Craig Sumberg, 57, is the new executive director of the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC). He moved east after heading the Fox Tucson Theater in Arizona for 11 years. He brings to the performing arts a skillset he acquired as a professional in several Jewish organizations and he plans to continue this blend of interests at SOPAC.
“I have a Jewish background that means a lot to me and I believe a performing arts center that includes Jewish performers is a better performing arts center,” he told NJJN in a telephone interview.
He served as executive director of the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, a revitalized Washington, D.C., synagogue built in 1908 that functioned as a community center and as a part-time house of prayer. There, he oversaw a programming mix of Jewish culture and entertainment.
“I was involved with a lot of Jewish non-profits with activist causes I believed in, and, with such non-profits, it was a normal transition from legal to fund-raising to an executive position,” Sumberg said. He said that breadth of experience aided his transition to managing entertainment venues.
Some of the Jewish organizations he worked for include the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy, and PANIM, a non-profit which supports Israel.
After residing in the district for several years, Sumberg relocated to Tucson and worked from 2007-2009 as senior vice president for the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona before accepting the position at the Fox Tucson Theatre. He also served as president of Tucson’s Congregation Beit Simcha, a synagogue which was formed in 2018.
“It was a new congregation and asked for my help,” said Sumberg. “I was glad to offer what I could.”
The Fox Tucson Theater has a 1,200-person capacity, compared to just 439 at SOPAC. Yet Sumberg considers SOPAC’s smaller venue as a selling point rather than a weakness in an “ultra-competitive market.”
“With our venue, every seat is close to the performers,” he said. “We can offer something a patron doesn’t have access to in bigger venues.”
SOPAC collaborates with nearby Seton Hall University, providing the stage for the college’s Arts Council productions. “I’m looking forward to strengthening that community partnership,” said Sumberg.
The pull of family was one of the reasons he decided to accept a position on the East Coast and in New Jersey.
“My son, Jordan, is in his last two years of high school in New York, and I wanted to be near him,” said Sumberg. “I also have always been attracted to this area and what a venue like this, near New York City — and a train station — can offer patrons.”
A returning Manhattan resident — Sumberg lived there in the 1990s — he often takes New Jersey Transit to the South Orange Train Station across the street from SOPAC.
Sumberg told NJJN he’s looking forward to an upcoming performance by David Broza, one of his favorite Jewish artists. In his 40 years of performance, Broza has mastered a number of musical genres from flamenco to rock ’n’ roll and singing in Hebrew, Spanish, English, and Arabic.
“David is exciting on stage,” said Sumberg. “I had him several times in Tucson and the audiences love him. Now he will appear for us here, and I can’t wait to have him in South Orange.” Broza is scheduled to perform at SOPAC on Saturday, March 21.
“I want to bring my own experience and skills to bear in making SOPAC an even more renowned and respected venue,” he said of the center, which opened in 2006.
“Craig Sumberg has great leadership and fund-raising skills, along with a background in presenting artistic performances we felt was in sync with SOPAC and the South Orange-Maplewood community,” said SOPAC board chairman Paul Bartick in a prepared statement. “We are delighted to welcome him to SOPAC and are confident in his ability to lead this organization to the next level.”
Sumberg received a law degree from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia. He replaces acting executive director Dee Billia, who returned to her previous position as SOPAC’s director of external relations.