OSPAC operator discusses past year, looks to the future

Pleasant Valley Productions Artistic Director Camille DiLorenzo discusses 2021 programming at the Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center and the 2022 budget at the Feb. 1 West Orange Township Council meeting.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Pleasant Valley Productions Artistic Director Camille DiLorenzo gave an update and 2021 year-end review on the nonprofit community theater group’s residency at the Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center at the West Orange Township Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 1, walking council members through the group’s third year of running the outdoor amphitheater; PVP took over operations in May 2019. She also gave a preview of the events that are scheduled for the 2022 season.

“We are equally proud of every season that we have managed the programming at OSPAC,” DiLorenzo said at the meeting. “But last year really seemed to be quite successful in terms of community engagement. We believe that the programming should play to a community audience, both a community of concertgoers and theatergoers, as well as West Orange residents looking to gather and enjoy live entertainment.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has kept gatherings, especially live performances, from being held for so long, that DiLorenzo said the outdoor venue in West Orange became a valuable space in which artists were able to perform safely while following pandemic guidelines.

“It was great to be able to go watch the performances, but if you speak to any of the performers, they will tell you it was equally rewarding for them to be able to get back onstage and perform for us,” she said.

That applied to performers from West Orange High School as well. PVP opened OSPAC early in 2021 to allow the school to use the venue for its annual spring musical performances, since the WOHS auditorium was still closed because of the pandemic. Other highlights on the performance schedule included a free children’s musical, a Pride Month performance that benefited LGBTQ charities and a Broadway-night performance with a 22-piece orchestra.

“Our main stage production, ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe,’ played to more than 800 people over the course of the run and was very well received by the audiences,” DiLorenzo said. “We hosted and coproduced with the recreation department a night of comedy, a beach party featuring the Driftwoods, and a very well attended BStreetBand (performance), which closed out our season in October.”

Partnering with the Creative Arts Collaborative and the New Jersey Mental Health Players, PVP hosted a daylong celebration of communities of color with vendors and performers, all of whom were black, indigenous or people of color. The organization’s protege program gives high school and college students who want to learn theater production skills a chance to attend workshops throughout the summer led by theater professionals.

“We held free workshops for these students through the summer led by industry professionals in the area of stage management, lighting design and production management,” DiLorenzo said. “We will continue our protege program this summer and plan for another season of programming.”

West Orange installed a covered pavilion at OSPAC right before the summer season began in 2021, which allowed for another performance space and protection from rain in the event of bad weather. When events that allow beer and wine gardens occur, the pavilion is used for that purpose. When OSPAC opens for the 2022 season, the pavilion will be the home of a new play-reading series.

“People love to come out and do play readings, and if we don’t have to open up the big overhead doors and staff all of the technicians to run a show, it’s cost effective,” DiLorenzo said.

While DiLorenzo said PVP knew going into the agreement with the township to take over operations of OSPAC that they would not receive money for programming, the organization hopes the town will consider sponsoring some events this year. PVP does not need to make a lot of revenue; it needs to make enough money to keep operating and putting on performances. In 2021, a benefit concert and fundraising opportunities through WOHS using the stage helped, but, according to DiLorenzo, PVP can’t rely on them every year.

“We’ve built up the program; we’ve built up the audience,” she said. “Now more people know about OSPAC, so we want to keep the momentum going. We need help.”

PVP will be short about $25,000 this year, which is what was made through fundraising last year. DiLorenzo said PVP charges $5 for concerts and $10 for larger-production tickets, which they want to keep doing in the future.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever gone to local theater or the Paper Mill Playhouse, or any of the theaters around here,” DiLorenzo said. “They don’t have $10 ticket prices. We have $10 ticket prices because our goal is to get everyone there. If we’re doing a show that we tout as a family musical or a family concert, it better be affordable for the whole family.”

Chief Financial Officer John Gross said at the meeting that any increases in the budget for OSPAC this year will have to be decided in the 2022 budget, which has not been presented to the council yet. Council President Susan McCartney expressed support for possibly sponsoring events at the venue.

“I think for a township to have its own amphitheater, it’s such an asset,” McCartney said at the meeting. “So I appreciate this conversation, and we’re going to be talking about our budget season this month or next month. I think we advocate for our assets.”