Timeline of Surflight Theatre
1950: Surflight Theatre is born in Beach Haven Crest, on Long Beach Island, in a shaky 2,200-seat tent with a cast of 60, a 12-piece orchestra and a season only 3 weeks long. Joseph P. Hayes, Producer.
1951: A second season is presented with a smaller company and a tighter budget, allowing the season to be extended to 9 weeks.
1953: Surflight moves again, this time to a garage next to a bowling alley, still in Beach Haven.
1954: One last move, to a rented former mechanic’s garage on Engleside Avenue, Beach Haven. A tiny stage, tin roof, no air conditioning, and lots of mosquitoes. Seating capacity: 312 (if you use a shoehorn). 6 shows a week. Patrons’ restrooms are located 1 block away at Beach Haven Borough Hall.
1956: Joe Hayes introduces a Children’s Theatre series at Surflight, he himself cavorting as “Boffo the Clown.” An instant success!!
1958: Schoolteacher Eleanor C. Miller is introduced to Joe Hayes. She offers to “give him a little help” with the growing theatre.
1959: A rainy season. Actors learn to constantly shout their lines to be heard over the rain drumming on the tin roof. The storm sewers back up, forcing patrons to wade to the theatre in hip boots and galoshes.
1961: Eleanor Miller’s offer of “a little help” has grown to the position of Company Manager.
1967: Joe Hayes decides to purchase the former mechanic’s garage as Surflight’s permanent residence. A new costume shop is built adjacent to the theatre.
1968: Patrons’ restrooms are built on premises. No more agonizing trips to the Borough Hall.
1972: Eleanor Miller streamlines the Surflight box office, ticketing and ushering procedures.
1975: Show Place Ice Cream Parlour opens next to the theatre, a collaboration between Joe Hayes and his friend Scott Henderson, and a local banker. Food, ice cream AND a floor show! An immediate hit.
1976: Joe Hayes suffers a fatal heart attack. Surflight is rocked and saddened by his untimely passing. Knowing that Surflight and its continuation meant everything to Joe, his friends declare that the show must go on! A new corporation, HML Productions, is formed with Scott Henderson as President, Eleanor C. Miller as Surflight’s Producer and Joseph N. Lane, III.
1977: A former boarding house at the corner of Dolphin & Bay Avenues in Beach Haven is purchased for use as the primary cast housing facility. The house has 16 bedrooms and 9 bathrooms.
1979: Surflight’s season is extended to 14 weeks – 14 full-stage musical productions produced in 1-week stock, with 7 performances a week, and featuring a cast of 15.
1980: The Joseph P. Hayes Theatre, Inc. is founded in Joe’s memory as a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising scholarship funds for Surflight’s growing Intern & Apprentice Program that began in the 1950’s as “The Apprentice Program” and for the eventual purchase and operation of Surflight.
1983: Eleanor C. Miller celebrates 25 years with Surflight Theatre, 7 years as Producer.
1984: New plumbing is installed in the Cast House. Now more of its residents may take hot showers!
1986: A house on Engleside Avenue adjacent to the theatre is purchased as staff housing and nicknamed “The Grey House.” A popular director named Guil Fisher is hired as an assistant to Eleanor Miller. Plans to build a new Surflight are revealed, in order to bring the theatre up to commercial fire code. HML Productions and Show Place are merged to formally unite the enterprises and to raise capital for the new building. Additional stock is sold in Show Place, Inc., the new parent organization.
1987: Six and one-half months and 1.9 million dollars later the NEW SURFLIGHT is born! A 40’ x 24’ stage, 450 upholstered seats and air conditioning! The building still has a tin roof, but no mosquitoes. With construction of the new theatre, Show Place gets a “face-lift.” The old theatre building becomes the set construction and costume shops for the new theatre. With the new theatre, Surflight begins a group sales effort.
