September 20, 2017

Ryanne Domingues Brings In New Era at Passage Theatre; June Ballinger Passes the Torch After 22 Years as Director

NEW ERA AT PASSAGE: C. Ryanne Domingues has taken over as artistic director at Trenton’s Passage Theatre, replacing June Ballinger, who guided the company for more than two decades in creating and producing socially-relevant new plays and community-devised arts programming.

By Donald Gilpin

Trenton’s Passage Theatre Company has a new artistic director as it prepares for the opening of its fall season.

C. Ryanne Domingues, co-founder and former producing artistic director of Simpatico Theatre in Philadelphia, has taken over the leading role from June Ballinger, who announced last month that she would be stepping down after 22 years at the helm. Ballinger will return to her career as a writer, actor, and teacher, continuing her association with Passage as an artistic advisor for this season and teacher of adult acting classes.

Domingues is eager to embrace the mission of social change at Passage Theatre, which is known for creating and producing socially-relevant new plays and community-devised arts programming.

“I’ve always been interested in theater for social change,” she said. “Our mission at Simpatico was similar to Passage’s. I was looking to do more of that kind of work. I started coming to the shows at Passage, and I knew this is the kind of work I want to do, work that reflects the community, work that is new, work that has Trenton in mind. It really fits with my values.”

Domingues has served at a variety of Philadelphia theaters, including the Wilma, InterAct, and Plays and Players. While earning her MFA in directing at the University of California, Irvine, she worked at South Coast Repertory, California Shakespeare Theater, and Utah Shakespeare Festival. She led a group of undergraduates in creating a new musical, Over the Horizon, based on interviews with Iraq War veterans, and she directed the world premiere of Assistants, which received several awards at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival.

PASSING THE TORCH: June Ballinger has stepped down as artistic director at Passage Theatre in Trenton but will stay on in an advisory capacity and also be leading adult acting classes during the coming season.

Ballinger, who led Passage in refocusing its mission from solely new plays to producing socially-relevant works as well as forging key relationships between Passage and Trenton’s civic, faith-based, and community organizations, expressed her admiration for Domingues. “I knew from the moment we received her resume that she would be the one. Her mission, background, and experience just felt right. When I met her I was even more enthusiastic. Ryanne is smart, enthusiastic, and full of energy.”

Domingues, who has moved into the Mill Hill community with her husband and their puppy and cat, is looking forward to getting to know her new hometown. “I want to hear from the community and its residents about the topics they want to see on stage and the topics they want to discuss,” she said.

She continued, “I’m interested in work that’s going to help people take the next step and engage with their communities, that will help people to move forward in whatever way they need to move.”

She described some of the work she did in Philadelphia at Simpatico, successes she would like to build on at Passage. “When I co-founded Simpatico, we had a lot of talks about what role theater can play in the community and how it can help people to think in new ways. We paired every show with a nonprofit, depending on what that show was about.”

For a show about addiction, for example, Simpatico paired with an organization that was helping families in the community to combat addiction. “We’d volunteer with that agency, and often they would do talkbacks after the shows,” Domingues said. “Our audience grew and the company grew.”

In the upcoming season Passage already has plans to partner with HomeFront and possibly with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

In addition to bringing to Passage a range of new artists from Philadelphia, California and elsewhere, Domingues also is excited to focus her attention on the play lab and education programs.

A two-time Barrymore Award-winning company, Passage will open its 2017-18 season and introduce Domingues to the community with a ribbon-cutting ceremony next Monday, September 25 at 11 a.m. outside the Mill Hill Playhouse at 205 East Front Street in Trenton, followed by a tour of the Playhouse.

October 5 is opening night for Paradise by Laura Maria Censabella, a co-production with Luna Stage. Passage’s annual Solo Flights Festival, begun 20 years ago and still running, this year will feature Richard Hoehler in I of the Storm in March, and in May Passage will produce Caged by the New Jersey Prison Cooperative, a new play about the human costs of a for-profit justice system.

“My goal over the next year is to listen as much as I can, so I can bring out those voices that aren’t often heard,” said Domingues, “and give a platform to those conversations that can be difficult to have. I can’t wait to hear from the people who live here, to learn, and hopefully we will have some great conversations.”