‘We do feel it’s like a marriage, in a way, and our children are the plays,” said Miriam Gardin.
Meet Luna Stage Company’s new artistic director, Ari Laura Kreith, and Gardin, the managing director. Introduced on a “blind date” (coffee), it was like “finding your soulmate,” they said together, already finishing each other’s sentences as if they were an actual couple.
They plan to use this synergy to usher in a new era at Luna Stage by developing hyperlocal work performed in the Valley Arts District of West Orange. Their goal is to present works that illuminate universal themes, as well as national and international conversations.
The Valley Arts District, on the border of Orange and West Orange near the Highland Avenue Train Station, is a 15-square-block area dedicated to arts and creativity. Once considered the hat-making capital of the world, empty factory and warehouse spaces are being repurposed into lofts and creative workspaces for artists and entrepreneurs.
“Pirira” launches Luna Stage’s new season. This powerful new play, running Oct. 4-28, is set in the riot-torn African nation of Malawi. It explores the challenges of dispensing international aid across interpersonal borders, and how cultural divides are bridged.
In its 25-year history, Luna Stage has fostered or staged more than 80 plays and countless playwrights and actors. “Luna has become known for its high-quality, adventurous work and, more recently, for its bold educational opportunities for both children and adults,” Gardin said. “Yet we’ve been told that Luna is New Jersey’s best-kept secret.”
Kreith’s commitment to making theater is deeply connected to tikkun olam — repairing the world. “Theater is a space where we can start to have the conversations that bring people together,” she said. “My work has always emphasized plays that invite us into an awareness of how we are all connected, and offer unique paths to understanding.”
Kreith believes in telling stories about where one lives. She comes to Luna from Theatre 167, the award-winning company she founded in Jackson Heights, Queens. Now a resident of Montclair, she was drawn to Luna Stage by its history of presenting works by local artists. “Every community has its stories, and the way I am a member of that community is by making art [in that community],” she said.
When Kreith thinks of her impulse to tell stories — to use theater as a means to give voice to those whose experiences go unacknowledged or are misunderstood — she says it stems, in part, from her father’s early years, when he fled Vienna during World War II and arrived in the U.S. when he was 7.
“The sense of displacement his family felt — and their desire to blend into their new environment — led them to stop telling stories,” said Kreith. “I fervently believe, however, that it is only through knowing our own histories and empathizing with others’ experiences that we can move forward as individuals and communities.”
Kreith will direct the first and last plays of the season (see inset for season information), and she is also responsible for programming, including curating the season and hiring directors and actors. She hopes to expand Luna’s theater classes for all ages, and to offer a children’s summer camp. (Fall classes for adults and children ages 4-17 began Sept. 15.)
As managing director, Gardin is responsible for the operation of the theater, including marketing and fund-raising. The two are so in sync, however, that “we pretty much work on everything together,” said Kreith.
Gardin, a member of Maayan and Cong. Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob and David, both in West Orange, curated and produced the New Jersey Jewish Film Festival and ReelAbilities: NJ Disabilities Film Festival.
“Coming to Luna is like the realization of a dream I didn’t even know I had,” said Gardin, who moved to West Orange five years ago.
“I love developmental theater, and Luna not only develops work, but is refocusing on its community in the Valley — the urban/suburban divide — a very diverse area rich in fascinating history (including Jewish history) and exciting cultural possibilities today.”
For Gardin, theater is a spiritual activity. “It’s highly ritualistic, especially for those deeply engaged in theater, from the production of performances to the experience of attending a performance. And witnessing the magic of performance can be life altering or, at least, inspiring and cathartic, just as a good prayer experience should be.
“There is a lot of theater embedded in Judaism, as well,” she continued. “There are so many life-cycle moments that are highly performative, such as the wedding ceremony, which in a traditional wedding is very public and ritualized.”
Same for b’nei mitzvah, and she used to coach tweens to prepare for the milestone. “I love thinking about reading Torah and/or haftorah as little performances of spiritual/religious human expression and as a way to share stories or lessons.”
For Kreith, a member of Bnai Keshet in Montclair, her Judaism is connected to the theme of wandering.
“My father, as an immigrant, never felt rooted in America — and my childhood was spent in 27 different countries. This childhood experience of always being an outsider, and yet learning to easily enter into new cultures and communities, has shaped my identity as an artist.”
The two said they will likely produce work with Jewish themes at Luna, adding that it’s noteworthy that three of this season’s four plays, “Pirira,” “Roan @ the Gates,” and “Heartland,” are directed by Jewish women.
Energized by being part of a renaissance in lower West Orange, Kreith and Gardin are reframing the physical space at Luna as well. The 55-seat Studio theater, now known as Luna2, will host readings and fully-realized works. In addition to holding rehearsals and classes in the Gallery, previously known as the Rehearsal or Context Room, the space will also be used to exhibit visual art related to the theater season. The 99-seat space will continue to be used as the MainStage.
As they put the finishing touches on their first season at the helm of Luna, Kreith and Gardin are determined to draw back the curtains, literally and figuratively. “We want to let the secret out, broadening our connection with theater-goers in and beyond our community,” said Gardin. “We want people to walk out of Luna’s plays inspired to connect.
Oct. 4-28, 2018
“Pirira” by J. Stephen Brantley
Nov. 29-Dec. 16, 2018
“The Assignment” by Camilo
Almonacid (Regional Premiere)
Jan. 31-Feb. 24, 2019
“Roan @ The Gates” by Christina
Gorman (World Premiere)
April 4-28, 2019
“The Heartland” by Gabriel Jason Dean
To purchase tickets, visit lunastage.org or call 973-395-5551.