Mom-daughter run production company brings diversity to community theater stages

Catherine LaMoreaux and her daughter Anne Paone established Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center to bring more diversity to New Jersey’s theater scene.

“We created (the center) in April 2014, because we had both worked in the arts and always wanted to run a theater company of our own,” Paone, the center’s co-founder and artistic associate, said. “We both thought there were opportunities for more diverse casts in New Jersey community theater.”

LaMoreaux, of Metuchen, earned a bachelor’s degree in theater, and has worked in administration roles for Circle Repertory Company, the Joffrey Ballet and the New York Philharmonic.

While attending college, LaMoreaux said she noticed a lack of diverse casting in the school’s main theater plays, which sparked her dream to one day launch a theater company that values ​​diversity.

“I just feel that there’s rarely any reason for a cast to be all white,” LaMoreaux, who is the center’s artistic director, said. “Fortunately, diversity in casting is much more prevalent than it was when we started in 2014. Paone and I have, from the beginning, made a lot of proactive efforts to reach out to non-white actors in order to diversify out casts.

Paone began appearing in productions at 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.

“Fortunately, Paone was with me all the way,” said LaMoreaux, who left her job as a high school theater teacher to open the non-profit theater company. “I could not have done it without her,”

The arts center has showcased 23 main stage shows, over 45 Zoom shows during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has drawn from 123 volunteer actors and crew members.

“We are a community theater company focused on diverse casts and stories and modern takes on classic shows,” Paone said. “In addition to main stage shows, we perform at our various semi-permanent homes. We have done programming for libraries, museums and senior centers, and taught acting classes.

“People often double up on jobs since we are a small company.”

Pictured from left, Will Horner, Kelly Branco and Asia McKnight rehearse “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)(revised)” on the porch at the duCret School of Art in Plainfield.

Kicking off its summer season, Dragonfly is hosting an outdoor three-play series at the duCret School of Art in Plainfield thanks to the funding from the 2022 Union County History, Education, Arts Reaching Thousands Grant Program.

Last summer, LaMoreaux said duCret Executive Director Tim O’Connor applied for the grant to enable the center to do outdoor performances at the school during COVID. The outdoor performances were so popular that O’Connor applied again this year.

“The center is in residence at duCret, and the management there is incredibly supportive of our work as well as the work of many other performance artists in addition to visual artists,” LaMoreaux said.

The first play of the series, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)[revised],” will be performed on Friday through Sunday at duCret School of Arts’ porch, 1030 Central Ave., Plainfield. Ticket information and times are available online.

Written by the original performers Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, the play features three actors who take on the enormous task of presenting all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in 97 minutes.

Paone said this play “…is a crowd-pleaser that parodies one of the most well-known playwrights in the world–everyone has heard of Shakespeare.”

Othello is performed as a rap, the history plays are combined in a football game, Titus Andronicus becomes a cooking show, and Hamlet is presented forwards, at rapid pace, and backwards. “It’s a fun and funny show,” LaMoreaux said, who also directed the production.

The play stars Dragonfly’s actors Will Horner, Kelly Branco and Asia McKnight, who is new to Dragonfly, but has appeared in plays in New Jersey.

The center will present a comic modern version of “Pride and Prejudice,” adapted by Actor and Playwright Kate Hamill, on Aug. 19-21.

“It plays at a breakneck pace with slapstick comedy as it explores the absurdities and thrills of finding your perfect, or imperfect, match in life,” LaMoreaux said. “Lizzy Bennet is determined to never marry, but faced with the vaguely handsome, mildly amusing and impossibly aggravating, Mr. Darcy, she’s confused.

“And making her life more complicated, her mother is a bit wacky, her sisters can be difficult, the family may lose their home, and there are all those balls to attend.”

For its third and final play, the center will perform play “Mean Girls” or “School Girls: the African Mean Girls Play” by Playwright Jocelyn Bioh, on Sept. 16-18.

Each performance will be outdoors at duCret School of the Arts, and theatergoers should bring their own chairs. In the event it rains, the performance will be moved indoors to duCret’s auditorium.

“We would love audience members 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 join us. In addition, we are always looking for new volunteers, actors, directors, designers, and crew members. And, as a nonprofit, we always accept donations.”

More information and tickets are available online or call 908-930-3210.

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