RED BANK – The Vogel is about to open on Monmouth Street.
The Count Basie Center for the Arts unveiled its second creative venue in years during an announcement on Tuesday morning.
The Vogel will begin hosting shows for a limited audience of around 150 people from mid-October, with event details to be announced soon.
In a post-COVID-19 world, the nearly 20,000 square foot two-level venue will accommodate up to 800 standing spectators.
Unveiling the club in a capacity-restricted, socially distanced setting isn’t ideal, but it is a financial necessity, said Adam Philipson, Basie’s chairman and chief executive.
“We have to do this for our own preservation, even if it’s not a very sustainable opportunity to open at this level,” Philipson said. “And then also, we kind of feel like it’s our responsibility. We have to help the public feel safe to come back and come in, I should say.
Closed by the COVID-19 pandemic since March 12, the Basie had lost almost a million dollars a month in August, Philipson told Asbury Park Press this summer. “The reality is that the pandemic has left the Basie in dire straits,” he said.
For now, performances at Vogel will be seated, with tables for two, four or six guests spaced 6 feet apart. The first row of tables will be 12 feet from the performers.
Food and drink must be ordered at guest tables and attendees must be masked at all times, except when eating or drinking.
Contribution of celebrities: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert donate $100,000 to NJ Arts
Guests will have their temperature taken at the door, and anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or more will be refused entry and refunded. Customers should practice social distancing and will be required to remain seated at their assigned table unless leaving or using the restroom.
The Basie is working with the Hackensack Meridian Health Reopening Assistance Program to create a safe experience for employees and attendees. Putting the finishing touches on The Vogel during the pandemic has helped better prepare the Basie for the future, Philipson said.
“The good news is pretty much anything new at this point has certain protocols in place for a higher standard of air quality and so on,” he said. “But having said that, God forbid, we are certainly ready.”
The Vogel is named after Colts Neck philanthropists Anne and Sheldon Vogel, acknowledging their support for the Basie. Sheldon Vogel was the longtime controller and chief financial officer of Atlantic Records at a time when the label’s roster included Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Manhattan Transfer and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
The new Monmouth Street site is part of an ambitious program, which has been going on for years, $28 million expansion of the Count Basie Center for the Arts.
First announced in October 2015, the expansion more than doubles the size of Basie.
Support for the arts: New Fund Throws Lifeline to NJ Theatres, Museums and Cultural Institutions
The Jay and Linda Grunin Arts and Education Building west of the current theater includes The Vogel and five new classrooms and rehearsal spaces for the Count Basie Center Academy of the Arts. The building is topped by the Rock ‘n’ Rohl Rooftop Lounge, named after campaign donors Mark and Denise Rohl.
East of the original theatre, originally opened as Walter Reade’s Carlton Theater in 1926.
Tuesday’s announcement is Basie’s latest move in her ongoing mission to expand arts and education throughout the region.
The center confirmed on September 8 that it had taken over operations from the former Bow Tie Cinemas on White Street, which is due to reopen as two-screen Basie Center cinemas in October.
This summer and fall, the Basie has also remained busy presenting drive-in concerts at Monmouth Park in Oceanport and socially distanced alfresco supper club-style performances at the Hippodrome’s Blu Grotto Ristorante.
“There’s so much we can do,” said Jeremy Grunin, chairman of the board of the Count Basie Center for the Arts. “We believe Basie can be a brand way beyond Monmouth and Ocean County and really something that helps lead the industry across the country, and that’s what we’re looking to do as we let’s progress.”
Fans can expect announcements for upcoming shows at The Vogel soon.
“Any good news right now seems to be faced with harsh reality, so we can’t really feel anything but celebratory,” Philipson said. “But I think in general, just feeling like we’re able to open this place that we’ve been waiting for years to announce to the public. We’ve kept it under wraps as long as we’ve finalized all of our strategy and we had to pivot, probably in the last five, six months. … We weren’t ready to start October, but the governor gave us that opportunity.
Paralyzed by the pandemic: ShowRoom Cinemas is closing theaters in Asbury Park and Bradley Beach
Tuesday’s news comes at a difficult time for arts institutions across the country, including the Basie.
The landmark was released on September 22 with the Basie Recovery Fund, with a goal of $2 million with patron contributions to match dollar-for-dollar thanks to Basie’s board of directors. (For more information on the campaign, visit thebasie.org/recovery.)
Grunin, announced as chairman of Basie’s board on Sept. 17, explained his and Philipson’s long-term vision for the historic complex.
“We believe the arts are much more than what happens within the four walls of the theatre,” Grunin said. “We work hard on educational initiatives where we work with Monmouth and Ocean County school districts to use the arts in their educational strategies. We want to make sure that we provide access to all of our communities to promise.
“We don’t want to make this an exclusive (or) only elitist business, so that’s very important because you know we’re in a time where it’s been an unfortunate time. But it’s been an eye opener for so many people. .that really, we need to close the gap between social justice and racial justice, and so that’s something important for the Basie and we think the arts can be a huge bridge in that regard.”
Alex Biese has been writing about local and national art, entertainment, culture and current affairs for over 15 years.