NUTELY, NJ — Kicking off with an opening-night celebration on Saturday, March 12 at Vincent United Methodist Church on Vincent Place, Expressions NJ Inc. is hoping to become the premier local nonprofit organization to bring the community together through a mutual appreciation of the arts.
Founded by performance-arts enthusiast and North Arlington native Jonathan Brandao, Expressions NJ Inc. seeks to bring together people from all artistic backgrounds, including performance, writing and visual arts.
The opening-night celebration featured art displays, film screenings, a live Broadway revue, and photo ops with Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club.
The founding of this organization is the culmination of Brandao’s lifelong interest in the arts, and his desire to see others have the ability to enjoy them as well.
“Growing up, I was always interested in watching and making movies. I would take action figures, grab my parents camera, and make short films with sound effects,” Brandao said in a recent phone interview with the Nutley Journal. “Film has always been my first love, and the first subject that I developed an interest in.”
Brandao said that when he was 14, his family created their own film company, Brandao Films, which further heightened his love of the film world.
“Over the years I wrote, directed and starred in my own films,” he said.
Brandao’s horizons expanded in high school when he was introduced to theater as a new activity to try out, and he quickly developed an affinity for it.
“My junior year of high school I was cast in the musical, and it was the first time I had ever been on stage,” he said. “That was when I fell in love with theater, and my senior year I got the lead in “Annie,” as Daddy Warbucks.”
Despite his newfound love for theater, when Brandao continued his education after high school at Fairleigh Dickinson University, he chose to major in his first love of film rather than going into theater studies.
“Film was always what I focused on, even though I was always in productions and people told me I should major in theater,” he said. “I didn’t do any more theater until after I graduated in 2013, and I got very fed up with the film world, and beat down by the comments and criticisms that accompany it, so I needed to do something new to cleanse my palette.”
Brandao said that his grandparents let him know that a local theater in the town of Kearny was doing a production of “Godspell” and encouraged him to check it out, knowing that it was one of his favorite productions.
“I got the lead role of Jesus and that was a major stepping stone to the creation of Expressions NJ Inc. That was what brought me to the path that I should have been on,” he said. “I realized that the No. 1 thing that myself and my family enjoyed was seeing the enjoyment on other people’s faces when they enjoy a show.”
After directing a theatrical production of “Beauty and the Beast,” Brandao realized that he could do more than just acting.
“My family has been involved from day one, from the first time I ever had any type of interest in the arts. As soon as my parents saw that I was interested in making films they got me the best camera that they could get and my aunt and uncle provided action figures. Any time I had an event they would pitch in and help,” he said.
After hosting a tri-state competition where young filmmakers could send in their works and have it viewed in front of a live audience rather than an online-only portal, such as YouTube, Brandao and his family realized that they were on to something and wanted to take it a step further.
“The joy that the people got out of sharing their passion means more than anything we can personally do ourselves. Seeing other people’s joy is indescribable, as is seeing someone gain confidence and self-esteem and grow as an artist,” he said. “Expressions came from wanting to combine all of those things together, all different forms of art, to show people that art doesn’t mean just one thing, it’s anything that lets you express yourself.”
Brandao’s parents are members of Vincent United Methodist Church, and when they first joined the church, there were concerts being held for the youth group in the basement, but those ended and the space remained unused.
“The pastor was looking for someone to fill in the void, and to bring the arts into the church so that there would be other activities going on,” he said. “We expressed to him that we were starting a nonprofit arts organization and he loved the idea and was onboard with us using the space for our events.”
Next up for the busy new nonprofit are auditions on March 28 for a murder-mystery show, and on April 1 and April 15, there will be performances for a Broadway revue.
“We want all ages, all talent levels, all experiences. You could be the most seasoned actor and have done 50 shows or you could have done zero shows, it doesn’t matter,” Brandao said. “We’re just looking for people who are interested in performing with us. We want everyone who walks through that door to feel comfortable and like they are a part of our family. We know that we can bring something special to the community and we can bring something that hasn’t been there before.”
For more information about the new arts location in Nutley, visit www.expressionsnj.org.