The rich history of The Growing Stage is equally matched to its home, The Palace Theatre. It was founded by Executive Director Stephen L. Fredericks in 1982. The organization enjoyed its humble beginnings at the Black River Playhouse and the Williamson School in Chester, New Jersey.
Along with a small professional staff and dedicated corps of volunteers, Steve’s dream to bring professional theatre to children and their families grew. As the audience and our reputation for outstanding theatre grew, the company embarked on a journey to create the only performing arts center in the state dedicated solely to young people and their families.
Click the arrows below to explore significant benchmarks in the rich history of The Growing Stage.
Our company debuts at the Black River Playhouse in Chester, NJ; 500 patrons attend four Main Stage productions. The TGS touring company entertains 1200 students. Our annual budget is $30,000—the company was started with $1,500.
The Growing Stage moves to the Williamson Building in Chester, beginning a ten-year association, and we become an established cultural fixture in northwestern Morris County. We receive final IRS determination as a 501-c-3 nonprofit corporation.
Over the next several years, The Growing Stage opens a summer camp for the arts and establishes an intern program for theatre students.
The Growing Stage becomes an associate member of the New Jersey Theatre Group – an association of professional theatres.
We purchase the Palace Theatre in Netcong. Average season attendance grows to 6,000, and our touring company travels throughout the state. Our annual budget is $75,000.
On March 1st, The Growing Stage opens the Palace with The Wizard of Oz, attracting 1,200 patrons in six performances.
State Senators Bucco and Oroho present Bill SJR68. It was passed first through the State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee. In June of 2011, it received unanimous support on the Senate floor with a 37-0 vote in favor of officially designating The Growing Stage as the Children’s Theatre of New Jersey.
The completion of the Palace Theatre’s front façade restoration was celebrated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony prior to the 31st season opening night of Peter Pan.
In 2013 The Growing Stage received our 1st $10,000 grant from The Shubert Foundation in support of general operations. The Shubert Foundation is the nation’s largest private foundation dedicated to unrestricted funding of not-for-profit, professional performing arts. This was our 1st national award and have continued to be funded by them each season since.
On October 10, 2013 we received the Building Construction Award from Preservation New Jersey for the completion of Phase II of the front facade of The Growing Stage’s home – the Palace Theatre.
We installed a backstage bathroom, new carpeting in the lobby, and completed the installation of a new sound system.
In June, 2015 our grant request of $261,480 to the Morris County Historic Preservation Trust Fund was fully funded. This provided replacement of the roofs, new energy-efficient windows, and restoration of the three remaining parts of our façade.
As we have recently concluded the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of our home, The Historic Palace Theatre (1919-2019) we continue our dedication to making the professional performing arts accessible to all young people. Through Main Stage productions, school day matinees, classes, and special initiatives in our facility, the historic Palace Theatre, as well as touring performances, residencies, and workshops statewide, we strive to provide exceptional entrée to the arts for children and their families.
Our focus remains theatrical and arts education programs, all of which are professionally produced yet presented in an accessible, inclusive manner, and are structured to give young people a unique opportunity to reap the life-enhancing benefits of participating in the performing arts.
History of The Palace Theatre
The History of The Growing Stage is incomplete without The historic Palace Theatre. Built in 1919, it was a New Jersey entertainment landmark for over 50 years. Originally a silent movie and vaudeville house, it later featured talking movies, local plays and graduations, minstrel shows and other live entertainment.
In 1934, the Palace was leased by a prominent operator of theatres in Newark and the Oranges, and a period of major renovation began. The interior was stylishly redecorated in 1934, employing fabric wall covering and ceiling draperies. A marquee was added at the entrance, and the Colonial Revival façade was covered by an Art Deco-style front in 1938.
The Hopatcong Broadway Players, a summer troupe of nationally known actors, directors and writers who vacationed at Lake Hopatcong, were a featured attraction in the mid-1930s. Bert Lytell, Celeste Holm and Gale Sondergaard were among the actors who appeared on the Palace stage as the troupe tried out theatrical productions before taking them onto Broadway.
During the mid-1940s, the commercial storefronts in the Palace’s facade were removed, and the theatre served as a popular movie house until the 1960s. It then fell on hard times as competition from television and multiplex theatres led to a decline in attendance. In 1981, the venerable theatre was converted into a warehouse for a moving company, a purpose it served until 1994.
In May 1995, The Growing Stage purchased the Palace Theatre and began the process of restoring it to a regional center for the performing arts. Since then, we have raised and re-invested $3 million, and in September 2012, we celebrated the completion of our final major capital project, the restoration of the Palace’s front façade.
