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NEA Spotlight: Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ

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NEA Spotlight: Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ

Last week, the National Endowment for the Arts announced over $84 million for 1,144 new awards to arts and culture organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and each of the five U.S. territories. Among the 13 artistic disciplines recognized by the NEA this year were seventeen regional and community musical theatre organizations across the United States.

This month, BroadwayWorld will profile arts organizations selected for NEA funding to let them express, in their own words, what the award means to their organization and how the funding will not only enable them to plan and execute new productions and community programs, but help them recover from financial losses sustained in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Today's profile is the Tony Award-winning Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey.


What was your application process like?

The NEA application process is very involved and requires a sound plan and budget. Our grant writing teams work closely on the application with the Education, Outreach and Access team to describe the activities, goals and outcomes of our Theater For Everyone programming that engages and serves our patrons with disabilities.

Why do you feel the NEA is so important, particularly at this moment in history?

Receiving acknowledgement from the NEA federal agency is a huge validation of our work and often cultivates other kinds of support from foundations, corporations, and individual donors. It tells them that we have been vetted and evaluated, and that our programming and mission are important and worthy of being selected for NEA recognition. With an overwhelming amount of charitable causes vying for people's support, an award from the NEA aids in elevating the theater's profile.

How do you intend to use this grant in your theatrical programming?

This NEA grant enables Paper Mill's Theater For Everyone programing, which provides both performance exposure and theater-making classes that are especially designed to support and accommodate patrons with disabilities, both physical and cognitive.

How will this grant benefit your community? What non-theatrical initiatives (education, community outreach, etc.) will you fund using the award?

Through Paper Mill's Theater For Everyone classes of Creative Drama and Acting & Improv, and attendance at Open-Captioned, American Sign-Language Interpreted or Autism-Friendly performances, our patrons with disabilities receive the richness and power of live storytelling and theater-making.

What was the effect of Covid-19 on your operations and how will this award enable your organization to recover? How can our government better aid arts organizations that have been affected by the pandemic?

Since the COVID-19 social distancing guideline and school and business shutdowns have been enacted in New Jersey, people with disabilities are facing more isolation than ever. Our Theater for Everyone classes have temporarily moved to an online platform to maintain weekly contact and provide encouragement to our students. Until it is safe to meet in person, classes will continue remotely. The NEA grant makes it possible for this programming to continue while the Paper Mill is temporarily closed. When Paper Mill resumes live programming, we look forward to welcoming all back to the theater for shows including Open-Captioned, American Sign-Language Interpreted or Autism-Friendly performances.


Paper Mill Playhouse is New Jersey's largest producing theater, serving all 21 surrounding counties and the New York metropolitan area. The company relies on production support from the NEA, as well as corporations and individual donors to support more than 220,000 artists, theater-lovers and students each year who rely on Paper Mill as an artistic home. As a professional producing theater, Paper Mill is committed to identifying and nurturing creative talent on the mainstage, including singers, dancers, directors, composers, lyricists, choreographers, actors, and designers.

Paper Mill also collaborated with other regional theaters and independent producers to bring our audiences the best in musical theater, from celebrated revivals to new work from the industry's most talented artists. Paper Mill Playhouse a cultural hub for the community with $20 million of economic impact each year.

Paper Mill champions nearly 40,000 students each year with its education programs. Paper Mill's efforts ensures that children in their community have access to theater's life-changing opportunities, regardless of economic, physical, or mental challenges. Paper Mill responds with high-quality arts education, cultural partnerships, and outreach - impacting teens, aspiring artists, and families of children with autism and other cognitive and developmental disabilities. Renowned programs include Adopt-A-School Project, Theater For Everyone, Rising Star Awards, and Broadway Show Choir, for example.

Learn more at papermill.org.


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From This Author Alexa Criscitiello