MILLBURN, NJ - On Monday afternoon, April 17, the weekly class held in the Black Box Theatre at the Paper Mill Playhouse had a special visitor: Congressman Leonard Lance (NJ-7). Lance was there to observe the direct impact of National Endowment of Arts (NEA) funding for the "Theatre for Everyone" program, which provides classes to students ages 7 to 18 with all types of disabilities. 

About a dozen young people attended the class, along with their parents and caregivers, under the enthusiastic direction of teaching artist Leslie Fanelli. Fanelli spoke about the history of the class, which is in its 36th year, and explained that it is possible to offer it free of charge to students thanks to funding received from the NEA. 

In addition to the weekly program at the Paper Mill Playhouse, classes are also offered to additional students at other locations throughout the year, including for the past four years at the Horizon School in Livingston. The Horizon School produces three shows a year, explained Fanelli, and students from other classes at the Paper Mill Playhouse assist these students in learning their parts, and when necessary, will speak the lines for some students who are non-verbal.

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Mark Hoebee, Producing Artist Director at the Paper Mill, explained that while the Paper Mill is mainly known for its Main Stage productions, it also has a very important and active education component. Just recently the Paper Mill was one of five organizations invited to the National Meeting of the NEA, and was the only one selected to speak about Theatre for Everyone.

Hoebee also applauded the efforts of  Lisa Cooney, Director of Education at the Paper Mill. Todd Schmidt, Managing Director of the Paper Mill, emphasized that the class is possible because of a direct grant from the NEA, and that their support shows the importance of the class.

Schmidt introduced Congressman Leonard Lance, who had just observed the Theatre for Everyone class, and is Co-Chair of the the Congressional Arts Caucus, a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

“I’m in favor of maintaining the funding for the National Endowment of the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting," Congressman Lance said.

Lance further explained that the proposed budget is a “blueprint” from which the work begins to develop the actual budget. The total for the three programs he mentioned is $150 million, which is .003% of the $3.7 trillion total budget.

Lance pointed out that there is a multiplier effect of 9 to 1 on these funds, and that he believes because of this that they makes sense for the community and the betterment of the population. Lance mentioned that he grew up with Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11), and are friends and neighbors, and that Frelinghuysen will lend his support to include funding to these programs in the final budget. 

Lance added, "I was lobbied by others earlier today, however the best lobby was these young people’s performance. I’m sure these programs will be continued to be funded by the U. S. government."

In a post-program interview, Lance mentioned that the Paper Mill's education programs, and especially these for students with special needs, are known all over the country, and supporting them makes good economic sense.

Lance said that he hopes that his colleagues in the house and senate see that it does make good economic sense to continue these vital programs, adding that it is important that all citizens speak with their members of congress asking them to support this funding.

"I’ll continue to work with Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen who supported this funding in the past and will continue to lobby for the NEA," said Lance.