Sunday, July 11, 2010


Local theater lovers bereft when Montclair’s Luna Stage went dark this past year should feel a lot better. The troupe has relocated to the Valley Arts District in West Orange.

When the building on Bloomfield Avenue, which they rented for over 10 years, was put up for sale, Luna couldn’t afford to buy it and were unable to find another space in town. Enter Patrick Morrissy, Executive Director of HANDS, Inc.—Housing and Neighborhood Development Services—developers of the Valley Arts District, who heard that Luna was looking for a new space. When the group originally set to occupy 555 Valley Road in West Orange backed out of the project, Morrissy approached Luna Stage with the idea of adding a theater company to the district.

J.P. Morgan Chase donated $825,000 to fund the project as part of its ongoing commitment to the Oranges. Architect John Winckelmann of LWDMR & Associates turned three buildings (one a former tool and die works factory and another a house) into a sleek, modern building of almost 7,000 square feet, which houses two performance spaces, rehearsal space, dressing rooms, a green room, an office, a conference room and a shop right off the main stage with a door leading from the parking lot into the main stage to make it easier to load sets— a big improvement as the old shop was in the basement. There is also a basement storage area.

Studio Luna will seat 50 and will be used for intimate productions. The 90-seat main stage space will be configured as the black box theater Luna has always had, with a stage that can be used for audience seating, a performance space or as part of a set that will have other elements. This theater can be used in the round, as a thrust stage, with a proscenium arch or any way that Luna’s set designers and directors can dream up.

The art gallery will feature the works of artists working in the district. Artistic Director Jane Mandel said, “Executive Director of Valley Arts Lorena La Grassa will help curate our gallery space. There is a great spirit of collaboration here—very exciting!” This collaboration is evident in the mural painted by Dan Fenelon as part of the Murals of West Orange project on the outside of the building on the Valley Road side. Because 555 is the centerpiece of the Valley Arts District, this beautiful mural creates an artistic landmark.

The coming theater season promises to be an exciting one for this innovative, professional company devoted to new plays and “new” classics. In her remarks, Mandel said, “We have everything we need to make wonderful theater: space, words, music and actors. All we need is the audience so necessary to theater. Turning three buildings into a theater is similar to the transformation that occurs through the wonderful art of theater.” Although $80,000 is still needed to finish the space, last weekend’s festivities should go a long way to attracting the funds needed in time for the October 14 opening of their premier production.

The Valley Arts District is not very far from Montclair and is just a few blocks from Exit 10 on Route 280, so Luna Stage won’t be difficult for its fans to find. There are several restaurants in the area, too, making for a fun evening for those who attend.