‘Cinderella’ ‘La Cenerentola’
By Gioacchino Rossini
Opera Theatre of Montclair
Sept. 15, 16, 22, 23
By GWEN OREL
Mia Riker-Norrie was sitting at home, stressing about the lack of space for Opera Theatre of Montclair’s upcoming production of “Cinderella.”
Riker-Norrie was stressing because four days earlier, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church had cancelled the group’s use of their space for the production, although it had been scheduled since November.
The local opera company, entering its third year of full productions, had been resident at St. Luke’s since January.
It was a bad weekend for Riker-Norrie.
This production would be the first one in which the soprano performed with the company, as well as produced: she was set to play a wicked stepsister, wearing a hat with rubber chickens.
In an email to the Local, the Rev. John Mennell said that the church’s space and priorities needed to focus on its core mission of “spreading the good news and love of Jesus,” adding that as Toni’s Kitchen expanded, there was less space available for outside organizations.
But for Opera Theatre of Montclair, losing the space was a crisis. They were just about to send out publicity for the show.
Now, it looked as though the show might not go on.
She posted the dilemma on the Facebook group Montclair Watercooler Connections, and got more than 50 leads.
Then Riker-Norrie got a call from Elaine Molinaro, chair of the arts advisory committee, which she founded in 2015. The committee serves as a liaison between the artistic community and the township council.
“Mia, what are you doing,” she recalled Molinaro saying, and “Can you get over here?”
Molinaro said she had been meeting with the board of directors from United Way at their building at 60 South Fullerton Ave., and “they are very interested in helping you.”
In addition to heading the arts advisory committee, Molinaro is working on an initiative to form an arts alliance, modeled on local arts alliances such as the Downtown Brooklyn Arts Alliance, or ART New York (The Alliance of Resident Theatres). The alliance would offer “structural support to the arts, space, marketing training. Space is a real issue for local not-for-profit arts groups,” Molinaro said.
So Molinaro, a local director, had been keeping an eye out for opportunities for space rentals.
At the meeting with John Franklin, the CEO of United Way Northern New Jersey, she shared OTM’s plight and asked if they might have a space.
The general reaction was, “Oh wow, ‘Cinderella’ here,” Molinaro recalled with a laugh. “They said, ‘Get us a proposal immediately.’”
“We were talking about making better us of the auditorium,” Franklin said. When he heard that the opera company was in a bind, United Way made a quick accommodation.
Riker-Norrie threw on shoes and hurried over.
The building is “right next door to the library. There’s a beautiful garden in back,” Riker-Norrie said. But she’d never looked at the space. She’d heard there was a rug on the floor, which was bad for acoustics.
“As I entered the building, I had an incredibly positive feeling about it.
“As I entered the auditorium, I started to cry.
The proscenium space has 215 seats, and that rug she’d feared actually helps dampen the extra-ringiness of the space.
“She got up on stage and sang one note to test it,” said Molinaro. “It’s wonderful to hear this beautiful opera sound.”
United Way, Riker-Norrie said, is “Cindrella’s” knight in shining armor.
Franklin said “It’s a nice fit between us and the arts. Often the arts raise awareness of issues, and help us communicate
United Way wanted to make better use of their auditorium, and reach out to community organizations, he explained.
Riker-Norrie said that after talking to Franklin about United Way’s ALICE program, an acronym that stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed,” she realized “you know, that’s most of our singers.
“Most of them. There are singers of mine that sleep on people’s couches.
“One of them wants to buy a van and park it someplace. We’re a perfect partnership.”
“A family of four in New Jersey needs $64,000 just to get by,” Franklin said. “The federal poverty level is $23,000 to get by. That’s a huge gap. It’s hard to get by and be recognized as being in need, even though you are working.”
After a talk-back at an earlier theatrical production held at United Way, Franklin said he also realized that most artists are ALICE.
Hosting “Cinderella,” he said, “brings new life into the building. It creates more awareness of the space, and an opportunity to serve the community.”
And, he said, “I happen to love opera.”
Will he attend “Cinderella?”
“Absolutely,” Franklin said. “And I may be taking my granddaughter.”