Catherine LaMoreaux and her daughter Anne Paone founded the Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center to bring more diversity to the New Jersey theater scene.
“We started (the center) in April 2014 because we both worked in the arts and always wanted to run our own theater company,” said Paone, the center’s co-founder and artistic associate. “We both thought there were opportunities for more diverse casts in New Jersey community theater.”
A native of Metuchen, LaMoreaux earned a bachelor’s degree in theater and has worked in administrative roles for the Circle Repertory Company, the Joffrey Ballet and the New York Philharmonic.
During her studies, LaMoreaux said she noticed a lack of diverse casts in the school’s main plays, which sparked her dream of one day starting a theater company that values diversity.
“I just feel like there’s rarely a reason for a cast to be all white,” said LaMoreaux, the center’s artistic director. “Fortunately, diversity in casting is much more prevalent than it was in early 2014. From the beginning, Paone and I have made many proactive efforts to reach out to non-white actors in order to diversify our casts.
Paone appeared in productions from a young age and studied film at her mother’s alma mater. She lives in Sunnyside, Queens, where she makes short films with her husband.
“Luckily, Paone was with me all the way,” said LaMoreaux, who left her job as a high school drama teacher to open the nonprofit theater company. “I couldn’t have done it without her”
The arts center has presented 23 main stage shows and over 45 Zoom shows during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has recruited 123 volunteer actors and crew members.
“We’re a community theater group focused on diverse casts and stories and modern interpretations of classic shows,” Paone said. “In addition to the main stage shows, we perform at our various semi-permanent houses. We have created programs for libraries, museums and senior centers and given acting classes.
“People often double jobs since we’re a small company.”
To kick off the summer season, Dragonfly is hosting a three-game series outdoors at the duCret School of Art in Plainfield, thanks to funding from the 2022 Union County History, Education, Arts Reaching Thousands Grant Program.
Last summer, LaMoreaux said duCret CEO Tim O’Connor applied for the grant so the center could host outdoor performances at the school during COVID. The outdoor performances were so popular that O’Connor applied again this year.
“The center is in duCret and the management there is incredibly supportive of our work and the work of many other performance artists in addition to the visual artists,” said LaMoreaux.
The first play in the series The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)[revised]will be performed Friday through Sunday on the porch of the duCret School of Arts, 1030 Central Ave., Plainfield. Ticket information and times are available online.
Written by original cast members Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, the play sees three actors take on the daunting task of performing all 37 Shakespeare plays in 97 minutes.
Paone said this play was “a crowd-pleaser that parodies one of the world’s best-known playwrights – everyone has heard of Shakespeare.”
Othello is performed as a rap, the history pieces are combined into a football game, Titus Andronicus becomes a cooking show, and Hamlet is presented forward, fast-paced, and backward. “It’s an entertaining and funny show,” said LaMoreaux, who also directed the production.
The play stars Dragonfly actors Will Horner, Kelly Branco and Asia McKnight, who is new to Dragonfly but has appeared in plays in New Jersey.
The center is presenting a modern comic version of Pride and Prejudice, adapted by actress and playwright Kate Hamill, August 19-21.
“It plays at a breakneck pace with slapstick comedy as it explores the absurdities and thrills of finding the perfect or imperfect match in life,” said LaMoreaux. “Lizzy Bennet is determined never to marry, but is confused by the vaguely handsome, mildly amusing and incredibly annoying Mr Darcy.
“And what makes her life more complicated, her mom is a little crazy, her sisters can be difficult, family can lose their home, and there’s all these balls to attend.”
As a third and final play, the center will present playwright Jocelyn Bioh’s play Mean Girls or School Girls: the African Mean Girls Play on September 16-18.
Each performance takes place outdoors at the duCret School of the Arts, and theatergoers should bring their own chairs. If it rains, the performance will be moved indoors to the duCret Auditorium.
“We’d love for viewers to tell their friends about us. We have productions scheduled for August, September and November,” LaMoreaux said. “We want people to know about our work so they can come to us. In addition, we are always looking for new volunteers, actors, directors, designers and crew members. And as a non-profit organization, we always accept donations.”
More information and tickets are available online or call 908-930-3210.
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Vashti Harris can be reached at [email protected].