The Growing Stage is the only theatre-for-young-audiences company in the state of New Jersey that owns its own facility. The fully-restored Palace features a 240-seat theatre and balcony/art gallery graced with hand-painted murals by company artist-in-residence Perry Arthur Kroeger, a modern concession area, rehearsal space, classrooms and administrative offices.
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Explore more notable moments in the history of The Growing Stage and its home, The Historic Palace Theatre, below.
We took the 1st Round of our 2018-2019 New Play Reading Festival “on the road”. We held readings at Kean University in Union and to the Stanhope Methodist Church. We are looking to expand this to local schools, senior citizen and community centers throughout our region to further engage the region we serve.
We plan to further engage our community by taking our New Play Reading Festival “on the road” to local schools, libraries and senior centers. Our 2020-2021 season will mark the 10th Anniversary of this program and we are beginning work now on a symposium to review its impact on the field as well as how we can further support the efforts of our playwrights.
In 2019, the Verdon Fosse Legacy chose our Broadway Master Classes and featured a Master Class led by Broadway artist Stephanie Pope. The mission of The Verdon Fosse Legacy LLC is to promote, preserve, and protect the artistic and intellectual property of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon.
We applied for and were selected for this one-time opportunity for our students. Stephanie Pope is a singer, dancer and actress and a musical theater veteran with a career spanning over 35 years. Broadway and touring credits include the revival of Pippin, for which she received an Astaire Award nomination, an ACCA Award and the beloved Gypsy Robe. Stephanie has the distinct honor of having been hand-picked to work with the legendary director/choreographer, Bob Fosse, along with his wife and muse, Gwen Verdon on her first two Broadway shows, the revival of Sweet Charity starring Debbie Allen and Bebe Neuwirth and Bob Fosse’s Big Deal.
We expanded our music program with our 1st outdoor concert featuring Brady Rymer & the Little Band That Could. Over the years we have established a relationship with musical artist Brady Rymer. After a decade-long career with RCA Records jam band, From Good Homes, recording and touring with acts from the Dave Matthews Band to Bob Dylan and Bob Weir’s Ratdog, Brady Rymer ventured into family music as he started his own family, releasing Good Morning, Gus in 2000. Since then, he has released ten CDs, including 2017’s GRAMMY-nominated Press Play, 2014’s GRAMMY-nominated Just Say Hi! and the 2008 GRAMMY-nominated Here Comes Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could.
After five years as a Growing Stage Trustee and twenty years as our Managing Director, Tom Romano retired from The Growing Stage at the end of our 2018-2019 season. In September we hired Stephanie Kingsbury as our new Business Manager and Cara Scalera as Production Manager. Both have extensive backgrounds in box office operations, customer service and event planning.
Stephanie Kingsbury is a 2005 June V. Hinds High School Scholarship recipient from The Growing Stage. She went on to receive her Theatre Management degree from Stockton University in 2008 Magna Cum Laude. She worked at the Stockton Performing Arts Center and Borgata Hotel Casino& Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey before moving out to Reno, Nevada where she most recently worked at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts as Events Director.
Cara Scalera is a 2014 BFA graduate of Kean University and has been a Stage Manager for a number of our past productions. Cara is overseeing our new box office operations, as well as assisting in production operations and coordinating and working with our volunteers. She has been a teaching artist at Dreamcatcher Theatre, Premiere Stages, and Paper Mill Playhouse.
On November 10th, 2019 we completed our season long celebration of the 100th Anniversary of our home which culminated on the date the theatre originally opened in 1919. We featured a performance by the Lakeland Youth Symphony, a company we are looking to collaborate with more in 2020.
We look to further establish collaborative programming with other arts and civic organizations throughout our region.
We have expanded our services to the community by offering Sensory Friendly performances for young people impacted by autism and other challenges within the spectrum. We now feature a sensory friendly performance at each of our five Main Stage productions this season.
We have also established ongoing internships with students from Boonton High School’s Structured Learning Experience program and the Celebrate the Children School in Denville. Both schools focus on young people with developmental challenges.
Capital plans continue as we raise the necessary match of $56,000 for a fully functional concession area and store. To date we have raised $52,000 with contributions from a private gift, the Hyde & Watson Foundation, and the John & Margaret Post Foundation.
On August 13, 2020 the Morris County Historic Preservation Trust Fund awarded the Growing Stage $274,800 for our planned fly system restoration project. This gift further expands both the theatre’s production capabilities as well as provides greater flexibility in offering differing types of performing arts artistry such as music, dance and film. Completion is slated for Spring, 2021.