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2 New Jersey theater companies make history with merger

In today's economy, it can be hard to keep businesses devoted to the arts alive and going strong. Many businesses rely on outside funding such as grants and public donations to stay afloat, and with so many patrons struggling to pay their own bills, this financial help can be hard to come by.

But a merger of two New Jersey theater companies appears to be a match made in heaven. The Theater Project, originally from Cranford, and the What Exit? Theater Company of Maplewood announced they are joining forces. Using the Theater Project name and the latter company's performance space, the new organization plans to have its first new show ready in April.

One of the challenges of merging two companies -- theater or business -- is agreeing on what the new venture will keep and what will fall away. That includes both the company name and its employees. In the theater organization's case, the Theater Project will keep both its name and its artistic director, while the founder and artistic director of What Exit? will become the merged company's casting director and special events coordinator. The new nine-member board is made up of supporters from both companies. The staff remains small, with just four paid employees and many volunteers.

The merger is a first in New Jersey theater history, and so far a successful one. It started as an idea last summer after the Theater Company lost its performance space. It can be hard for any theater group to find a new place to perform, and none of the 40 venues it visited felt right. Meanwhile, What Exit?'s co-artistic director left for another company. That left What Exit? with a great performance space, but no support to produce any work.

The merger solved problems for both companies. Now, as with any business merger, the focus is on getting comfortable working with one another and developing confidence in what they've created. "This is a different space, a different town," said the Theater Project's artistic director. "It's going to take a few shows, at least one or two, to feel like the ground is under us."

Source: NJ.com, "Two Jersey theater companies merge," Peggy McGlone, Feb. 25, 2012

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