NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — You might think life moves slower on College Farm Road, at the edge of the city and the Rutgers University campus.
And if you were talking about the livestock, you'd be right. But for employees of George Street Playhouse, which recently transferred here from the heart of New Brunswick, this summer has moved faster than fire.
The day after the curtains closed on its final spring show, “Curvy Widow,” the theater company left its home of 32 years on Livingston Avenue and headed for College Farm Road, to set up shop in the former Agricultural Museum of New Jersey. Ever since—and, really, even before then—it's been a whirlwind, George Street Playhouse's artistic director, David Saint, told TAPinto New Brunswick.
“We had to work round the clock,” he said, “but we were prepared and had a game plan. Within a week, we had unpacked all our office supplies and set up the computers and phones.”
George Street Playhouse left its longtime home, a 100-year-old YMCA building, for good reason. It was about to be knocked down, along with the neighboring Crossroads Theatre.
From the rubble of those storied buildings will rise a sort of phoenix: the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center.
The 22-story tower is slated to stand above every other high-rise in the city, officials have said. Inside its sweeping glass facade will be two “state-of-the-art” theaters, a posh lobby, several rehearsal spaces, offices for Rutgers and Middlesex County and more than 200 luxury apartments. In its rear, off Bayard Street, a connected 344-space parking garage promises to provide patrons a landing pad.
The arts mecca will house the Playhouse, the Crossroads Theatre, the American Repertory Ballet and any number of other institutions and performances.
City leaders expect that building to open for the fall 2019 theater season. But until then, the country road is home for the George Street Playhouse.
In this photo, almost all that remained of the George Street Playhouse was its front face and marquee. That's since been demolished. Photo: New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco)
Saint caught wind of the old museum space upon the recommendation of Greg Ritter, who owns George Street Camera.
“The minute I walked into that place, I thought, 'Oh, this is it,'” Saint said. “It really was the perfect solution to us.”
The building's tall cathedral ceilings, abundant parking and room design charmed him. He had spent almost a year searching for a temporary home, preferably in New Brunswick, and he finally found it.
George Street Playhouse moved to its new spot before Memorial Day, in May, he said.
Moving vans trucked over the company's office supplies and theater equipment. Costumes and props left storage for the new building. And the staff got to work.
They began to outfit the theater. The designs for the rest of the space are ready to go, Saint said. Construction of the stage should come to a close in a couple of weeks.
Then, the artistic director said, George Street Playhouse will pull its theater seats out of storage—yes, the same ones from the old joint—and install them.
After a few cosmetic upgrades and a month or so of rehearsals, theatergoers will then reclaim those seats in October, for the fall season.
The first show, “I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change,” is scheduled to begin on Oct. 10 and run for about a month, according to the Playhouse.
Joe DiPietro, a theater company “favorite,” has agreed to tweak his acclaimed off-Broadway musical for the upcoming season. The work focuses on dating—from the first meeting to marriage's twilight—and DiPietro intends to update the script for a new, swipe-obsessed generation, Saint said.
“The world has changed so much in 22 years,” Saint, the production's director, said.
And the world of the George Street Playhouse has changed so much in just a few months.
Of course, plans for the coming New Brunswick Performing Arts Center have been in the works for more than 10 years. It's been a steadily moving train, and now that it's pulling into the station, stakeholders like Saint, who's led the Playhouse for 21 years, are more excited than ever to reach their destination.
Big-time theater figures—including Jeffrey Seller, the producer of the bit Broadway show “Hamilton”—have told Saint that designs of the fledgling performing arts center on Livingston Avenue suggest that the facility could put the George Street Playhouse and New Brunswick's arts scene on the map, he said. Its proximity to New York City helps, too.
“I get goosebumps,” he added. “I think it's going to change New Brunswick immensely.”
That's a far cry from his old theater, which was just recently demolished. There, Saint said, mildew haunted the basement and asbestos filled the ceiling. The restrooms were too small, and patrons complained about the ineffective air-conditioning unit, jerry-rigged and bandaged beyond belief. Buckets sometimes collected water that dripped through the roof during shows.
“If you say 'bittersweet,'” he said of this transition, “I'm much more sweet about this than I am bitter.”