of families to celebrate the rich heritage that unites Africans in the diaspora across cultures,” according to a press release.

American Repertory Ballet II; the Stretto Youth Chamber Orchestra of Greater Princeton; Legacy Arts International; and Cafe Improv are also part of the series.

Leaders of these organizations were on hand Monday for the official announcement of the series. Mayor Liz Lempert commended the Arts Council for opening the theater to community use. “I can’t think of another time when the arts were more important, and it’s so important for us to come together as a community to hear what each other is thinking and see things being done in a creative way,” she said. “Whatever challenges we need to face, we’ll do it together and we’ll do it creatively.”

“The hope is that people now reach out to us now that they know we have swung our doors open,” said Laird. “If people want to call us and partner, we are all ears. And we need more underwriters so that we can keep it free.”