BWW Interview: Executive Director Colleen Cook Reflects on the Past, Present, and Future of Holmdel


by Erica Handel

Mar. 30, 2020

Broadwayworld New Jersey continues their series of interviews with theatre professionals to learn about how they are coping with the virus outbreak. We interviewed Colleen Cook, who is currently the Executive Director of the Holmdel Theatre Company. Colleen Cook joined the Holmdel Theatre Company Board of Directors in September 2018, being named Executive Director a year later in September 2019. As Executive Director she manages all aspects of the business from developing and administering annual budgets to the recruitment and hiring of staff members. She also concentrates on theater funding initiatives, donor solicitations and all fundraising activities. She developed and produces the Broadway at the Barn series as one of the main fundraising activities for HTC. To date, the series has included Tony Winner Alice Ripley, Tony nominee Constantine Maroulis, Betsy Wolfe and Tony Nominee Jennifer Damiano. Up next but currently postponed is Drama Desk Nominee Amy Spanger. Cook also produced Elise Forie Edie's The Pink Unicorn in January 2020 at HTC. She is an associate producer on the upcoming off Broadway revival of Baby with Out of the Box Theatrics. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Roundabout Theatre Company and Out of the Box Theatrics in NYC. She is a former Vice President at JPMorgan Chase where she worked for 13 years. Last year, HTC celebrated its 30th season at the intimate theater, a 125-year-old barn that has been lovingly transformed into a modern, air-conditioned performance space with seating for just under 100 guests. The "black box" design allows flexibility in staging for each new production and the seating to go around it. The mission of HTC is to present fresh interpretations of classic plays and lesser-known modern dramas and comedies. For each collaborative production, professional theater artists work together with non-professionals and students, both on and behind the stage. Can you give us a little background about Holmdel Theatre Company and how it started? Wendell Smith's son Duncan was an avid theatre kid at Holmdel High School. He went off to college at Johns Hopkins and got diagnosed with cancer. Duncan used to come home in the summer and put on shows with his friends at the parks and ended up dying of cancer. Wendell decided that he wanted a place for those kids to come and do shows in the summer and that's how the theatre was founded 25 or 30 years ago. The theatre was named after Duncan, which is now called the Duncan Smith Theater. How did you get involved with Holmdel Theatre Company? What is your position there? I got involved a little over a year ago when they were trying to revitalize it and bring it back to its glory days. I joined the board and then became the Executive Director. I am in charge of the finances, and fundraising. I produce the "Broadway at the Barn" fundraising events, which have now become a series. I help with staffing and general management of the organization. What has been your favorite show or event at Holmdel Theatre Company? My favorite event personally was our first "Broadway at the Barn" concert with Alice Ripley because I do think that her saying yes kind of started the whole series and it was a magical night to have someone of her caliber in that 99-seat barn. It was pretty amazing. And now that I think about it, The Pink Unicorn (also starring Alice Ripley) may actually be the best thing we've ever produced in our space. It's a really important story. Another event that was a highlight was when Jennifer Damiano came in January to teach a masterclass and do a "Broadway at the Barn" concert. The masterclass goes back to our mission with Wendell, to combine non-professionals and students to interact with professionals. That day was everything special about our theatre. A lot of the people who were in the masterclass ages 17-24 were in our shows, Little Women andNext to Normal. It was really awesome, and Jenn is the nicest person I've ever met. Speaking of "Broadway at the Barn," the series as a whole has become a hit. How did that come about? Any dream guests? After Alice [Ripley] agreed to do it and we had her name behind it, it seemed that we started to get interest from other people. The next person we had was Constantine Maroulis and he's a Jersey Guy. I actually met him at another fundraising event and spoke to him about it, and he agreed to do it. So when they're all doing it, they do it from their hearts because we can't afford their regular fees and talents. All of the people who have done it believe in our story and believe in giving back to the little theatres. Now it snowballed and we have people coming to us wanting to do their own "Broadway the Barn" concerts. My dream guest would be Caissie Levy. I love her. She would be great at our theatre. You've had to shut down the theatre due to the virus. How did you and your staff prepare for this? We talked about it right when the virus was starting to break because we knew that we had a season show that was in rehearsals ("The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail") so we decided then. We were pushing forward because we had equity actors so we're paying everyone. When it looked like the show was not gonna happen, we pulled the plug for two reasons: 1) maybe we would end up getting shut down completely - that we weren't sure about, and 2) we started to get to the point where we didn't have stockpiles of hand sanitizers, we didn't have a cleaning crew, we didn't feel we could put that show on safely. The timeline eventually dictated us closing but we made the decision before that because we just didn't feel comfortable to be able to support that. Since we're dark during this time, I asked the Little Women cast to make a video of themselves singing a song from the show called "Astonishing" to put on YouTube. It is awesome. The people that come through love to give back. That's what's special about our theatre. What exciting events do you have coming up in the future? We have a #RENTStories event with Fredi Walker on June 5th, the play "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail" is postponed to July, Amy Spanger's "Broadway at the Barn" concert is postponed to a future date to be determined, there will be more "Broadway at the Barn" concerts, and our regular 2020 season. Marketing is a huge part of promoting a theatre. What marketing strategies have you used to keep people informed about what's coming up next? We have Facebook and Instagram where we put our updates on regularly, we also update our website and have a monthly email list where they can sign up for our monthly newsletter. You can visit our website at https://www.holmdeltheatrecompany.org/




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36 Crawfords Corner Road

Holmdel, NJ 07733

P.O. Box 182

Holmdel, NJ 07733

732-946-0427

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Holmdel Theatre Company is a 501c(3) nonprofit organization.