WEST ORANGE, NJ - Luna Stage will have a new artistic director, and award-winning Ari Laura Kreith has big plans for the West Orange theater to go with an impressive resume.
For the last nine years, Kreith, a Montclair resident who will officially assume her new role at Luna Stage in June, was the founding artistic director at Theatre 167 in New York. She won the 2015 NYIT Caffe Cino Award for outstanding innovative theatre production, and the 2016 LPTW Lucille Lortel Visionary Award.
"I’m thrilled to be at Luna, and to build on the tradition of artistic excellence that has been a hallmark of Luna’s first quarter century," Kreith said. "I come to Luna from Theatre 167, where I’ve been artistic director since 2007. Theatre 167 is named for the number of languages spoken in Jackson Heights, Queens, where the company was founded. Much of my work there has been multilingual, intersectional and multicultural--and I’m excited to bring this aesthetic and commitment to Luna."
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Kreith's vision for what Luna Stage will present involves shows with global appeal.
"My first MainStage season at Luna features four new plays--one world premiere and three regional premieres--set in locations ranging from New York and Nebraska to Russia, Malawi and Afghanistan," she said. "Each of the plays is unique, deep, heartfelt and funny--and each explores in some way the question of how we come together across cultural and social divides."
Kreith carefully considered a number of cultural, political and topical factors in assembling her initial MainStage lineup.
"One of the 'rules' I gave myself in creating this season was that each play reflects multiple cultures, communities and perspectives," Kreith said. "Within that framework, we navigate questions ranging from international aid to gender politics, from Internet privacy to love across linguistic divides, from violence to forgiveness, from fear to hope. Together, the season invites us to come together as a community, and build a deeper and more hopeful understanding of our world."
An alumnus of Yale University, Kreith conceived and directed The Jackson Heights Trilogy during her tenure at Theatre 167, a production that consisted of "167 Tongues," "You Are Now The Owner of This Suitcase" and "Jackson Heights 3 A.M." All three plays in the trilogy, which are each full length, were collaboratively written by 18 playwrights featuring 37 actors in 93 roles in 14 languages. The trilogy drew its inspiration from the diversity of the Queens neighborhood that is its namesake.
"This six-hour epic was created over the course of three years and continues to be excerpted and performed today," she said. "It is a cornerstone both of Theatre 167’s company identity and our relationships in the community."
What Luna Stage's patrons witnessed in April provided some insight into what they can expect under Kreith's creative guidance.
"My first project at Luna was last month’s site-specific 48 Hour Play Festival, an immersive theatrical adventure through the Valley Arts District," Kreith said. "Inspired by community interviews and written on location at the Artfull Bean, State Diner and Luna’s lobby, this one-day event explored the stories of our neighborhood through song, theatre and dance. The stories we told in this one-day event have laid the foundation for several upcoming pieces. You can expect more, larger-scale community-inspired art projects coming soon."
Kreith also pans to expand by bringing some of the elements of Luna Stage into the community.
"We're also expanding our conservatory offerings at Luna, as well as launching new programs that will take place in schools and other off-site locations," Kreith told TAPinto West Orange. "Most of our educational programs are currently running at capacity, and we want everyone in the community to have a chance to get involved. We're going to be offering new classes for both young people and adults--including a summer camp focused on creating original plays and musicals."
Prompting audiences to connect to their surroundings is one of Kreith's guiding principles.
"I love art that invites audience into a deeper understanding of one another and of our world," she said. "I want people to walk out of Luna’s plays inspired to connect--to see the world more deeply and to take action about things that matter to them. One of the wonderful things about Luna is that we also have pre- and post-show conversations as well as a context room, so that process of conversation and connection can begin at Luna and continue on into people’s daily lives."
Although Kreith is coming from a distinctly urban environment in her previous venue to a suburban theatre in West Orange, she sees plenty of similarities between the two settings.
"The diversity of Jackson Heights and the diversity of Orange/West Orange/Essex County are similar in many ways," she said. "I’m excited by the opportunity to celebrate stories that reflect the vibrant community we inhabit--and to put plays onstage that reflect and celebrate our world. I think the best theatres exist at a sort of community crossroads. Plays invite us to come together, carrying our own stories and experiences, and sit and share with one another. And then, if the play has done its work, we continue on our journeys changed. What specific audiences may bring with them to the theatre is different, but the magic that happens is the same.
"I think," Kreith said, "we’re all looking for art that inspires us. The best plays are ones that feel specific in their storytelling but universal in their themes."