A large part of arts and culture is the theater, and few in Hamilton know live performance like M. Kitty Getlik, artistic director and manager of Kelsey Theater.
It is her job to put together the season of performances each year, seek out good drama companies and individual performers. She works on talent acquisition, marketing and even greets the patrons as they enter the theater. Located on the campus of Mercer County Community College, Kelsey Theater offers musicals, plays, comedies, dramas, children’s theater, dance programs and music concerts year round.
Kelsey Theater usually has shows every weekend of the year, except on Easter, Christmas and a couple of weeks in August for repairs and reorganizing. It sells about 45,000 tickets a year in a 385-seat theater. It brings in another 7,000 people a year for free events.
The Hamilton Post talked to Getlik, a Hamilton resident, about her job and about arts in her hometown. A transcript follows:
Hamilton Post: You are a longtime Hamilton resident, and you understand the joy that people have for live performances and theater. What is going well in Hamilton regarding theater? What really seems to be working?
M. Kitty Getlik: There are a couple of small theatres that have been doing shows, but very sporadically. The good thing is that they very often do new works, which Kelsey Theater does not do. One of the fun things is the offerings at Grounds For Sculpture. They have done sing-alongs, murder mysteries, concerts and all sorts of fun things.
HP: What could be better for theater in Hamilton?
MKG: Well, out of nowhere these signs popped up near the Bromley section proclaiming it the Arts District. Which was news to me since I live in the Whitehead section right around the corner. It would be nice if there was actually something to show for that.
HP: The schools put on shows. They are well attended. This may be a person’s first exposure to theater. Do you think the shows are getting enough support from the community for their live events?
MKG: The only community members that I know support the high school and middle school shows are other teachers and former teachers. The majority of the audience are composed of family members, and they usually come close to selling out. One of the ways that the community could support this better is to donate things to silent auctions that are often incorporated in the school shows.
HP: Of the various genres of shows at Kelsey, which seem to be most popular? Are tastes changing for the classic Broadway musicals?
MKG: Musicals are still the most popular. We have had success with rock and roll tribute shows, too. New plays that the public does not know are hard for us to show and would benefit from having smaller venues in town where playwrights could show new works and see how it is received.
HP: Does much of Kelsey’s crowd come from Hamilton, as the college is partially in Hamilton Township? Would more venues be feasible in Hamilton customer-wise? Is there enough support for small indoor venues? How about an Open Air type theater in Veterans Park or another town-owned open space?
MKG: A good amount of Kelsey’s audience comes from Hamilton. The rest comes from surrounding areas. We get some seniors from Hamilton for sure, and also from Monroe and as far away as Millstone.
Indoor venues are difficult to maintain and keep safe during a normal year, let alone during COVID. There are so many fire safety concerns, as well as other safety concerns, that must be constantly monitored. So, any indoor space needs at least one dedicated person who will keep on top of those at every turn. It is so easy for someone to just plug in an extension cord for instance. Or put something in front of an exit door, especially backstage. And if you don’t catch that right away, you can have a serious fire hazard on your hands. They must be constantly maintained and cleaned in order to be safe. They are, however, are a great place for local playwrights to debut their plays, as well as small groups to put on challenging or controversial events that may not appeal to a wide audience, but definitely would be appreciated by a smaller but loyal audience.
An outdoor venue would be wonderful. I know that when the outdoor stage in Mercer County Park first was built, local theater companies were excited about the opportunity to use that space to put on shows. But it seems to only be used for large musical events, bands, etc. I guess because it is too expensive to rent, or possibly because there really is no space to store things like scenery, props, costumes, etc.
It would be wonderful to have something like Theater in the Park in Edison. Or like Washington Crossing Open Air Theatre used to be.
They are planning to make a small outdoor amphitheater space in Morrisville; it would be just the right distance away if we had one in Hamilton, too.
HP: Are there any acting companies based in Hamilton that people could audition for and support?
MKG: Right now is very tough because most companies went under when the pandemic hit. But if there was a space that they could use, they would certainly pop up again. There is the Odd Act Theatre group run by Lauren and Rob Thompson, who are currently looking for a new home. There is also PCM Theatre Company based in Hamilton. PCM is run by Connie Wokoun and Jack Britschge and was begun in 2006. PCM puts on original plays written by the founders and a core group of writers. The PCM Company puts on their shows at the Open Arts Theater in Bordentown next to Mastoris Diner. PCM has three new full-length scripts lined up to roll out over the next couple of years once that shroud of the pandemic has been lifted.
HP: Can theater compete with streaming, on-demand, cable and social media?
MKG: Absolutely! I think that if there is one thing that we learned while stuck at home during COVID-19 is that there is no substitute for real in person human interaction. And live theater is like nothing else. There is a palpable energy that is shared between performers and audience. The reaction from the audience molds the performance every night, making each performance slightly different. There is also something special about getting dressed and going out. Whether it be to eat or to go to a show of some sort. There is also the group mentality, so that when you are with a group of people you pick up on their feelings and emotions as well.