Theater Company Founded In Rahway

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RAHWAY — New Jersey producer James N. Vagias has founded American Theater Group, an ambitious new performing arts company that will offer musicals and spoken plays; a new musical reading series; and theater education programs beginning next fall at Rahway’s new Hamilton Stage for the Performing Arts.

“American Theater Group is honored to be joining New Jersey’s vibrant arts and theater scene,” said James Vagias. “We look forward to being a vital part of the community by bringing exciting and accessible theater, creating compelling productions of new plays and musicals, and rediscovering works that have been undeservedly neglected.”

In addition to a season of three fully-staged plays, American Theater Group will launch the New American Musical Reading Series. Artistic Advisor for the series is Stephen Schwartz, composer of some of Broadway’s most memorable scores including “Wicked,” “Godspell,” and “Pippin.” The series is an offshoot of Schwartz’s ASCAP Foundation Musical Theater Workshop, a national program held in New York and Los Angeles that features 40-minute cuttings from a dozen new musicals. From these twelve, Schwartz and Vagias will select the top three musicals — each to be rehearsed for a week with professional actors, who will give two full-length readings for the public, exclusively at Hamilton Stage.

“I am delighted that American Theater Group will use its resources to help nurture new musicals for the theater, said Schwartz. “I look forward to helping them and working with Jim Vagias in their efforts to insure the continued health of this vital American art form.”

President of the American Theater Group Board of Directors is former Mayor of Rahway James Kennedy, who is generally credited with leading Rahway’s revitalization by establishing the arts as a central pillar of the city’s redevelopment efforts.

Said Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation President and CEO Christopher Daggett, “Thanks to the inspiring work of James Kennedy, and countless others, all eyes will be on Rahway in the coming months. We are particularly excited about the impending opening of Hamilton Stage, a beautiful and intimate new theatre that will serve as home for a variety of artists and resident theatre and dance companies. While Rahway has experienced varying results to date in its attempt to reinvent itself as an artistic destination, you are almost there!” Earlier this month, the Dodge Foundation awarded $50,000 to support the opening of Hamilton Stage, the work of its Artistic Affiliates, and Arts Guild New Jersey.

“Our decade-long effort to build the spaces and amenities needed to support the arts in Rahway has certainly been a challenging,” said Kennedy. “Creating and sustaining a world-class theater company, or any arts company of merit, will require even more effort. That’s why we have enlisted top leadership from diverse fields to join the American Theater Group Board of Directors.”

Members of the American Theater Group Board include State Senator Thomas Kean Jr.; State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak; and Tony-Award Winning Actress Michelle Pawk.

In a joint statement across party lines, Senator Thomas Kean Jr., Republican Leader of the NJ Senate and Raymond J. Lesniak, Democratic Leader said, “We both look forward to helping American Theater Group and, in so doing, help make the City of Rahway a model for how the arts can make communities more humane, inviting, and economically prosperous.”

American Theater Group’s mission is to produce works by American Playwrights, with an emphasis on the development of new works, and the rediscovery of neglected older ones. ATG will engage audiences by making theater accessible to the diverse surrounding communities, and will maintain a nurturing environment for artists to develop and hone their craft. To insure the long-term health of both ATG and theater in general, ATG will also train both audiences and artists of tomorrow by offering quality arts-in-education programming.

Construction of Hamilton Stage, at 360 Hamilton Street in Rahway, is expected to be complete in early June. The public can have its first look inside during a special Open House Preview Saturday May 19, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, May 20, from noon to 4 p.m. The formal grand opening of Hamilton Stage will occur in September 2012.

Programs for American Theater Group will be announced soon. For more information, visit

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