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Playing the part for 10 years

PRINCETON — Anniversaries are meant to be celebrated, and that’s just what the Festival 56 theater group is planning to do this weekend.

As a kick-off to its 10th season, the Festival 56 theater group has announced a weekend of special events, with those events featuring Broadway performer Robert Petkoff, formerly of Princeton.

On Thursday, Festival 56 co-founder and Executive Artistic Director Dexter Brigham said when the theater group started looking at ways to celebrate its 10th season, the group wanted to have someone who is very successful in show business and who represents the values of Festival 56, with that goal personified in Robert Petkoff. A graduate of Princeton High School, Petkoff launched his professional career in Shakespeare and then moved into musicals. The way he balances musical theater with the great classical theater represents the values of Festival 56 perfectly, Brigham said.

On Friday evening, Petkoff will be the guest of honor at a private reception, followed by an anniversary cabaret for the public at 7:30 p.m. at the Grace Performing Arts Center, at 316 S. Main St. in Princeton.

On Saturday evening, Petkoff will be the guest of honor again at an anniversary celebration dinner at 6 p.m. at A Hundred Acres Orchard and Market, two miles west of Princeton off Route 6. The evening will include drinks, a four-course catered dinner, music, speeches and toasts, and an on-stage conversation between Brigham and Petkoff.

In an interview last week, Brigham reminisced about the journey which has been Festival 56, from its start in 2004 as a partnership between the Princeton Theater Group and The November Ten, a New York-based theater company started by Brigham. Since that time, there have been some changes during the past 10 seasons, he said.

The Grace Performing Arts Center is probably the one of the most visible changes with Festival 56 opening the Grace Performing Arts Center as its first dedicated space in 2007, Brigham said. The number of patrons has grown from that first season of about 2,000 theater-goers to where now each season brings in more than 8,000 people with about 40 percent of those people living outside the Princeton area, he added.

As the reputation of Festival 56 has grown through the years, so has the community support in terms of donors and grants. As resources and tools have grown, the Festival 56 team has challenged itself consistently to use those resources and tools in an artistically responsible way, he said.

However, there are some things about Festival 56 which haven’t changed through the years, Brigham said.

“Where we haven’t changed is the reason why we do what we do, which is to put on great shows for the community,” Brigham said. “And our work ethic is the same, an incredibly hard work ethic that remains the same as it was in our first season.”

Looking ahead to the next 10 years for Festival 56, Brigham said he’d like to see Festival 56 have a dedicated space for all its productions. In these first 10 years, the theater group has used the Princeton High School auditorium, Soldiers and Sailors Park and the Grace Performing Arts Center for its productions.

But regardless of the changes and growth which the next 10 years may bring for Festival 56, the focus will remain the same, Brigham said.

“The most important thing will always remain the most important thing, and that is to bring live, professional theater to the Princeton community,” Brigham said.

But for now, as the 10th season of Festival 56 begins, it’s time to celebrate, to join together as a community in the celebration and to enjoy the journey of Festival 56, Brigham said.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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