1989: The Surflight Theatre season is extended – 24 shows in 24 weeks! The success of the Joseph P. Hayes Theatre, Inc.. allows the Surflight performing company to grow to 18. A young actor named Eddie Todd joins the Surflight company in August after the theater at which he was working is destroyed by fire.
1990: Eleanor C. Miller retires, after 32 years of devotion to Joe Hayes’ dream. Scott Henderson adds on the role of Producer of the now 40-year-old Surflight Theatre to his already full plate. Guil Fisher is named Surflight’s Artistic Director. The theater’s season is modified from 1-week to 2-week “stock” to facilitate fewer but much better productions. 12 shows over 24 weeks.
1991: An untimely fire forces a renovation of the Grey House, which is subsequently re-painted beige to match the theater. The now famous Surflight Children’s Theatre is extended to 4 performances a week, in order to accommodate the increasingly heavy demand for tickets.
1992: The “Our Gang Players,” a local community group, moves from the Barnegat Light Firehouse to Surflight Theatre for its winter production. A wall in the men’s dressing room is knocked through to form the stage left wing, enabling performers to make their entrances without running around the outside of the building. Eddie Todd, now a regular Surflight performer, is given charge of the Children’s Theatre, writing and directing its productions.
1993: The balconies at the back of the theater auditorium are connected. Surflight musicians are relocated there from a remote corner over the stage to be within view of the audience and stage.
1994: Guil Fisher retires from Surflight and Eddie Todd is named the new Artistic Director.
1995: The Surflight season is streamlined to 16 weeks (post-Memorial Day) to cater more specifically to summer audiences. The Surflight performing company is enlarged to 21. Surflight and Show Place together now employ more than 70 people each summer. The theatre air conditioning is re-flashed to operate more quietly, the musician’s balcony is enclosed for better acoustical balance and control. Over $11,000 is invested in new theatrical sound equipment. Our Gang Players renovates both dressing rooms, repainting each, installing new carpeting and countertops and tiling both lavatories.
1996: The second season of the immensely popular Surfy’s Children’s Breakfasts at Morrison’s Restaurant starring Surfy the Dancing Surflight Dog co-stars favorite characters from Surflight’s weekly Children’s Theatre. Two productions, Nunsense and Forever Plaid, are produced in repertory, alternating nights in early September in an attempt to entice one-week vacationers to attend two shows during their stay.
1997: In response to even greater demand, Children’s Theatre is extended to 5 performances per week.
1998: Surflight welcomes a new Artistic Director, Steve Steiner and his wife, Gail Anderson Steiner, to serve as the theater’s Company Manager and Production Manager.
1999: Through an agreement with Actors’ Equity Association, Surflight will offer contracts to three Union actors and a Union stage manager each MainStage production. Surflight becomes an associate member of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance (consortium of New Jersey’s professional theatres). Four wireless body microphones are purchased to enhance sound quality in the theater. Weekday matinee performances are offered. A holiday show is added to the schedule in December. Surflight Theatre Arts Resource School (S.T.A.R.S.) begins its first classes in the fall. Surflight is becoming a year-round center for the arts in Ocean County! The Joseph P. Hayes Theatre, Inc. Board of Trustees and Artistic Director Steve Steiner begin investigating and planning Surflight’s transition to operating as a nonprofit organization.
2000: Ticket sales are at an all-time record pace, led by our Dinner/Theatre and Lunch/Matinee packages that attract groups from as far away as Staten Island, NY and Wilmington, DE. To accommodate our growing inventory and to provide our staff more desirable working conditions, the costume shop is moved into air-conditioned space near Show Place. Added room in the shop allows scenic painters to work indoors (no more bugs stuck in the sets). The production season is now 20 weeks long. Our Gang Players decide that they will no longer be using our theatre as their home. Final plans are made for the nonprofit Joseph P. Hayes Theatre, Inc. to purchase Surflight Theatre and all associated buildings.
