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Lorraine Stone, left, as Sojourner Truth, is among the cast members in Dunbar Rep’s ‘Butterfly Confessions,’ a play by Yetta Young (right) that returning to the Count Basie Theatre. 

It’s been described as “a love letter to women of color,” one that “reveals heartfelt emotions about intimacy, sexual responsibility and overcoming adversity.” Credited to author and producer Yetta Young — but acknowledged by her as a collaborative effort that features the input of some dozen different women — the intimate theatrical experience entitled Butterfly Confessions has spread its wings and its message to communities from coast to coast, including audiences right here in Red Bank who enjoyed it for the first time in the spring of 2016.

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Newspaper editor and former slave T. Thomas Fortune formed the Nfortune_091716Regular readers of redbankgreen have been kept abreast of the campaign to rescue and restore the T. Thomas Fortune House, the historic site that was once home to the pioneering African American journalist and publisher whose name adorns the property on Drs. James Parker Boulevard. While much work remains to be done toward the goal of transforming the boarded-up 19th century home into an educational and cultural center, a group of Monmouth County neighbors is also engaged in making the long-deceased Mr. Fortune into a still-vital presence; one with a message to convey to contemporary community members of all ages and backgrounds.

This Saturday afternoon, September 17, Red Bank’s Calvary Baptist Church will be the setting for another in a regularly scheduled series of meetings by the African American Genealogy Group. Beginning at 1 p.m., it’s a special edition of the event that takes place on the third Saturday of each month.

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Gilda Rogers Sid Bernstein SummerSlamLeft to right: Citizens for a Diverse and Open Society founders Gilda Rogers and Sid Bernstein were joined by performing artist and writer Lorraine Stone as special guests of the Summer Slam program at Red Bank Regional High School. 

Press release from Red Bank Regional High School

During the height of summer, the Red Bank Regional High School building is a busy place, with a myriad of educational programming designed to better prepare its students for September. As the largest of those activities, Summer Slam saw 110 students attending a four-week session (operated by school-based youth services program The SOURCE) which infuses academic topics (Math, English, Science, Global Studies) with special events like an athletic team-building challenge coordinated by The Community YMCA, as well as visits from influential community members.

This summer’s two-time guest speaker was educator, author and community activist Gilda Rogers of Red Bank, who during her first visit introduced the students to the ongoing project to renovate the historic T. Thomas Fortune House. She returned the next day to discuss ways students could combat racism; accompanying Gilda for that second meeting was Sid Bernstein of Lincroft, a retired businessman with whom she co-founded the group Citizens for a Diverse and Open Society (CDOS).

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Black Nativity 2010A cast of some 45 actors, singers, dancers and community members brings the theatrical gospel celebration BLACK NATIVITY back to the Count Basie Theatre this Sunday, December 27, in the return of a local tradition from Dunbar Repertory Company. (Photo courtesy Richard Krauss)  

When it was first presented to Broadway audiences back in 1961, the theatrical experience known as Black Nativity was little more than a 40-page outline of a script on paper; an adaptation of the Gospel of St. Luke that was infused with the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes. In their fully fleshed form, however, the words came to life through a mix of traditional spirituals like “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” African American dance forms, colorful costumes, and an improvisatory element that encourages local clergy, schoolchildren and public officials to get into the act everywhere that Nativity has become the stuff of tradition, from Savannah, GA to Seattle, WA and numerous points between.

Beginning about the turn of the new millennium, Black Nativity became the stuff of Monmouth County tradition, when Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr. first presented its “powerful message of joy, hope, victory and liberation” at Manasquan’s landmark Algonquin Theatre, in a staging by Dunbar Repertory Company, the producer-director’s grassroots troupe dedicated to presenting the works of African American playwrights. Re-emerging at the Count Basie Theatre in 2010 (where Willis, a now-retired faculty member at Brookdale Community College, has served as a board member for ten years), the production quickly staked out a place as a year-end centerpiece of community life for performing artists and church congregations from all around Monmouth. Following a one-year hiatus, Black Nativity returns to the Basie stage this Sunday afternoon, December 27, for its fifth Red Bank appearance — a re-energized and highly anticipated extension of the Yueltide season, about which Willis found time to chat with redbankgreen.

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basie marquee 1 090213Those in the know count the upstairs rehearsal room as another cool space at the Basie. Below, Lorraine “The Wisdomkeeper” Stone. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

wisdomkeeperObservers of the Red Bank arts scene could tell you that some of the most interesting stuff often happens one flight above street level (think of a place like McKay Imaging Gallery) — and the same notion applies to the Count Basie Theatre, where the landmark building’s second-floor “Studio 99” rehearsal space represents a hidden-in-plain-sight venue for events that are intimately scaled in relation to the venerable venue’s famous auditorium.

