A New Era of Theatre Has Begun at Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center

Carmen KhanCarmen Khan (Submitted Image)

WEST CHESTER, PA — Curtains up in Chester County and the Philadelphia suburbs. Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center has announced the line-up for its first ever self-produced theatre season, and the company’s first under the leadership of new Artistic Director Carmen Khan. This historic first season of professional theatre in downtown West Chester begins with William Gibson’s joyful play, The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod The Nut, & The Slaughter Of 12 Hit Carols In A Pear Tree, opening  just in time for the holidays and running November 30 to December 23, 2022. The new year launches with Katori Hall’s spellbinding reimagination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final hours in an Olivier Award-winning Best New Play, The Mountaintop, running February 1 to February 26, 2023. The season concludes in the spring with a family-friendly finale as audiences experience a classic story through Laura Eason’s adaptation of Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer running April 19 to May 7, 2023.

As a performing arts organization that now offers a full theatre season as well as music, dance, comedy and film series, Uptown has the opportunity to offer a unique ticket offering – a Theatre Society Subscription. The subscription bundles a theatre ticket package with exclusive perks including advance access to the best seats in the house, the same seats for every play, waived ticket fees, and advance pre-sales to a year-round calendar of music, a new Jazz Series, a Dance Series, stand-up and improv comedy, film presentations, and special events on both the A. Roy Smith MainStage and in the Univest Cabaret. Theatre Society Subscription packages start at $105. Audiences may choose Preview, Opening Night, and various weekday or weekend performances. Theatre Society Subscriptions are now open to current and new Friends of Uptown, a popular membership program that adds additional perks, including dining discounts. Subscription packages will open to the general public on Sept. 1, 2022.  Single tickets go on sale Oct. 1, 2022.

Starting this fall, suburban audiences will find a new professional theatre program in West Chester just in time for the 2022-2023 theatre season. Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center introduces their first-ever Artistic Director, Carmen Khan, who is a West Chester local and well-known on the regional theatre scene. She brings deep knowledge and vision as the Founder and former Artistic/Executive Director of Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater. Her arrival to Uptown comes at an exciting time of transformation and growth as the organization builds to realize its mission of becoming one of the region’s premiere performing arts centers. With Khan’s distinct experience, Uptown is poised to become Chester County’s most exciting new destination for theatre and other performing arts.

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“We aspire to expand,” said Khan. “We want our audience to leave every performance feeling the world is a little bigger place than when they came in; to expand the theatre’s reach and relevance and influence in the community; to expand West Chester’s sense of what is possible; what kind of a town we can be. I see Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center as a vibrant arts institution and a hub of community and culture for the region.”

She added, “For our inaugural theatre season here at Uptown, I was looking to share plays that are entertaining, imaginative, gripping, and playful. On a deeper level these plays offer profound hope for the human condition, and we hope they create connections, awareness and help us grow as global citizens. We are producing a season that will be exciting, thought provoking, and hilarious, with imaginative productions. Pure fun!”

For its first season, Uptown announces the following three shows:

The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod The Nut & The Slaughter Of 12 Hit Carols In A Pear Tree
By William Gibson
Directed by Dominic Scudera
November 30 to December 23, 2022
Opening Night, Saturday, December 3, 7:00pm

Created by William Gibson (The Miracle Worker), one of America’s major dramatists, this touching, funny and highly imaginative retelling of the Nativity story is presented from a fresh and richly creative point-of-view. The action follows a free-spirited Mary who had decided that men and marriage were not for her, a suddenly cautious Joseph who contends that he is too old for his intended, and a flustered boy-angel who directs each scene from a prompt book and can only manage to get the most strangled, bleating sounds from his trumpet. Enhanced by a talking tree, sheep and a donkey, along with traditional Christmas music, this wholly original theatre piece is both secular and sacred – often antic, but the spirit of reverence, joy, and the true significance of the occasion are never lost. “…a gift of love and hope to the world,” said the Syracuse Herald.  “Angelic…beguiling wit and humor…as likable as it is lively…” said Boston Herald-American.

