Theatre History

A History of The Mayo Performing Arts Center and Key Historical Milestones

The Mayo Performing Arts Center, a 501(c) (3) nonprofit performing arts 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.

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. 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, 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.

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. 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. The upstairs balcony was renovated in 2011, with new restrooms, Art Gallery space and concessions. 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 May 2011, the Theatre officially changed its name to Mayo Performing Arts Center, completing a three-year transition.

In July 2016, the Theatre earned the distinction of Outstanding Historic Theatre by the League of Historic American Theatres.

Browse a History Slideshow of milestsones from 1937-1994:

The History of MPAC Part I: 1937 - 1994

See below for some of the highlights of our 23 year history, 1994 onward:

  • September 1994: The Community Theatre reopens with a sold out performance by the Kirov Orchestra of St. Petersburg conducted by Valery Gergiev.

  • January 1995: The South Street Theatre Company, a non-profit organization, was formed to purchase and renovate the theatre.

  • June 1996: The South Street Theater Company aka The Community Theatre begins its first full year of operation with a $700,000 operating budget.

  • 1996-1997: Economic impact study, conducted by firm of Zeigler & Lanier, reported that The Community Theatre had an economic impact of $1.5 million.

  • 1997-2000: Capital Campaign is undertaken to create funding for a comprehensive refurbishing and upgrade of the theatre. $7.5 million dollars is raised to completely refurbish the auditorium, lobby areas, restrooms, plaza entrance and a portion of the façade.

  • 2000: Theatre membership numbers 512; number of Community Theatre presentations is 67; total paid attendance is 42,668.

  • Spring 2004: The Community Theatre launches 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.

  • September 29, 2004: The Community Theatre celebrates its 10th anniversary and opens the season with a tribute to the Kirov Orchestra’s memorable 1994 performance.

  • March 2005: Theatre launches 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.

  •  May 2005: Theatre membership numbers 750; number of Community Theatre presentations is 98; total paid attendance is 73,733.

  • October 2005: Box office moves to Theatre lobby and other front of house upgrades are made.

  • October 2005: Tony Bennett officially opens the 2005-2006 season and performs to a sold out crowd.

  • Fall 2006: The theatre launches fall performing arts workshop focusing on Drama/Improvisation with a resident artist onsite at the Frelinghuysen School in Morristown, NJ for students of Neighborhood House, a Morris County-based nonprofit organization that provides recreational, educational, cultural and social service programs to underprivileged families in the community with special emphasis on pre-school, school age children and parents.

  • Winter 2006: Economic Impact Study conducted by T.J. Spitznas & Associates during the fiscal year ending in June 2005 reported that The Community Theatre's total economic impact on the County was approximately $6 million.

  • March 2006: Tickets sales for Community Theatre presentations break $2 million barrier for the first time.

  • June 12, 2006: A groundbreaking ceremony attended by over 150 invited guests is held to mark The Community Theatre’s official beginning of the Theatre’s expansion project. Concurrently, the Theatre announces its $7 million Setting the Stage Capital Campaign to finance the project.

  • September 2006: The Performing Arts School launches the audition-only Performing Arts Company. This group of teens volunteers to perform for local non-profits for free.

  • November 2006: Using a temporary stage as construction continues, The Community Theatre opens its 2006-2007 season with a sold out performance by Michael Feinstein and Linda Eder. The next day, it is followed up by a sold out performance by Whoopi Goldberg. Theatre enhancements include new curtains along the sidewalls to enhance the Theatre’s sound. Using a temporary stage, only two events are cancelled due to size restrictions.

  • June 2007: The Education Department sponsors first “Music Student of the Month” end-of-season recital. Music students from area schools honored by the Theatre throughout 2006-2007 were invited to perform on stage to the general public

  • June 2007: The Community Theatre announces that its Board of Trustees has voted change the name of the venue to Mayo Center for the Performing Arts, after Bud Mayo, its Board Chairman, for his long service to the Theatre.

  • September 2007 : Liza Minnelli breaks in the newly expanded stagehouse and opens the 2007-2008 season on September 28.

  • Jan-March 2008 : The Capital Campaign hits $6.3 million. The Starlight Room is introduced at a Capital Campaign Reception in January. The Administrative staff moves into new offices in the Pine Street Center in February.

  • March 2008 : The Community Theatre announces first ever summer season.

