New patio features bar, seating for theater patrons BY KRISTEN DALTON Staff Writer
Workmen construct a bar at the Count’s Courtyard, a new outdoor stone patio that will be open to theater patrons during events at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE COUNT BASIE THEATRE RED BANK — People coming to see a show at the historic Count Basie Theatre no longer have to cram themselves into the tiny lobby before or after the performance, and especially not during intermissions.
Audiences can now enjoy the Count’s Courtyard, an outdoor stone patio that features comfortable seating, ambient lighting and a fully stocked bar.
“It’s a nice place to go before the show to have a drink and to go during intermission to have a drink and even hang out after the show,” said Numa Saisselin, chief operating officer of the theater.
“the lobby is incredibly small because our building dates from the 1920s, and there was just not enough room to move around. Acquiring this property gives the theater the ability to expand its footprint and expand the public spaces in the building, and having the outdoor courtyard was a quick way of taking advantage of that.”
The $300,000 project sits on a 3,000- square-foot lot adjacent to the Basie and was completed on June 27 after about six weeks of construction and another 2½ years of prior planning and permit approvals.
It will continue to be utilized throughout the summer.
“Ultimately, I’m sure in a number of years we will build some sort of permanent addition to the theater building on that property, but to get the courtyard open, it was a quick and easy way to start taking advantage of the property right away,” explained Saisselin.
The courtyard project was originally designated as step 12 of the theater’s 12-phase renovation plan that is cited in the overall master plan, said the chief operating officer.
When the property next door became available for purchase, the renovation priorities changed and the Count’s Courtyard was moved to the forefront.
“We also kept in mind that plans are living, breathing documents, and you have to be able to adjust as misfortune strikes or as opportunity arises. and this was an opportunity to be taken advantage of, so we bumped it up in the batting order,” said Saisselin.
Future renovation projects include light and sound upgrades to the stage as well as improvements to the reading and dressing rooms. the administrative offices, teaching and rehearsal facilities, and the bathrooms are also on the list of work that needs to be done.
According to the COO, the Count Basie is only about halfway through its 12-step renovation plan, which began eight years ago and has completed $12 million worth of work, including a $2 million exterior façade renovation in 2010.
The Monmouth County Historical Commission awarded the Count Basie Theatre in June with one of its 2012 Preservation Awards for the project.
“We worked on all four sides of the building, but the biggest piece of the project was on the Monmouth Street façade. We took the entire front of the building off and started from scratch again,” said Saisselin.
“It was a very comprehensive project. the front of the building was covered in scaffold for nine months to protect the pedestrians, and we literally took brick by brick and stone by stone the entire front of the building off, exposing the inner wall, and then rebuilt it from scratch using brand-new brick and brand-new stone.”
According to Saisselin, the project should preserve the historical building for another 100 years. Until then, 2026 is a year to mark as the 100th anniversary of the Count Basie Theatre. It is also the timeline for all 12 steps of the renovation plan to be complete.
“[The year] 2026 seems like a long way away right now, but it’s not. We seem to be on a two-year cycle in terms of doing projects, so that’s just about right. if we were to keep doing projects on the two-year cycle, we would just about get done,” said Saisselin.
Leading the way is Justine L. Robertson, of Rumson, who was named the new interim CEO of the Count Basie Theatre and Foundation on June 19 and formally began work on July 2.
She serves as the single chief executive responsible for both the Count Basie Theatre Inc. and the Count Basie Theatre Foundation. the two boards previously had separate chief executives but will now be unified under Robertson.
The Count Basie Theatre Inc. is the nonprofit that owns, manages and programs the historic theater, while the Count Basie Theatre Foundation is the nonprofit dedicated to fundraising on behalf of the cultural and educational programs featured at the theater.
“after an extensive year-long process, the two boards have decided to unify the leadership of both organizations in a single CEO. We believe that this will improve our ability to seamlessly integrate our programming, operations and fundraising,” stated Ray Moser, chairman of the theater’s board, in a June 28 press release.
Robertson was the owner and executive director of the Webster Theatre in Hartford, Conn., from 1994 to 2010. during her tenure, the 1937 art deco movie theater was renovated into a 1,350-seat performance venue that won multiple awards from liveentertainment magazines.
“after working in the corporate world, even the hard days working on the Webster Theatre were a joy, but whenever I was on my way up to Hartford, I wished there was an opportunity to pursue this passion closer to home,” stated Robertson in the press release.
“I am thrilled to have an opportunity to help the Count Basie Theatre work toward fulfilling its recently updated strategic plan, and work toward finishing the theater’s restoration.”
Historic preservation is one thing that newcomer Robertson and former CEO Saisselin seem to value as a way for such facilities to evolve alongside the communities they reside in.
“a place like the Count Basie is what distinguishes Monmouth County from everywhere else. You take away a place like the Count Basie Theatre and we’re just another town full of strip malls,” said Saisselin.
“Things like the Basie here or the Stephen Crane house in Asbury Park are what make our individual communities unique and worthy of being visited and cool places to hang out.”