“We wanted to offer a show during the holidays that was completely different from the traditional productions of A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker but has the same expansiveness and big heart of those classics.” said Khan. “This play has it all. It is funny, heartwarming, full of the music of Christmas we love and with a message of great hope.”

The Mountaintop
By Katori Hall
Directed by Ryan George
February 1 to February 26, 2023
Opening Night, Friday, February 3, 7:00pm

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On April 3, 1968, after delivering an impassioned speech on behalf of Memphis sanitation workers, an exhausted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. retires to room 306 at the Lorraine Motel. A wild storm has been raging outside, he’s run out of cigarettes, and he orders coffee from room service. When the beguiling chambermaid Camae arrives she brings with her strange and unexpected news that forces King to confront his destiny and his legacy. The Mountaintop, an Olivier Award winner for Best New Play, is a fictional reimagination of the evening of April 3, a poetic and gripping inspiration from Memphis-born playwright, journalist and actress, Katori Hall.

The Telegraph said, “…a beautiful and startling piece, beginning naturalistically before shifting gear into something magical, spiritual and touching.”

“The Mountaintop is an overwhelmingly powerful, gripping drama and its message is more important than ever,” said Khan. “I can’t wait for audiences to take this inspiring and hopeful journey with us this season.”

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Based on the novel by Mark Twain
Adapted by Laura Eason
Directed by Carmen Khan
April 19 to May 7, 2023
Opening Saturday April 21, 2023, 7:00pm

Based on the classic novel by Mark Twain, playwright and former Artistic Director of Lookingglass Theatre Company (Chicago), Laura Eason adapts the greatest summer adventure ever told into an imaginative and highly theatrical play. Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Becky Thatcher experience the thrill of mischief-making, the fickleness of first love, the cold shivers that linger after an adventure gone very wrong and the unbridled joy at discovering real buried treasure. For anyone who remembers the innocence of being a kid, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer celebrates all that is grand and glorious about childhood, and is also a poignant reminder of the loss of that innocence.  Said The New York Times,  “A near-perfect production…sassy, ingeniously staged and deeply affecting.”

“This play is like springtime – expansive and joyful, full of music and dance, and full of the thrill of childhood,” said Khan. “It’s a great draw for families and it’s an iconic American story, instantly recognizable by all.”

Uptown is planning on offering additional programming during The Mountaintop and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. These include: student matinees, guest speakers, partners, post-show talk-backs, invited writers for program notes, and more. Uptown’s first student matinee will happen during The Mountaintop.

As the performing arts center heads into its first theatre season, Khan brings the best of both worlds to her new position, with ties to the West Chester and Chester County communities, as well as to the regional arts scene. She has lived in West Chester for 32 years and raised her family in the borough. Khan commuted to Philadelphia where she founded and served as Artistic/Executive Director of the award-winning Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre. Since she founded the company in 1996, she has directed/produced over sixty productions of Shakespeare’s works. She also was the co-founder of The Laughing Stock Theatre, an all comedy theatre, and she was the Artistic Director of the Red Heel Theatre, which was devoted to the little known classics of the Jacobean age.

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In addition to being a director, Khan is an actor and voice-over artist and has appeared in over forty theatrical productions. She holds a Bachelor of Education from the University of London, England, and a Master of Fine Arts in Acting from The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. Khan is the co-author of a new edition of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, called “Macbeth Moment By Moment.”

As well as theatre, Uptown has something for everyone this fall in its intimate 327-seat MainStage theatre and 85 seat Cabaret. There is a robust line-up of music, including an extensive schedule of tributes to some of the most famous rock and roll artists in history, and a new Jazz Series. Uptown will announce a new Dance Series soon featuring some of the region’s most innovative dance companies. Plus audiences can expect comedy and film all year round. Stay tuned for all of these shows and series to be announced in coming weeks.

For more information about the season and everything happening at Uptown, visit https://uptownwestchester.org/.

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