EDISON, NJ — Plays-in-the-Park had to cancel their summer and fall sessions on stage when COVID-19 arrived, and everyone began quarantining. Rather than just letting the proverbial curtain fall, Artistic Director Margaret Davis and her staff changed their programming. Davis shared, “We shifted gears and produced a slate of FREE virtual programming for all to enjoy.” She continued, “With folks losing jobs and their livelihoods, it was never more important to make the arts accessible to all ages and at no cost. The arts are integral to everyone’s well-being in this crazy time.”
In addition to virtual programming, Plays-in-the-Park began a Virtual Dance-in-the-Park Master Class Series, which has hosted free masterclasses in many different types of dance. Davis added, “The dance classes are hosted by Broadway veterans and other professionals.” She continued, “We also started the Sunday-in-the-Park Play Reading Series to honor New Jersey Playwrights. You don’t even have to make your way to the park because all of the programs are available on their Facebook page. It’s all archived, so everyone can tune into it whenever they want at no charge.
Davis reported that their next Dance-in-the-Park Series Master Class will be Disney’s Frozen on Broadway with Guest Artist Keely Beirne, who was in Frozen and Aladdin on Broadway. Their upcoming Sunday-in-the-Park Play Reading Series will “Forever Mom” Plays-in-the-Park gave back to the community before COVID-19 as well. It partnered with Middlesex County, the Middlesex County Improvement Authority, MCFOODS, and Feeding Middlesex County and collected nutritious food for residents in need. They asked audience members to bring a non-perishable food item when attending performances.
Plays-in-the-Park is a government-sponsored outdoor amphitheater. During normal summers, three musicals are performed. It also offers an indoor children’s musical each October and an annual production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the State Theater in New Brunswick. Plays-in-the-Park has been producing plays for 57 years. According to its website, “a small group of devoted community theater volunteers enthusiastically sought a place to produce plays during the summer months.”
They asked the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders for financial support. The township couldn’t afford to build a new theater, but “there was money budgeted for a storage shed.” The shed was used as a theater in the summer and for storage in the winter. Later, a shop and dressing rooms were added. Plays-in-the-Park estimates that there have been a million performances since 1963.
Something Rotten, Cinderella, and A Chorus Line were scheduled for the summer of 2020. They have been rescheduled to next summer. Plays-in-the-Park offers affordable entertainment under the stars. Children attend for free, and there are discounts for senior citizens. Davis concluded, “Our give back continues to be our commitment to providing entertainment for free – so all can have access, regardless of their means in this stressful time.”
The Stephen J. Capestro Theater is located in bucolic Roosevelt Park in Edison. It’s a mile south of Menlo Park Mall on Route 1.