By JOHN T. WARD
Marking the start of a new chapter — and the end of that whole ‘theater or theatre?’ conundrum — Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre has been rebranded the Count Basie Center for the Arts, officials said Monday.
The name reflects the 92-year-old venue’s present and future as a “campus,” where performance art is learned, developed and staged, said Basie chief executive officer Adam Philipson. A rendering of the westerly expansion now under construction. Below, the theater’s new logo. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
The Monmouth Street theater, in the midst of a $26 million expansion, plans to add new performance and teaching spaces that will transform it from “a historic theater, which it still fairly will be, to a full city block alive and buzzing with the arts,” Basie board Chairman Tom Widener told an audience of several dozen donors, volunteers and local officials.
The Vaudeville-era venue opened in 1926 as the Carlton Theatre, and “over the years, has had its challenges and its triumphs,” Philipson said. In the 1980s, “on the brink of shutting its doors, it was saved by the newly minted Monmouth County Arts Council,” he said.
After a string of name changes over the decades, the theater was rechristened in 1984 in honor of William “Count” Basie, the jazz composer and bandleader who was born in Red Bank in 1904.
A decade ago, plaster falling from the domed ceiling required the installation of safety netting to protect concertgoers. A fundraising push, capped by a concert by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, kicked off a restoration process.
Now, the main stage is booked some 200 nights a year, making the Basie the top-selling nonprofit performing arts center in New Jersey, and the Count Basie Performing Arts Academy, offering arts instruction to young students though a handful of partnerships, is “bursting at the seams,” Philipson said.
“We can no longer be known as just a theater,” he said. “We’re ready to close that chapter of our story and begin a new one.”
Philipson said the name rollout will begin immediately, with a new logo. Meantime, the Basie name is locked in. Under a 2016 agreement with the trust that controls the Basie estate, the theater committed to retain “Count Basie” in its name for 50 more years, with five 10-year extensions.