Grand opening for Newton Theatre Academy Community source for teaching the arts
Jonathan Peirce, Newton Theatre's President & CEO with Sara Bartlett the Academy's Education Director
Photos by Laurie Gordon
By Laurie Gordon NEWTON — U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ5) emphasized the new Newton Theatre Arts Academy's positive impact on the community by quoting former President Ronald Reagan: “The arts and humanities teach us who we are and what we can be. They lie at the very core of the culture of which we’re a part.” The congressman, present at the official grand opening on Monday, applauded the work of all those who helped make the dream of an artistic learning center a reality. He especially praised The Newton Theatre's President and CEO, Jonathan Peirce. “This is truly a community theater,” Gottheimer said. “And this Academy is an indelible resource for the youth in our community, teaching critical skills in the arts along with self-confidence.” Gottheimer also lauded local business owner, Alex Cable, who was in the audience and is the CEO of Thor Labs. The company's International Headquarters is down the street from the new academy. “Mr. Cable exemplifies how to build a strong company you need a strong community,” he said. “ThorLabs has been a great support of this initiative.” The Newton Theatre Arts Academy had its version of a soft opening by staging the play, Annie, in April. “That was kind of our trial run,” Peirce said. The show sold out. “The academy includes art displays, art classes, theater classes and summer camps,” Peirce said. “It's goal is to be everything art to our area, and the reception we've received has been tremendous.” After graduating from Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1989, Peirce toured with a number of bands. Of note, he toured with the famous Chubby Checker. After being on the road for a while, he transitioned to production director at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. Several years ago, he and a partner bought the old Newton Theatre. The theater has thrived, attracting some big-time acts to the town, and now, the opening of the Arts Academy adds another new and exciting chapter. “The Arts Academy is a non-profit program that aims to affect positive change within the Sussex County community,” Peirce said. “We aim to create a home for all the arts through the utilization of both our School of the Arts classroom and the Newton Theatre Stage. Our focus is to provide courses that will cover a wide range of artistic interests. With the versatility of our classroom, we can offer programs such as Theatre, Dance, Music, and Fine Arts. We are able to create training programs that will give students hands-on experience working on more technical aspects of the performing arts, including sound design, stage lighting, scenic painting, and design.” He added, “The Arts Academy will provide a much-needed bridge to the arts in Sussex County. At a time when arts funding is being cut from school curriculum, programs like this have never been more important.” A study by Americans for the Arts showed that “Students engaged in arts learning have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, and lower drop-out rates. The Department of Education reports that access to arts education for students of color is significantly lower than for their white peers, and has declined for three decades. Yet, research shows that low socioeconomic-status students have even greater increases in academic performance, college-going rates, college grades, and holding jobs with a future. 88 percent of Americans believe that arts are part of a well-rounded K-12 education.” “The kids are just loving it,” Peirce said. One of those kids is 12-year-old Isabella Stevens, who was part of the Academy's July 27th 'Little Mermaid' production. “It was a lot of fun and the teachers are really good and really teach you a lot, but at the same time are very kind and make it fun,” the Andover girl said. Ty Hollar, another performer in 'Little Mermaid,' is an eight-year-old from Frankford. He said, “I learned a lot and I want to be in another play here soon.” Sara Bartlett is the Academy's Education Director. A graduate of Ohio University, Sara has worked in the theatre business for twenty-five years, most recently as Director of Education and Outreach for South Bend Civic Theatre in South Bend, Indiana. Bartlett also developed 'ShakeScenes' at Notre Dame University’s annual Shakespeare Festival. “I'll be heading up the upcoming production of The Lion King here at the Academy,” she said. “This place is amazing and will provide some incredible opportunities for the youth in our community.” Peirce said, “We believe that no student should be denied the benefits of the arts in their lives, and to this end we do have scholarships and discounted rates available based on need.” A Cinematic Painting Class will be offered starting on September 17 for students in third grade through adult for eight weeks, and a Bookmaking class will start on September 20 and also run for eight weeks for students in seventh through 12th grades. The Lion King Kid's Experience will be for students in grades three through six and will be offered Tuesday and Thursdays from 5 to 7 pm for 10 weeks starting September 18 with a performance on Saturday, November 17. Following that, A Christmas Carol will be open to students in second through 12th grades with a performance in December. Of the importance of the Academy's presence in Newton, Peirce said, “It's already bringing so many people to the downtown and this is just going to snowball. We're drawing people from all over the county to our County Seat to experience the wonder of the arts.” The Newton Theatre Arts Academy is sustained by generous donations from the community as well as through tuition and fundraisers. For further information about the upcoming August 18 production of The Wizard of Oz and fall performances or any information about art or classes at the Academy, call 973-383-3700 or find them on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/NTARTSACADEMY/. The Academy is located across the street from the Newton Theatre at 219 Spring Street in Newton.