Newport Theater Arts Center stage renamed in honor of Rae Cohen, Guide of Light

By Eric Marchese | NB Indy Special

Rae Cohen played a key role in establishing the Newport Theater Arts Center in 1979. She was appointed chair of the board when NTAC opened and served as the company’s beacon for nearly four decades.

So the current board and staff felt it was only fitting that the venue rename its stage the Rae A. Cohen Theater to honor Cohen for exceeding the call of duty – and love of theater – time and time again. many times since the inception of NTAC. until she stepped down as leader 37 years later.

The open house-style event held at the Cliff Drive site on June 26 was billed as NTAC’s annual customer appreciation night, ostensibly held to thank members of the public whose continued support keeps the company’s doors open and to announce the programming of plays for the 2022-2023 season. season.

But NTAC board members, support staff and others designed Sunday’s event to publicly announce the name change and stage dedication — but as a surprise to unsuspecting Cohen. The guest of honor was present, surrounded by his family and friends, each of whom had closely watched the news and the fact that the new name would be unveiled this afternoon.

About 100 NTAC patrons and staff met at the catered evening before meeting in the theater lobby. Michelle Bendetti introduced herself, saying that calling herself the current chair of the board “seems so strange since the lovely Rae Cohen was chair for 37 years and one of the founding members”, then thanking “all of you – patrons , board members, performers, back of the house – for your support, especially over the past two years.

Bendetti gestured to the banner affixed to the paneling above the theater entrance. The sign, strewn with numerous errors, read “Newpot Theater Arts Center. Thank you for your sharing. The typographical errors were deliberate, providing an excuse to remove the banner.

Feigning embarrassment, Bendetti excused himself, then asked for a hand to remove the strip of fabric from the wall, which brought the big reveal: the words RAE A. COHEN THEATER in capital letters above the gate.

Stan and Rae Cohen at the Rae Cohen Theater sign unveiling / Photo by Arietta Goshtasby, Newport Theater Arts Center

As the prolonged applause died down, Bendetti said, “Now you know the second, but most important reason why you are here today. Rae is an original board member. She was president for 37 years. And now and forever, we have the Rae A. Cohen Theater.

Board members Andrew Kelley and Bob Fetest were asked to say a few words.

“Today we honor a ‘GOAT,'” Kelley said. “Not a real ‘goat,’ but an all-time greatest. Rae’s been a part of this place since its inception. That’s 43 years. At the slightest mention of NTAC, people will be like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’ is Rae Cohen’s Theater”. Now it really is… We thank you, Rae, for your leadership, dedication and friendship. On behalf of your family, friends, past and current board members, administration and your patrons, we say congratulations, Rae. We love you.”

Speaking off the cuff, actor-director Fetes said he was “lucky enough to have come to the theater in 2007” to audition for an upcoming production. “From the back of the theater I heard this gravelly voice say, ‘Weren’t you in ‘Enchanted April’ at the Long Beach Playhouse?” I knew right away that Rae was a special person.

Fetes noted that naming the performance space after Cohen was long overdue and “should have happened many years ago. And so, raise your glass to Rae and all the patrons of the past 40 years.

As all eyes turned to her, Cohen, still surprised, waved at her husband Stan, saying, “He said I’ve been married to this theater for 40 years. Many evenings, at dinner time, I would not be at home, but here. Stan would call me about dinner and I’d say, ‘You’ll have to fend for yourself. Make your own dinner”.

Not that either of them care. Rae has always enjoyed being immersed in the acting world, and Stan radiates pride for her as brightly today as he has in decades past.

Choking, Cohen concluded by saying that his involvement with NTAC “has been the most enjoyable journey. It’s enriched my life. I can’t count all the friends I’ve made. It’s been joyful.

Brian Page first met Cohen in 2005, when he designed the sound for his first NTAC show. He said what drove him to work on nearly 50 NTAC shows since was that Cohen had “an unconditional desire to do quality theater.”

Page said Cohen cultivates and maintains close relationships with clients, showing genuine interest in and caring about them not just as theatergoers, but as people. Several of those interviewed for this article say that Cohen knows each client by name, knows them well, and considers each a valued friend.

Page noted that Cohen’s warmth and support isn’t just limited to clients: “She’s the same with the cast and production staff. She makes them feel wonderful, which it was and is a special place to work. She is a blessing to this theater and to all of us.

Rae Cohen of the Newport Theater Arts Center in 2011 / Photo by Roger Bloom ©

LATERAL BAR: In tribute to Rae Cohen’s lifelong devotion to NTAC

Upon NTAC’s renaming and rededication of the stage on June 26, no one was at a loss for words to describe what Rae Cohen meant to the theater company. Here are some notable comments:

“This theater wouldn’t be here without Rae. NTAC is one of the few community theaters that has always been in the dark, all thanks to Rae’s work. Thanks to Rae, we’ve been able to survive the pandemic, stay in the dark, and not shut down – so I can’t say enough about her. – Kathi Cervantes, box office manager

“I have worked at the Newport Theater Arts Center for about 10 years now and have found Rae to be one of the nicest producers around. She is discerning about the plays selected but never judgmental. She is honest with her directors but never mean. She is always supportive of shows, and theater is her baby. It shows in her love and admiration for actors, directors, board members, and everyone involved. – Sharyn Case, director

“She is truly the heart and spirit of this theater and has been for nearly 40 years. It is truly her vision that has kept this place going. So many small theaters have come and gone during this time, and with Rae here, there was no doubt NTAC would be there. I’m so glad they’re honoring her here today. – Harriet Whitmyer, comedienne

“Since I did my first show here, ‘House of Blue Leaves’, she has been so kind and generous to me, always so welcoming – not just to me but to everyone. She deserves this honor more than anyone. We, actors and all community theater owe him a lot – Roxanne Matilde, actress

“Rae is just a joy to work with – always very helpful and encouraging. She wanted, and did, cultivate not just good but great theatre. She has such pure love for our clients. She provided them with pleasure and s “is also concerned about their safety. There aren’t five theaters in Orange County that have as many customers as NTAC. – sound designer Brian Page

“She brought this theater back from the brink. She came on board as a volunteer and changed everything. – board member and director Bob Fetes

“The first time Mitch (Nunn, her husband) and I worked here was on ‘The White Arrow’ in 1984, so Rae always said we were two of her first theater friends who kept coming back to the NTAC.” – Jane Nunn, actress

NTAC’s upcoming season: “Doubt” (Sept. 16-Oct. 9); “Drop Dead” (November 18-December 13); “Murder Among Friends” (January 27-February 19); “Dinner with friends” (March 31-April 23); and “Guys and Dolls” (June 2-25). Visit www.NTAConline.com.

Comments are closed.