  • May 2008 : Historian John T. Cunningham publishes an update of Miracle on South Street, a history of the Theatre.

  • June 2008: The Brooklyn Reunion Doo-Wop Show is the first event of the Summer Season. With temperatures hovering around 100 degrees outside, the new air conditioning proves worthwhile!

  • June 2008: Ticket sales for 2007-2008 season top $3.5 million, a million dollar increase over the previous year. Membership jumps 25% over the previous year.  Fifteen summer concerts are scheduled between June and August.

  • June 2008 : Robert Mulholland is named Chairman of the Board of Trustees, replacing Bud Mayo, whose term expired.

  • August 2008: Alexander Slobodyanik, one of the instrument individuals behind the revival of The Community Theatre, passes away.

  • September 2008: The Starlight Room hosts its first performance, a one man comedy show by Brad Zimmerman

  • October 2008: Aretha Franklin christens the 2008-2009 season.

  • October 2008: The Starlight Room begins use as a reception space for sponsors and members

  • November 2008: Artist Green Room and catering facility is completed on the second floor of the Pine Street Center

  • February 2009: The Performing Arts Education Studios open on the second floor of the Pine Street Center.

  • July 2009: Performing Arts School begins summer workshops

  • October 2009: 15th Anniversary season officially gets underway with a performance by Linda Eder

  • March 2010: Theatre honors Randolph High School student Sarah Wrigley as winner of first ever student art contest -- her artwork appears on the Theatre's program book

  • March 2010: Starlight Room is used as performance space for SpeakEasy, an evening of Long-form storytelling. It will later be used for an opera recital, as well as for tapings of WDHA's "All Mixed Up"

  • May 2010: Theatre announces completion of $7 million Capital Campaign.

  • July 2010: Theatre launches first of four Music Without Borders free summer outdoor concerts, in association with Arts Council of the Morris Area.

  • September 2010: Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone perform Opening Night concert for 16th season.

  • September 2010: Construction begins on Upstairs Balcony Renovations, scheduled to be completed in Spring 2011. Renovations include expansion of restroom facilities, atrium lobby and new Art Upstairs Gallery space.

  • November 2010: Theatre joins with Morristown Partnership, Arts Council of the Morris Area and Morris County Alliance for Tourism to hold the "Walking Tour of Windows" holiday window display contest from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

  • December 2010: New Jersey Ballet's 40th Anniversary Nutcracker is performed for 10 performances.

  • February 2011: Mayo Center serves as Region 4 host of New Jersey Poetry Out Loud competition, featuring over a dozen high school students in this national oral poetry recitation contest.

  • April 2011: Upstairs balcony renovations are completed. The new lobby space features a refurbished Art Gallery, additional restrooms and upgraded concessions

  • May 2011: The Community Theatre at Mayo Center for the Performing Arts changes name to Mayo Performing Arts Center and unveils a new logo.

  • May 2011: Ticket sales surpass $6 million.

  • May 2011: According to an Economic Impact Calculator created by Americans for the Arts, MPAC’s impact on the region is $12.5 million.

  • June 2011: Joseph M. Goryeb is named Chairman of the Board of Trustees, replacing Robert Mulholland, whose term expired.

  • October 2011: Mayo Performing Arts Center kicks off 17th season with a sold out performance by Diana Ross.

  • January 2012: Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons sell out three consecutive nights – the first time an individual artist has sold out three nights in a row.

  • February 2012: MPAC debuts The Starlight Series, a series of intimate performances in The Starlight Room, and on stage (with audience seated on stage), featuring chamber music, storytelling, one-person drama, jazz and more.

  • April 2012: Allison Larena, President and CEO of MPAC, is named Outstanding Arts Advocate 2012 by the Arts Council of the Morris Area.

  • May 2012: MPAC unveils plans for front of theatre renovation to begin in the summer of 2012 which will include an expanded box office, additional restrooms, and elevator and new marquee.

  • June 2012: Former Beatle Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band perform on stage in MPAC’s season ending concert to a sold out crowd.

  • August 2012: According to an Economic Impact Calculator created by Americans for the Arts, MPAC’s impact on the region is $14 million.

  • September 2012: Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno visits MPAC as one of her stops on her “Arts Means Business” tour, one of only four arts organizations across the state that she visits, to learn about the economic impact of MPAC on the surrounding community.

