Vanguard pivots and reinvents to survive COVID-19

Photo Courtesy of Vanguard Theater Company
Lin-Manuel Miranda poses with cast members of Vanguard Theater Company’s production of ‘The Wiz of Oz’ in February.

MONTCLAIR, NJ — On March 1, and in what feels like a different world, Vanguard Theater Company entered into a three-year lease for a theater space at 180 Bloomfield Ave. in Montclair, and was poised to launch its signature Broadway Buddy program, classes and announce its upcoming season, all dedicated to DREAM — diversity, reciprocity, education, awareness and mentorship. 

“We were excited to be an active part of the vibrant Montclair arts scene, and to contribute to preserving and nurturing the rich diversity of downtown Montclair,” said Jessica Sporn, Montclair resident and Vanguard’s managing director.

Then the world changed, causing Vanguard and arts organizations all over the country to rethink and reinvent. 

Vanguard hopes that the following programs and events will keep the performing arts community connected and engaged:

  • Vanguard will host virtual campfires and open mics for middle and high school students, to give a glimpse of the community and bonding experienced every summer at Summer-stock Sleepaway Camp.
  • Beginning April 27, Vanguard is now offering theater and dance classes via ZOOM, taught by Broadway actors and professional educators.
  • Vanguard will share sneak peeks into its Broadway Buddy Mentorship Program, which is in its fifth year and proceeding remotely.
  • Vanguard will offer master classes with virtual coaching by some of its Broadway Buddies.
  • Vanguard will share acting, singing and dance tips of the week on its YouTube channel.

With Vanguard’s plans for 180 Bloomfield suddenly thrown into the air by COVID-19, Vanguard anticipated a $65,000 shortfall by September 2020. Vanguard has applied for all available small business loans, and has requested a three-month rent extension from the landlord, Kaz Mirza, for 180 Bloomfield Ave. In addition, Vanguard’s artistic and managing directors immediately agreed to forego their salaries, and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts fast-forwarded the remainder of Vanguard’s 2020 grant monies. 

Vanguard also reached out to long-time supporter TeeRico for emergency assistance. TeeRico responded with a grant of $25,000, stating, “We recognize how important Vanguard’s work is for our community and the importance of supporting the continuation of your efforts during these uncertain times.”

“With our extended community struggling economically, and many of our Broadway friends personally battling COVID-19, we are cautious about asking for donations, because we know how much everyone is hurting,” Vanguard Artistic Director Janeece Freeman Clark said. “But we continue to believe that Vanguard has been and will continue to be a force to train artist activists of tomorrow, and provide a place where our dedication to the principles of DREAM will flourish through the performing arts. This pandemic is particularly cruel to marginalized people in Essex County, and we want to be there to help heal and bring different communities together once the worst has passed.”

For more information, visit vanguardtheatercompany.org or call 973-632-2523.

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