It’s a place that’s hosted past offerings from Dunbar Repertory Company, the African American community stage troupe founded by Brookdale Community College faculty member (and participant on the Basie board) Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr. This Sunday, Studio 99 presents the first of three “professional staged reading” theatrical presentations from the Dunbar fold in spring 2015.

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On Saturday, April 26, Brookdale Community College will the setting for a special educational forum, dedicated to discussing ways to restore trust in government, promote transparency, and explore avenues to ensure accountability.

Presented by the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, the forum will take place between the hours of 9 am and 2 pm, inside the Navesink Room of the Warner Student Life Center on the Lincroft campus.

Guest panelists will include Paula Franzese of Seton Hall Law School, one of the country’s leading experts in government ethics. She has spearheaded ethics reform initiatives on behalf of three governors, and as ethics advisor to state and local governments across the country. She’ll be joined by Walter Luers, President of New Jersey Foundation for Open Government (NJFOG), and a professional with experience in litigation regarding the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).

Jody Calendar, former Deputy Executive Editor of the Asbury Park Press and president of Jody Calendar Communications, will offer her perspective on the crucial role the media plays in promoting transparency and speak about opportunities and challenges journalists face in holding governments accountable.

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17andunarmedGuest artists from the Asbury Park Technical Academy of Dance  performed a program on Black History at Red Bank Regional High School, including a powerful piece inspired by the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

Press release from Red Bank Regional High School 

In commemoration of February’s Black History Month observance, Red Bank Regional High School recently invited guest performers from the Asbury Park Technical Academy of Dance (APTAD) to give a presentation in the school auditorium. Morgan Brunson, a junior at RBR and a member of the dance academy, introduced the APTAD and its founder Michelle Burrell, who told the audience, “It is important to know that what we do today becomes tomorrow’s Black History.”

A professionally trained ballerina turned dance educator, Burrell founded the APTAD to bring the dream of dance to many students in the Asbury Park area, who may otherwise not have had the opportunity. She created and narrated the powerful program, which through a combination of storytelling, narration and dance choreographed to historic events and spiritual songs, illustrated the history of African Americans.

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A “flash mob” of nonprofessional dancers in rehearsal for BOLERO RED BANK at the Two River Theater.


Addressing a stageful of local residents at Two River Theater last Thursday night, Larry Keigwin framed a pre-rehearsal peptalk with “It’s great how in this digitally saturated age, we’re all doing something together that’s live and interactive.”

The occasion that brought the award winning choreographer together with a group of several dozen Monmouth County neighbors — an eclectic collection that boasts at least one septuagenarian, six or seven primary school kids and a dog — is a project by the name of Bolero Red Bank.

Designed exclusively for the Red Bank area audience, the dance piece uses the magnificent musical merry-go-round of Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” as the soundtrack to a celebration of the greater Red Bank area — and the things that the people who live here love the most about it. And, when Bolero Red Bank hits the stage of the Bridge Avenue performing arts center this Friday and Saturday night, it will prove to be something of a “day at the beach” for audience and participants alike.

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lorrainedarrellLorraine Stone is in the cast, and Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr. directs, as BLACK NATIVITY comes to the Count Basie stage for the first time on December 30.


If you’ve been in (or anywhere near) the Count Basie Theatre recently, you probably noticed that the venerable venue is a house of traditions throughout the holiday season — a host harbor for Christmas concerts, New Year’s blasts, allstar benefits, Nutcrackers and Scrooges — all of them staples of local life.

Beginning Thursday, December 30, the Count’s crib opens its curtain for the first time on a homegrown edition of a stage tradition that’s become the centerpiece of community Christmas celebrations, from Boston to Seattle and lots of big-league towns between.

First produced on Broadway in 1961, Black Nativity combines the Gospel of St. Luke with the poetry of the late Langston Hughes and a set of folk spirituals and hymns for a theatrical experience that’s often custom-tailored to every town it appears in. It’s the kind of presentation in which the stage swells with local children; in which hometown preachers play a big part and the Three Wise Men are often cast from the ranks of neighborhood civic and business leaders.

For several seasons, the play staked a Shore area home at Manasquan’s Algonquin Arts Theatre, in a production by producer-director Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr. and his Dunbar Repertory Company. A Brookdale Community College faculty member and a participant on the Basie’s board, Willis has kept busy in recent years with such projects as the annual Juneteenth Urban Arts Festival in Long Branch and winter’s upcoming staging of A Raisin in the Sun at BCC.

The redbankgreen Drama Desk caught up with the director as he found “room at the inn” for a re-established Yuletide tradition, here in Red Bank.

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