The heart of another exciting theater season is upon us, and you can enjoy a great show without spending a small fortune on tickets, tolls, and parking. Our own community theater groups offer up top notch performances right here in Union County.

The Union County theater scene is woven into the fabric of our neighborhood traditions, with roots going back almost 100 years and perhaps more. The Cranford Dramatic Club and the Summit Playhouse Association have been going strong since 1919 and 1918 respectively, making them two of the oldest continuous community theater groups in the entire country. Among the relative newcomers, Linden's Mystic Vision Players has brightened the season since 1992 with favorite hits from Godspell and West Side Story to Cabaret and High School Musical.

With intimate venues and a focus on the art of acting, community theater connects us in a very personal way with beloved works of the stage. The close quarters can push the emotional impact of a hard-hitting drama right up to the surface. This year I attended M.PoWer's production of A Raisin in the Sun at the Plainfield YWCA. It's the story of people fighting for their dreams while clinging to the slim but powerful thread that holds them together. Being so near to the actors and seeing the passion in their faces was a life changing experience.

The cast featured our own Freeholder Rayland Van Blake, who along with his background in the financial industry is a successful actor, and that brings up something unique about community theater in Union County. Located close by one of the world's great cultural centers, we get first rate productions that attract seasoned professionals, talented amateurs, and rising stars from all over the region. Freeholder-elect Mohamed Jalloh and I recently enjoyed an outstanding neighborhood preview of selections from M.PoWer's new production of The Wiz.

For more information on community theater in Union County call the Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs at 908-522-2550, email, or see our online calendar at The calendar also includes professional venues such as Kean University's stages in Union Township, and the historic Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway.