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How a Show is Born

The best part of attending theater at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center is getting to see how the production team interprets or re-invents a favorite musical. Upon first discovering the Axelrod—a professional theater venue on the campus of the JCC Jersey Shore—the most common question is: “Is this show a professional tour?”

We love that question! No, this is not a tour. This production has been created for YOU, the patrons of the Axelrod Performing Arts Center. You cannot see any one of our productions anywhere else in the world.

Usually, the follow-up question is, “Then, how does it happen? How did the Axelrod create this show?”

As Artistic Director, I am happy to answer that question, “It ain’t easy, but it’s work we love!”

As examples, we’ve selected two shows from our 2018 season: Disney’s Newsies The Musical, directed and choreographed by Marcos Santana, and Ragtime The Musical, directed and choreographed by Luis Salgado. Take a look at the first rehearsal videos and then the final production (shot on the stage as a promotional during tech week). These videos were created by Hahn Films.

Here’s a quick overview of how an Axelrod show is born:

Once a musical is selected for the season,we consider a number of directors (or director-choreographers) who might be a good fit for the show and our theater.The Axelrod PAC is a relatively new professional regional theater that works with a limited budget and a small staff, relative to other longer established regional theaters in the country. Despite these limitations, the Axelrod has still been able to mount first-rate productions with casts, of whom we’ve been very proud, and director and design teams who have done exceptional jobs for us. In recent shows, we’ve presented Andrea McArdle (Annie), Constantine Maroulis (Hair), Ace Young (Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida) and Matt Bogart (Mamma Mia!).

Once the director is hired, we begin the process of building the production team. Most often the director has colleagues with whom he has collaborated in the past and may want to invite them to join the team. Hiring a cohesive team that enjoy working together creates a fun, welcoming environment for the actors and technicians who are hired for the production. The production includes scenic and lighting designers, music director, sound designer, stage managers, and so forth. 

The greatest challenge to producing our own shows is casting them! It’s a challenge that we embrace and tackle with our in-house staff. We hold auditions for the cast in studios in New York City as well as at the theater in Deal Park. For a single show, we receive as many as 2,000 applications and see as many as 350 performers in person. (Grease, our next production, actually broke our records, and we saw 600 performers over three days!)

Once the cast is hired, they rehearse with the director and production team in studios in Manhattan for approximately two to three weeks and then are shuttled to the theater for a final week to “tech” the show. Directors find that working with the designers in the theater for a full week allows them to create a product that is truly special.

The next question, which should be on your mind, is: “How the hell does the Axelrod pay for productions like the ones I’ve seen?”

Same answer: “It ain’t easy!” We rely on ticket sales to help defray the cost of productions, but, like every other nonprofit theater in the nation, ticket sales do not pay for the cost of a production. The Metropolitan Opera, the world’s largest nonprofit arts organization, reports that box office revenue covers less than 30% of their annual budget. The Axelrod does much better than that, but we absolutely rely on contributions from patrons, sponsorships from local businesses, and grants (including the New Jersey State Council on the Arts). 

We look forward to many years to come of bringing our patrons on the Jersey Shore great musical theater, as well as concerts, ballet, youth productions, films, and more. Thank you for your continued generous support of the Axelrod Performing Arts Center

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