After 30 years in the Los Angeles arts scene, Bill Sterritt needed a change. Last year, he stumbled upon an unused space, small but full of potential, in the Cape May Airport.
“Los Angeles is a young man’s town,” says Sterritt, 65, an award-winning playwright with a Master of Fine Arts from Carnegie Mellon. Sterritt had spent years in L.A. penning works for stage and screen, running his own theater company SPQR Stage and helming a space called Studio Stage that operated as a performance center, pop-up shop, seminar venue and more. But, it was time for a change, so Sterritt and his wife returned to his hometown of Cape May and began looking for a space that could work similarly to Studio Stage.
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“It was a theater, but not quite,” Sterritt reminisces, comparing Studio Stage to his new venture at the Cape May Airport called Aerodrome. “Everything moved in my old place. Everything moves here.”
The Aerodrome officially opened in July of last year. It’s a fully functional, albeit tiny, performance space that Sterritt is adamant can be used for so much more than theater.
“My biggest challenge is to have people view it as not just a theater. We’ve had trivia tournaments in there and a couple of other events. It’s a multipurpose space,” he assures.
The Aerodrome will, however, be put to use as a theatrical performance venue Friday through Sunday, May 18 to 20, when the Cape May Airport will be host to a fringe festival. Fringe is a stripped down, experimental form of theater, with festivals held to honor it all over the world, from Edinburgh to Los Angeles to Philadelphia, and even locally in Hammonton. Sterritt himself has participated in fringe festivals in Hollywood, San Diego and New York.
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“Fringe is rudimentary,” he says. “What you see is what you get. Everyone’s sharing the same light plot and sound system, so it’s very stripped down … It’s tough when, as a playwright, you go to New York and most of the stuff (being produced) has been there for years. The little guys who are more edgy writers get shut out because it’s not across-the-board kind of stuff. People need their work to be seen, and it only helps if audiences are being exposed to newer work. They get to test their work before an audience.”
Playwrights like Randi Simon Lupo, FJ Hartland and Chase Jackson will have fringe productions performed at the festival. But theater isn’t the only form of show being featured over the three-day event. A second stage will be set up for local and regional musicians and comedians, with Zak La Torre, Roy Baker, Tania Lewis and more set to appear. Meanwhile, Harpoons oy the Bay will have a beer garden set up to keep spirits high.
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And though fringe festivals are theatrical by nature, Sterritt has no qualms about folks showing up just for the beer and music.
“They may come out for the music and discover the world of theater,” says Sterritt, who fell in love with theater after a college French professor took him to see a play. “It’s a good mix, I feel. You come for one thing but you might stay for another. How can you lose?”
With the reopening of the Gateway Playhouse in Somers Point and Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, the popularity of the fringe festival in Hammonton and the continued success of the Eagle Theatre and other small theaters up and down our coast, Sterritt’s Aerodrome is another piece of the puzzle in the burgeoning performance arts scene sweeping South Jersey.
“I did theater in Cape May in the ’70s, and we were a stand-alone operation then. But I saw a lot of my friends who had artistic bends come back. I feel like the Cape May area is on the verge of being an arts colony,” he muses. “That’s what drew me back here. Fringe is a part of that. It’s a good opportunity to see a lot of work.”