Two River Theater expands its footprint, public outreach

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next fall the Two River Theater Company will celebrate its 25th season and this week it announced a plan to build a three-story Center for New Work, Education and Design.

It’s  all part of its goal to become one of the best regional theaters in the country. And I have no doubt that it will succeed.

It was well-managed and well-staffed before it staged its first production ( A.R. Gurney’s “The Cocktail Hour”). Once dominated by  classic plays by white men, it now stages new works by Latino playwrights, classic and new works by African-Americans, and commissioned and staged the world premiere of “Be More Chill,” which according to the New York Times is one of the most popular new musicals in America and “has become a secret success story.”

But it’s not just what Two River puts on its stage that makes it essential. The expansion not only will house various tech shops, it includes an assortment of outreach programs that include the community-at-large.

Two River Theater doesn’t just stage professional theater with first-class actors, designers, and backstage personnel, it gives back to the community.

“One of our goals for this new facility is to better serve our community as a civic resource through increased readings, conversations, public lectures, classes, and workshops,” managing director Michael Hurst said. “Through these activities, the building will create behind-the-scenes opportunities for members of our community to engage with the many great artists who are increasingly coming to think of Two River, and Red Bank, as an artistic home.”

These people might include such artists as Tony Award-nominated Michael Cumpsty, who has directed and acted in various production, including being in the cast of “Dancing at Lughnasa” opening tonight; actor-playwright-director Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who wrote and directed “Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine” here, and this summer directs “Othello”  for NYC’s Shakespeare in the Park; Tony and Academy-award winner Joel Grey directed here, and Broadway and TV actor (“The Americans”) and Brandon J. Dirden, who has acted and directed here, called the theater his artistic home.

“We have long believed that a first-class theater needs first-class facilities to support: artists who work in a constant state of creation; the audiences who evolve with the artists they loyally follow; and the community partners that feel invested in the work of the theater,” artistic director John Dias said.

From its beginning in 1994 at the Lauren K. Woods Theatre at Monmouth University in West Long Branch — where co-founder Robert Rechnitz was an  English professor when be began his quest to create a professional  theater in Monmouth County — to a stint at the Algonquin Theater in Manasquan, to its current home that opened in 2005 at 21 Bridge St., the company has sought excellence.  

Construction begins after the close of “Dancing at Lughnasa,” on May 13, Hurst said.

The addition will connect to the east side of the current  theater jutting into the parking lot. It includes two rehearsal studios, offices and writing spaces for artists, expanded scene shop spaces, a wood shop for the props department, a larger costume shop, centrally located offices for the theater’s production and education staffs, and multiple storage areas.

The scene shop spaces will include wood, metal and paint shops, with ceiling heights of 32 feet, the costume and prop shops will be climate-controlled. The new facility will replace Two River’s deteriorating scene shop, known as the Chavant Building, behind the theater at 42 West St.

Red Bank architects Kaplan, Gaunt + DeSantis are the designers.

In addition to enhancing the work of Two River’s Production department, the Center for New Work, Education and Design enables the theater to expand the reach and impact of its new-play development activities, education programs, and free community events offered through the “Inside Two River” program.

For more information, visit or call 732.345.1400.


History and Need

Two River Theater was founded by Joan and Robert Rechnitz in 1994 and built and opened its first permanent home, a state-of-the-art, two-theater complex in Red Bank, in  When Two River acquired the Bridge Avenue land to construct its theater, it also procured the 11,000 square foot Chavant Building, located Originally a factory that specialized in making clay modeling products, the building was re-purposed (with very little renovation) as the theater’s scenery and prop shop, as well as a storage space for scenery, props and costumes. Today, the building is aging and rapidly deteriorating.

Additionally, Two River Theater has experienced tremendous growth since 2005, with performances, classes, workshops, lectures, and community gatherings of all types occurring year-round. To support its ambitious activities and operational needs, it began planning an addition to its existing complex in 2011.The new Center, which has a footprint of 13,600 square feet and a total area of 36,300 square feet, was designed by Kaplan, Gaunt + DeSantis following a comprehensive design and planning process.