  • October 2012: MPAC’s 18th season begins with a performance by Broadway star Bernadette Peters. A proclamation from Governor Chris Christie recognizes the Theatre on its 75th anniversary.

  • November 2012: After Hurricane Sandy disrupts theatre operations and causes cancellation of four performances and the Starlight Ball, the Theatre reopens with a performance by former Supertramp lead singer Roger Hodgson. The Theatre and its patrons raise over $5000 for Sandy relief efforts throughout the month.

  • December 23, 2012: The Theatre celebrates the 75th anniversary of its opening, December 23, 1937. Mayor Timothy Dougherty of Morristown declares December 23, Mayo Performing Arts Center Day

  • January 2013: MPAC education department launches new “School Partnership” collaboration with the Morris Educational Foundation and the Morris School District that aims to improve literacy scores and language arts skills through use of the performing arts.

  • May 2013: MPAC stages Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, MPAC’s first staged production, featuring a cast of 75 youths.

  • June 2013: Two sold out Harry Connick, Jr. concerts complete MPAC's 18th season, as ticket sales top $7 million

  • June 2013: Renovations to the front of the Theatre begin

  • July 2013: New Electronic marquee is installed.

  • October 2013: MPAC's 19th season begins with a performance by Natalie Cole. The new box office opens, as well as the theatre's expanded bathrooms.

  • January 2014: Elevator to the upstairs lobby opens.

  • January 2014: MPAC begins a pilot educational outreach program with Paterson schools and St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, provding arts education to a school district that has none.

  • May 2014: Hairspray, MPAC's second youth musical, features over 80 performers with ove 3,500 spectators.

  • June 2014: MPAC concludes its most successful year yet with excess of over $8 million in ticket sales.

  • September 2014: MPAC's 20th anniversary season kicks off with a sold out performance by Brian Stokes Mitchell and Kelli O'Hara

  • September 2014: MPAC cuts ribbon on the completion of the Main Lobby Building Project, a $2 million renovation that includes a digital marquee, new box office, upgraded bathrooms, elevator and more. The ribbon cutting is held on Sept. 29, 2014, 20 years to the day the Theatre first opened. The event features a song written by Tony-nominated composer Keith Herrmann, "It Feels Like Home," specifically written for the event.

  • January 2015: Theatre celebrates 20th anniversary as Valery Gergiev returns to perform for the first time since 1994.

  • May 2015: Third annual youth musical, Les Miserables, is staged

  • Fall 2015: According to the Americans for the Arts Economic Prosperity Calculator IV, MPAC’s economic impact is now over $15 million

  • September 2015: Season 21 kicks off with a performance by Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth

  • November 2015: Six students from MPAC’s Performing Arts School are among the 30 nationwide selected to participate in Broadway at The White House, a day-long seminar conducted by Broadway professionals and hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. A TV special of the day’s events airs on TLC network on Thanksgiving night.

  • February 2016: Allison Larena, President and CEO, is named one of NJ’s 50 Leading Female Executives by NJBIZ

  • June 2016: Mary Poppins, MPAC’s fourth spring production draws a record audience of over 4,500 patrons

  • July 2016: MPAC is named 2016 Outstanding Historic Theatre by the League of Historic American Theatres at its annual conference in Chicago.

  • Summer 2016: Theatre introduces use of “sippy cups” to allow drinks in Theatre

  • September 2016: Kristin Chenoweth returns to open MPAC season 22 with two sold out performances

  • November 2016: Performing Arts Company performs on Broadway with Kristin Chenoweth and at the Dramatists Guild Fundraising event in Manhattan in front of the likes of Steven Sondheim.

  • January 2017: MPAC launches The Miracle Project, a fully inclusive music and theatre program serving children and adults with autism and other special needs. Two classes are held

  • February 2017: MPAC holds its first autism friendly performance in Theatre

  • May 2017: MPAC, along with Jockey Hollow Club, St. Peter’s Church, The Presbyterian Church and Morristown Library, form the Morristown Cultural District.

  • June 2017: MPAC’s fifth spring production is West Side Story

  • June 2017: Education Director Cathy Roy named “Woman Who Shines” by Morris County Chamber of Commerce.

  • June 2017: Tickets sales set a new record high of $8.9 million

  • August 2017: New Jersey Theatre Alliance moves into the newly acquired “Theatre Annex,” the former Junior League building on King Street.

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