The Community Theatre was built in 1937 and was once the crown jewel of Walter Reade’s chain of movie theatres in New Jersey. Its success mirrored the love affair between America and movies during Hollywood’s Golden Age. It officially opened on December 23, 1937, with the showing of the movie Nothing Sacred. The Community Theatre was Morristown’s first first-run movie theatre and remained at the center of Morristown entertainment for four decades.
By the 1980s, however, the Theatre had fallen into disrepair and sat idle and hulking for nearly a decade. Things changed in 1994 when an army of tireless volunteers, armed with a sense of civic pride and limitless elbow grease pulled together and saved the Theatre from its uncertain fate.
On September 29, 1994, after months of toil, the Theatre reopened as a performing arts center with a gala performance featuring the Kirov Orchestra of Saint Petersburg and Morristown resident and renowned pianist, Alexander Slobodyanik. Many volunteers openly wept as the Theatre’s renaissance finally came to fruition.
In January, 1995, the South Street Theatre Company, a non-profit organization, was formed to purchase and renovate the theatre. Over the next several years, the level of programming increased. From 1997-2000, a capital campaign was undertaken to create funding for a comprehensive refurbishing and upgrade of the theatre. $7.5 million dollars was raised to completely refurbish the auditorium, lobby areas, restrooms, plaza entrance and a portion of the façade. In 2004, The Community Theatre launched Art Upstairs gallery, a co-initiative with Center for Visual Arts (now Visual Arts Center of New Jersey) to display artwork of New Jersey artists in upstairs lobby. In March 2005, it launched two Performing Arts School workshops as a precursor to the launch of an official school in September 2005, which now educates over 650 students (2016) in musical theatre and acting.
In 2008, the Theatre completed its four year, $7 million “Setting the Stage” capital campaign, which allowed for major renovations including an orchestra pit, a state of the art fly-rail system, new dressing rooms and central air conditioning, which allows for year round programming. Additionally, the capital campaign led to the completion of the Theatre’s suite of education studios, which allows the Theatre to offer performing arts education classes to both children and adults. In May 2011, the Theatre officially changed its name to Mayo Performing Arts Center, completing a three-year transition. In 2014, renovations to the front of house were completed, which included a digital marquee, new box office, elevator to balcony level, upgraded and expanded restrooms and nor bar and concessions stands. The Starlight Room was renovated in 2016. In July 2016, the Theatre earned the distinction of Outstanding Historic Theatre by the League of Historic American Theatres.
Now in its 23rd season, the Mayo Performing Arts Center has become one of New Jersey’s preeminent arts and cultural organizations and now hosts more than 200 performances to more than 200,000 patrons every year.
Mayo Performing Arts Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, presents a wide range of programs that entertain, enrich, and educate the diverse population of the region and enhance the economic vitality of Northern New Jersey.