(ABOVE: Veronica Manning photo, via Mile Square Theatre)
Mile Square Theatre, Hoboken’s nonprofit professional theatre, has always prioritized access to the arts. “MST was formed as a ‘floating’ theatre, without a permanent space, and we only produced free theatre in public places during our first few years,” says Chris O’Connor, Founder and Artistic Director. Even after establishing permanent residency on 14th Street in Hoboken, the company continued to produce free work, bringing fully-staged productions of Shakespeare to Frank Sinatra Park, and maintaining affordable ticket prices and discount programs. “A guiding principle of our organization is that the arts meet a compelling social need, and we believe it’s important that community members from all walks of life have the opportunity to participate,” says O’Connor.
As part of its commitment to expand access, Mile Square Theatre initiated a Community Inclusion pilot program in 2019: with philanthropic support from the JDA Group and the Dell’Aquila family, MST designed a program to provide free admission for low income families and at-risk and underserved youth to its spring young audience production of Bunnicula. MST also partnered with several Hudson County nonprofits to offer tickets to constituents. More than 70 children attended, all connected to the Jubilee Center, TRUE Mentors, Union City and Hoboken Public Schools, and the Archdiocese of Newark.
“We feel the pilot program was successful and we look forward to expanding it in the coming year,” says O’Connor.
For many participants in the pilot, this was their first experience of live theatre. The impact of live theatre for youth is a growing area of education research; among its benefits are enhanced literary knowledge, empathy and tolerance. These findings are consistent with what Mile Square Theatre observes and hears from its partners: experiencing theatre sparks curiosity and imagination, and supports cognitive and social-emotional learning.
“Kids are alive at the theatre! It’s so important for families to be able to spend quality time together. If our family can help families of Hudson County do that at Mile Square Theatre, that’s great. MST raises the bar for art in Hudson County and Hoboken and we are honored to be a part of their success,” says Greg Dell’Aquila, partner at JDA Group and long-time Hoboken resident. “This program is a great example of how local businesses can support our community through our excellent nonprofits. I look forward to seeing this pilot grow into a program that expands into more of Hudson County and includes adult and children’s productions. Email Chris O’Connor if your company can help the residents of Hudson County benefit from live theatre!”
September 11-October 6th you can see Mile Square Theatre’s production of Tony Award nominated Dominique Morisseau’s, Pipeline, exploring issues of class, race, parenting, and education in America. Tickets start at $15. MileSquareTheatre.Org.