CenterStage Flourishes in New Space at Trager Family JCC
Writer / Gavin LaPaille
After more than two years away, CenterStage has returned to the stage at the Trager Family Jewish Community Center. Known as Kentucky’s oldest community theatre, CenterStage is back with four full-run productions during the 2022-23 season, with an additional two shows offered on a more limited basis.
CenterStage kicked off its first MainStage production since February of 2020 with a musical titled “CenterStage: A Century of Entertainment” that highlighted many favorite CenterStage memories from previous past. Other titles this season include “Falsettos,” “13: The Musical” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Two additional performances, “The Kings Revue” and “The Diary of Anne Frank,” will be available in limited runs.
This season continues the long tradition of CenterStage, which has been around in some iteration for roughly 120 years. Erin Jump, the Arts and Ideas Director at the Trager Family JCC, said that the excitement level is incredibly high after CenterStage moved into its new 107,000-square-foot facility in April at the newly opened Trager Family JCC. CenterStage auditions, rehearsals and performances take place in the Shapira Foundation Auditorium in the new building located at 3600 Dutchmans Lane.
“Our space has a state-of-the-art sound system that is brand new,” Jump says. “We upgraded our lighting system, while also bringing over some of our existing equipment from our former space. We invested in new curtains and drapery, and we have brand new dressing rooms. Most importantly, we have a brand-new riser system that provides additional seating for our audience.”
Known for delivering quality community theater and spectacular musicals, CenterStage gives local performers, designers and musicians an opportunity to practice their passions all while fulfilling the collective mission to “open minds, one act at a time.” CenterStage is a true community theater and reviews have boasted that CenterStage produces professional quality productions.
“The performers are members of our community,” Jump says. “We host auditions and open it up to anyone and everyone. We have had people who have had a professional arts career, but everyone does it for no pay. Community theater is often volunteer time. They do it because they love to perform and bring the arts to our area.”
In addition to the MainStage productions, which mainly features adult actors, CenterStage also offers an experience for the younger generation looking to learn more about the theater world. The CenterStage Academy is CenterStage’s after-school program that acts as a sort of training ground for the MainStage performers and welcomes kids from kindergarten to eighth grade to learn more about the performing arts in a classroom setting.
This year, the academy will be performing “Fiddler on the Roof JR”’ a special adaption of the popular Broadway musical.
“My focus for the kids, while we are creating a product, is focusing on process,” Jump says. “What is the process to create the product? That includes all the kids collaborating and communicating. Working together to put this final product together and how to work in theater world. It gives them a picture of what it feels like to be a performer and what it takes to do that. My focus for CenterStage Academy isn’t necessarily to create leads on Broadway, it’s more about how we can work together and how does that look in theater. We grow relationships. I meet the kids where they are and grow them through instruction and modeling.”
The two pillars of CenterStage will merge somewhat this year with the MainStage production of “13: The Musical.” The show will primarily feature younger actors as it tells the story of Evan, who moves with his mom from big-city New York to small town Appleton, Indiana. Many of the performers in ‘13’ will be recent graduates of CenterStage Academy, with Jump making her directorial debut with the production.
While many performers from CenterStage Academy go on to youth performing arts schools and aspire to be performers later on, Jump said that the lessons the children learn through CenterStage can be applied to industries outside theater.
“If they are able to take these skills and take them to the theater world, I’m happy with that,” Jump says. “But if they take them to whatever else they want to do that, I’m thrilled about that too. I think the lessons we learn in theater, how we work with other people, how we listen, how we communicate, how we are feeling, how we connect with other worlds and other cultures through theater only builds us as human beings that can contribute to our world.”
While CenterStage is affiliated with the Trager Family JCC, all community members are invited to audition, volunteer and attend shows. Tickets can be purchased for $25, with VIP upgrades available that include amenities like table seating towards the front of the auditorium, a VIP lounge before the show and complimentary concessions.
“We get the word out through social media and our website to spread the message to people who know us and others who don’t,” Jump says. “A lot of people who attend our shows aren’t in the theater world. We invite audience members who are just excited to be here and share the love of theatre with us.”
Jump hopes to continue seeing CenterStage grow and serving the community while fulfilling the JCC’s mission.
“We have so much going on and so many programs we are providing to our community,” Jump says. “We want to make sure we are using our space and our calendar in the best way. Our mission here at the Trager Family JCC is to bring people together and discover and flourish in the lives we live here, no matter where you are from. We believe in providing ways for people to do that while they’re here. I believe that the arts do that so naturally and organically. CenterStage fits into that mission of bringing people together to grow and to flourish.”
CenterStage at the Trager Family JCC is located at 3600 Dutchmans Lane, Louisville, Kentucky. You can reach CenterStage at 502-238-2797 or on their website at jcclouisville.org/centerstage.