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State Theatre's Renovations Through the Years

Before State Theatre New Jersey became a non-profit organization in 1988, the building was in need of refurbishment.

That year, while there were some notable changes made to the theater, some plans were destined to remain only as ideas. An infamous change was its color scheme. Befitting the style of the times, the auditorium was painted maroon and turquoise. Architectural details like the plaster cherubs on the balcony rail were either covered or painted over.

Theater in 1989

Also, the metal balcony railings were encased in plywood.

Theater Balcony Rail

If you attended a show during that period, you would have seen an air conditioning vent at the center of the auditorium ceiling. This wasn’t the original plan. A decorative cloud was supposed to cloud (pun intended) the Theatre’s ceiling and the air conditioning vent. Unfortunately, this remained as only an idea—for 16 years. As part of the 2004 renovations restoring the theater to its original art deco glamour, the unsightly vent was finally replaced with the beautiful Austrian crystal chandelier that currently graces the space.

Chandelier

During the 1988 renovations, a favorite story goes, a cat was rescued by two stagehands after they heard meowing from behind a wall. The men were excavating sheetrock from what was originally a window opening in a brick wall backstage. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, they heard meows from behind the sheetrock, reached through the window opening, and brought the cat up. A stagehand took the rescue home, nursed it back to health, and kept it as a pet for years. To this day, the cat is remembered as a part of State Theatre lore.

The State Theatre is known for the cosmetic 1920s-inspired renovations in 2004, but did you know there were also renovations made in 1993 and again in 1998? In 1993, much-needed additional space was added to the back of the Theatre for costume maintenance and lighting storage. Prior to that, the only way to get backstage was by going outside of the Theatre! Five years later, renovations to the marquee and the men’s and women’s restrooms were implemented to enhance the audience’s experience at the historic venue. In addition, the space that was home to the Drake Business School on the second floor of the theater overlooking Livingston Avenue was converted to the Theatre’s first studio space. This room was known internally as “the ballet space” because it was fitted with a sprung floor and used by American Repertory Ballet for rehearsals and classes.

Now it is 2020, and we are nearing the centennial anniversary of State Theatre New Jersey. Plus, a bright future ahead through your support of and donations to our Next Stage Campaign.

Coming in 2021 are a myriad of great additions to the Theatre that are thanks to the largest capital campaign in the venue’s history. These upgrades include a state-of-the-art lighting system, both on-stage via projections and through rigging on the balcony rail. Also, the Theatre’s historic hemp rope-and-sandbag rigging will be removed in favor of a mechanized, Broadway-caliber rigging system. Before the COVID-19 pandemic halted all live events, the sandbag-style rigging proved challenging in regard to staging the newest productions (with heavy sets) that came to State Theatre New Jersey.

With these renovations, along with a brand-new elevator, touchless technologies in our restrooms, and a safe and efficient HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system, your experience at the Theatre and our second 100 years of presenting art to the diverse Middlesex County community and beyond will be better than ever before.

Learn more on State Theatre New Jersey’s Next Stage Campaign and see how you can donate.  We are looking forward to celebrating our next 100 years with you!

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