StageFest 2014

Rafael Cruz and Summer Dawn Hortillosa face off in ‘Three Bites’

Brought back for a second year by popular demand, StageFest is about to take over Jersey City. This weekend’s three-day festival (March 21-23) features 20 theatrical performances in the historic Landmark Loew’s Jersey City Theater.

I caught a sneak peek of what’s to come during rehearsal performances. While Loew’s is not far from my house, I had yet to visit. I’m not the first to say this but it’s worth repeating: What a majestic space! The festival will be taking advantage of the entire two floors of the theater, beyond the main stage to its parlors and lobbies.

When entering the ornate first-floor lobby, I saw Sow, a collaborative effort between dancer and choreographer Morgan Hille Rafekis and singer/songwriter Carolyn Light. The performance is based on fairytale archetypes and the idea of hoping and growing. The song and dance routine takes advantage of the main lobby’s space, as the performers play to 360 degrees of audience.

On the upper level I saw Three Bites, a harrowing drama about Adrienne (played by writer Summer Dawn Hortillosa who is also a long-time contributor to JCI) and Drew (played by Rafeal Cruz), a couple that shares three different meals over three different points in their relationship, spanning from the time they meet until their breakup. Liliane Wolf, co-founder of 68 Productions, also performs as a waitress (and only witness) in her company’s festival feature. The unsettling play highlights troublesome truths about human relationships, but certainly has its moments of laughter—if only because the feelings evoked are so uncomfortable.

It can also be downright sad, such as when Adrienne says, “I write poems so I can imagine what it’s like to love someone and be loved.” When asked about her inspiration, Hortillosa explains, “Many of us have had relationships where we had to choose between loving our partner or loving ourselves, or we’ve been in abusive situations. I want people who see our play to get some perspective about their romantic and platonic relationships. If they’re in a negative situation, I hope that they get the courage to make a change and find the happiness they deserve.”

There are also several one-man and one-woman shows in the festival. Excerpts from Concert Classics is Teresa Blunda’s vocal show, featuring tunes from operas to musicals to movie themes. Actor Brendan Wahlers, a graduate of New Jersey City University and Jersey City State College, was approached by StageFest producers David Zimmerman and Marie Bahr after a performance by his company Ticket 2 Eternity Productions and was encouraged to submit to the festival. His choice was Sleep at Your Own Risk, a one-man comedy written by Matthew Ethan Davis about a man struggling through the insanity of sleepwalking to hold onto his lifetime love—as well as not embarrass himself.

Another highlight is the all-female ensemble of Keep Calm and 20 On, which focuses on Generation Y’s coming-of-age dilemmas, obsessing over media web culture and over-analyzing themselves and their relationships. The festival’s 20 shows vary greatly in subject matter, size of cast, and mix of performance media, so there truly is something for every audience member to enjoy.

The producers and performers couldn’t agree more. “The best thing about being a part of StageFest is the people. Everyone is so friendly! It completely exposes the lie of the stereotype that New Jerseyans are rude or harsh. This is one of the warmest communities, and in terms of the artistic atmosphere it is very natural and productive. Instead of fighting people with ego-vanity, we are just focused on making great theater. It’s a very refreshing experience!” says Zachary Johnson, composer-producer of Boston Tea Party Opera. In coming up with the idea for his submission, Johnson was reflecting on the original Boston Tea Party and “how dramatic and meaningful it was. I envisioned that historical event and thought, ‘That should definitely be an opera!’”

He adds, “I was delighted to find out about StageFest. Living in the area, I have gone past the Landmark Loew’s Theater countless times, but seeing the interior for the first time just blew me away. I am so glad that the Friends of the Loew’s have saved and supported the structure, and have created a wonderful new annual arts festival which I’m delighted to be a part of!”

Ms. Hortillosa whole-heartedly concurs. “We’re all really excited about getting to be part of StageFest and sharing the stage with so many other talented performers. It was tons of fun last year and this year’s lineup looks just as great, if not better!”

Leading Lady Costumes one of the event sponsors, will be presenting a unique exhibit of famous costumes from stage and screen in various parts of the historic building.

StageFestStageFest will be held March 21-23 at the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theater, 54 Journal Square. Prices range from free (Sunday for children 12-17) to $25 for an entire weekend adult pass (all performances). All other ticket options are under $25 and can be purchased online or at the door. For more information, visit the loewsjersey.org.

JCI is a proud media sponsor of StageFest.

Photo provided by Summer Dawn Hortillosa

Gia Portfolio

is a book editor, copywriter, and contributing writer for various online publications. She loves to wander, learn, create and discover, which led her to create Jersey City Gal, a place where she promotes local businesses and shares her experiences with the Jersey City community.