LIVINGSTON, NJ — Members of the Livingston Community Players (LCP) presented their case to the Livingston Township Council for inclusion in the municipal budget for 2018, speaking of the many ways that community theater enriches the lives of not only the performers, but community members interested in the arts as well.

Phyllis Meranus, the passionate president of LCP, spoke on behalf of the theater group at Monday’s mayor and council meeting.

“[Community theater] enriches the lives of those who take an active part in it as well as those in the community who benefit from live theater productions,” she said. “On either side of the foot lights, those involved represent a diversity of age, culture, life experience and a strong appreciation of the importance of the arts.”

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Without community theaters, Meranus said children interested in the art of performing might never have the opportunity to perform on stage. She added that without community theater, some professional actors and actresses might have never made it in the industry because they would have never built up the courage. 

Meranus cited the story of South Orange native Zach Braff, who knew he wanted a career in acting as an eight-year-old boy while watching his father perform in the LCP production of “Hello, Dolly” at Mount Pleasant Middle School. In a “New York Times” article, Braff said he was a melancholy child and “never felt like [he] belonged anywhere” until he discovered community theater.

Now 42 years old, Braff is known throughout the industry for his leading roll in the television series “Scrubs;” his directorial rolls in the films “Garden State,” which he wrote and starred in, and “Wish I Was Here;” and his on-stage performances in “All New People,” which he also wrote, and “Bullets Over Broadway.”

Meranus also spoke about Stephen Oremus, who began his career with LCP as a 14-year-old accompanist and who is currently a two-time Tony Award winner and the music director for the upcoming Broadway adaptation of “Frozen;” and Nikki James, who performed in the LCP performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” and went on to receive a Tony Award for her performance in “Book of Mormon.”

“In order to continue our mission to bring quality theater to Livingston, offer our youth opportunities to experience the stage, be it on stage or back stage, LCP needs two things: performance space and dollars,” said Meranus. “The town council helped us for about the first five years since our revival in 2003, and then due to unforeseen circumstances was unable to do so for the past 10 years. It would be wonderful if the town council could include us in this coming year’s budget in hopes that we will have perhaps a school to once again perform in.”

Council members thanked Meranus for attending Monday’s meeting, but requested that she return to them with an estimate on a budget for them to work with.

Although LCP has earned several New Jersey theater awards for individual performers, individual directors and full-cast performances, Meranus said an award-winning production costs between $30-35,000.

In fact, the LCP’s recent production of “Hairspray,” which allowed LCP to become the first community theater group in New Jersey to offer sensory-and autism-friendly performances, ultimately cost more than $36,000.

The cost of a performance goes toward a professional pit orchestra, wig and costume rentals, sound and lighting equipment, custodial staff at a particular venue and more. Unfortunately, Meranus said, without a venue, the LCP cannot select a show—and without a show, cannot easily estimate a budget.

“Livingston deserves to have a quality theater group, as many other towns do,” said Meranus. “Those of you that have ever seen any of our productions—they’re wonderful, and I don’t want to deprive this community of it. They deserve it.”

Meranus also noted that LCP is completely separate from the Children’s Theatre of Livingston, which is a member of the Healthy Community Healthy Youth (HCHY) initiative.

“If we ever are lucky enough to have a theater, we would like to have a children’s theater group as well,” said Meranus. “Other towns do it and we could do it too.”

Later this season, LCP is hosting a Holiday Musicale fundraiser at the Trinity Covenant Church in Livingston on Dec. 9 in order to raise money and to keep LCP alive. The performance will include Christmas, Chanukah, and winter songs.

To learn more about LCP, click HERE.