July 30, 2020

Summer children’s theatre productions were the first step in reopening Hackettstown campus during the COVID-19 era.

HACKETTSTOWN, N.J., July 30, 2020—Theatre productions have returned to Centenary University in the form of several outdoor productions for young audiences, the first public events held on campus since COVID-19 halted in-person events in March. Presented by the Centenary Stage Company, the three plays held in July represent the first steps of a carefully planned strategy to reopen the campus.

The three free outdoor productions—Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical on July 8, Miss Nelson is Missing! on July 22, and Schoolhouse Rock on July 29—used the front porch of the historic Smith Residence Hall as a stage. Audience members reserved seating online to maximize social distancing between families. Staging for the productions, which were part of the company’s Front Porch and Young Audience series, was also changed to allow for social distancing of performers.

“For that moment in time, things felt normal for the performers and the audience,” explained Centenary Stage Company Artistic Director and Fine Arts Department Chair Carl N. Wallnau III of the summer events. “Even during this pandemic, Centenary continues to be a cultural resource for northwestern New Jersey and beyond. In fact, this outdoor venue proved to be so successful that we plan to incorporate it into our programming moving forward.”

Centenary Stage Company is in residence at the University, bringing a full schedule of professional productions and performers to the University’s Hackettstown campus. The University also has a thriving undergraduate theatre program, which offers students the opportunity through Centenary Stage Company to join the Equity Candidates Program and earn credits toward acceptance into the Actors Equity Association, the professional union of actors. The Young Audience Series is under the direction of Lea Antolini, assistant professor of theatre arts.

Centenary University’s fall semester will begin on Aug. 31, and will incorporate a mix of in-person, hybrid, and on-ground courses. Wallnau said the theatre program will include a mix of all three options to meet the needs of students safely. He is initially planning one- and two-person shows that are fully produced and presented in the University’s Sitnik Theatre with greatly reduced seating. In addition, enhanced staging will employ greater use of multimedia presentations, including the music of a live orchestra playing in a studio near the theatre to accompany performers on stage, who will be spread out for greater social distancing.

“It will be a new way to present theatre,” Wallnau said. “Our students are chomping at the bit to get back to performing. Yes, our performances may look a little different, but we will still have all of the elements that go into a show. In our summer series, we have seen a hunger in the public for live theatre. That’s something that inspires us to accept these challenges.”

For more information about Centenary’s theatre program, click here.


Founded in 1867 by the Newark Conference of the United Methodist Church, Centenary University’s academic program integrates a solid liberal arts foundation with a strong career orientation. This mix provides an educational experience that prepares students to succeed in the increasingly global and interdependent world. The University’s main campus is located in Hackettstown, N.J., with its equestrian facility in Washington Township. The Centenary University School of Professional Studies offers degree programs in Parsippany, as well as online and at corporate sites throughout New Jersey.

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