The New Jersey Repertory Company, or NJ Rep, will once again host a Pride month festival in the Monmouth County community of Long Branch. The festival will consist of theater, art and photography and is just one element of a larger event taking place throughout the city. NJ Rep is the largest presenter in this event and their showcases will last the majority of the month.
NJ Rep Artistic Director Suzanne Barabas and Managing Director Dee Dee Irwin are excited to bring an entire month of Pride-themed programming back to Long Branch. Both expressed how thrilled they were to present a theater season filled with such variety while all relating to themes present in the LGBTQ+ community today.
“We wanted to be a part of the conversation and say that we were part of a world embracing everybody,” Barabas said. “We want people to feel like they’re welcomed.”
This year’s festival will kick off with an art show hosted by NJ Rep showcasing the work of curator Mare Akana and a photography exhibition with pictures by Andrea Phox. Both will have an opening reception June 3 from 4 to 7 p.m. Phox said she was ecstatic to have her work shown in such a festival.
“I’ve been doing shows in the hallways [of NJ Rep’s building] for years and for theater since 2017,” Phox said. “And I got the idea to do this show, ‘Out,’ when they decided to do Pride at NJ Rep. I said I’m going to do a show on my own and take portraits of people who are out, and they loved it.”
Additionally, there will be five plays hosted by the company and all of them will be performed at the West End Arts Center, located at 132 West End Ave. in Long Branch. Each of these plays was picked specifically for this festival. A few have performed at NJ Rep before, while others are premieres. Several of the plays were found at the Dublin Gay Theater Festival and were brought to the United States directly from Ireland. Barabas expressed how different each of these plays are and how important it is to express reality in today’s LGBTQ+ world.
“We’re very excited for all these plays,” she said. “There are love stories, comedies and more. It’s a great variety.”
The first play being presented is “What Doesn’t Kill You,” which will run June 8-11. This play is an autobiographical story about the playwright, James Hindman. Next is “The Silver Bell,” running June 8-18, and that is a gay love story of two men trying to find “love, loss and decent sausage rolls,” direct from Edinburgh, Scotland. “Miss Delta Township” is third, and its performance dates are June 15-18. That play tells the story of a “typical” suburban American family living in the 1960s and beyond. Fourth is “Sister Mary’s Playtime,” a play in which a nun tells stories about their life. That production will run June 22-25. Also running on those dates is “Democracy Sucks,” which tells the story of a gay professor teaching political philosophy. This play had a 15-minute Zoom production during COVID-19 and will make its full-length world premiere at NJ Rep.
“Democracy Sucks” playwright Monica Bauer expressed her gratitude that the full-length version would run at NJ Rep for the first time. She said that this project had been going on since 2012 and began its life as a short film. Her team, which also consists of director John FitzGibbon and actor John Fico, has waited for this moment for a long time.
“[When I started writing,] plays with gay protagonists often dealt with issues like discrimination,” Bauer said. In ‘Democracy Sucks’, which I wrote specifically for Fico, his character is openly gay and that's not a problem. He goes on and on in class about his failed relationship with the dean of his college, and the fact that both are gay is not a problem. Being gay is just part of who Professor B is. We are all very proud about that!”
Marketing this festival will prove to be key for NJ Rep to get the word out beyond Long Branch that there are full Pride month events taking place within the city. Barabas said they are sending out postcards to the community to come join them, but Irwin also expressed other ways in which the organization is trying to alert people about these great events.
“We have signage at the location, but the city has sent out multiple emails and social media posts that we are participating in this citywide event,” Irwin mentioned. “And personally, we have done the same. There are flyers all over the theater. We have announced it in many different locations and on social media as well.”
Community participation is crucial for any event like this to work, and with the city of Long Branch supporting, this year’s festival will prove to be a success. Because the entire month is about inclusivity and togetherness, and those values hold true for the NJ Rep organization.
“Everybody has a voice, everybody’s voice is important,” Irwin concluded. “But we need to really embrace everybody for the people they are and however they got there and appreciate all of these different perspectives.”