25th Anniversary Campaign

 As Two River approaches its landmark 25th Anniversary Season in 2018/19, its Founders and Board of Trustees have established a 25th Anniversary Fund to support critical priorities for the theater’s growth, including the development and construction of the new Center. The financial goal for the 25th Anniversary Fund is $18,000,000. The theater’s Founders and Board of Trustees have raised leadership gifts totaling $16,500,000 to date, with the remaining $1,500,000 of the goal to be raised through philanthropic and community support. Gifts to the Fund will be accepted throughout 2018 and 2019, and pledges can be gifted over a longer period of time.

About Two River Theater

Two River Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst, develops and produces great American theater. Through 8+ theatrical productions each year (including world premieres, musicals, classics and theater for young audiences) and 40+ annual events happening around Monmouth County, we produce exceptional theater and cultivate engaged audiences. Two River celebrates and honors our core values of Artistic Excellence; Education and Community Engagement; Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; and Operational Excellence.


Two River Theater is supported in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Monmouth University, The Shubert Foundation, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Riverview Medical Center, The Stone Foundation of New Jersey, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation,  The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, Springpoint Senior Living Foundation at The Atrium at Navesink Harbor, Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Jorgensen Foundation, US Trust, Wells Fargo, William T. Morris Foundation, Kessler Foundation,  Investors Foundation, The John Ben Snow Foundation, VNA Health Group, Brookdale Community College, and many other generous foundations, corporations and individuals.

Since its founding in 1994, Two River Theater has been committed to creating great American theater by developing and producing work by some of the country’s leading artists. We are proud to be viewed as a vital cultural resource in the community of Red Bank, New Jersey. Through 8+ theatrical productions each year (including world premieres, musicals, classics and theater for young audiences) and 40+ annual events happening around Monmouth County, we produce exceptional theater and cultivate engaged audiences. Two River Theater is under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst. For more information, visit or call 732.345.1400.  

 Highlights of the Center for New Work, Education and Design 

  • The new scene shop spaces (which will be comprised of separate wood, metal, and paint shops with formal spaces for storage) will have the largest impact on Two River’s ability to create more advanced theatrical work. For instance, our scenery can often reach heights of 25 feet or more. The new scene shop ceiling heights of 32 feet will allow us to “mock up” scenery prior to loading it into the theater. We’ll also have the space to test automated scenic pieces prior to load-in.  Both of these improvements will enable us to identify issues or changes to the designs earlier in the process, and well before we are “on stage.
  • The two new rehearsal studios will be built with dimensions similar to the theater’s two stages, allowing directors to rehearse on the true size of their set designs and better facilitate the transition from rehearsal to performance spaces.  Multiple rehearsal rooms will allow us to properly rehearse musicals, which often require two or more rehearsal rooms to support separate choreography and music rehearsals.
  • The additional rehearsal studios and office space will allow Two River to expand the ambition and reach of its current efforts in support of new work, including artist residencies, retreats, readings, workshops, and collaborations with other theaters and artists engaged in new-play development.
  • The two rehearsal studios in the new building will greatly expand the available space for Two River to build its Education programs, including the Summer Theater Intensives and the First Monday Masters series of master classes.
  • Popular Inside Two River events that currently have capacity limitations—such as the 101 Series and Shakespeare Play Reading Group, both led by Artistic Director John Dias—will be able to expand into the rehearsal studios in the new building, allowing us to cultivate and develop audiences that are increasingly curious and engaged.
  • The new offices within the building will accommodate Two River’s Education and Production staffs. Currently the 23-person production staff is spread throughout the existing theater building and the deteriorating Chavant Building. The new building will house the Production staff in one central location, connected to the main theater and administrative building. This will facilitate better communication and productivity.