2001: Surflight makes the transition to not-for-profit status with the Joseph P. Hayes Theatre, Inc. purchasing Surflight Theatre, Show Place Ice Cream Parlour and associated buildings. Surflight receives funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts for the first time. Asbury Park Press Readers Poll names Surflight Best Theater Company in Ocean County (Best of Monmouth & Ocean Counties). Asbury Park Press also names Artistic Director Steve Steiner one of New Jersey’s Top 5 “Hot Artists.” Press of Atlantic City calls Surflight “Southern New Jersey’s Premiere Regional Equity Theatrical Company.”
2002: Surflight Theatre becomes a full member of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance as well as a member of the South Jersey Cultural Alliance. Surflight’s Artistic Director is on the boards of both organizations as well as the Ocean County Tourism Council and the Ocean County Arts Plan Implementation Task Force. Surflight brings a headliner during the season, John Davidson in Concert, as an experiment. A huge success. Children’s Theatre attendance tops 20,000 for the first time. In December, while the Ice Cream Parlour is closed and the space is available, Surflight hosts an Art Show featuring 10 artists from the Pine Shores Art Association. The December production of Miracle on 34th Street sells out 7 of 10 public performances. Surflight Theatre is no longer a summer attraction only!
2003: In April at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism, Surflight Theatre is presented the prestigious Governor’s Tourism Arts Award. Surflight produces 24 weeks on the MainStage and 12 weeks of Children’s Theatre. The MainStage season includes Surflight’s first production of a new work (in association with East Lynne Theatre, another New Jersey professional theatre company). 2003 MainStage attendance is at an all-time high. Additionally, there are touring shows during Family Week at the Theatre and five different attractions for our Celebrity Concert Series, featuring such diverse artists as Tom Chapin, Tommy Emmanuel, Donna McKechnie, John Davidson and the Legendary Lead Singers of the Temptations. Total attendance at Surflight performances in 2003 is 62,587, up from 37,000 in 1997. Additionally, a group of young performers, “The Next Wave”, is formed to perform at Fantasy Island Amusement Park in August. The Surflight Theatre Arts Resource School, after a year’s hiatus for the 2002-03 academic year, is back and with larger enrollment that in previous years. Artistic Director, Steve Steiner, is elected Treasurer of the South Jersey Cultural Alliance and appointed Vice-Chair of the Ocean County Tourism Council. Asbury Park Press and Ocean County Observer Readers Polls name Surflight Best Theater Company in Ocean County. The Press of Atlantic City theatre critic Scott Cronick states in his review of Crazy for You, “…the Equity theatre proves once again that it is a professional organization that ranks with the best in the state.”
2004: New challenges to be tackled. In February, Surflight To-Go, our touring educational theatre troupe, is launched and is deemed a success by educators and arts administrators. On April 1, Surflight Theatre’s longtime producer, Scott Henderson, retires, as does his wife, Jane (our Group Sales Director). In late April, Surflight produces its first show for Trump Plaza casino in Atlantic City – a new source of earned income. The 2004 MainStage season includes two 3-week runs and a full production of a new musical, Magic in the Music. Over 68,000 people attended Surflight offerings in 2004, an all-time high.
2005: Many new things: 8 Surflight Premieres during the 2005 MainStage season; four 3-week runs at the beginning of the season; computerization of the box office, which will allow for more efficient order processing as well as better patron tracking; an additional subscription plan – flex pass with 10 tickets that can be used in any combination for MainStage attendance; new carpet, paint and donor display in the lobby. S.T.A.R.S. continues to expand with 2 summer camp options—Mini-Show Place Experience & Meet Shakespeare in Bicentennial Park. Surflight To-Go will perform over 65 times this year. We also continue the highly successful “Broadway at the Boardwalk” series at Trump Plaza for which we received the 2005 Excellence in Tourism Award in partnership with Jersey Shore Entertainment & Trump Plaza.
2006: Surflight Theatre receives a grant from CRDA (Casino Reinvestment Development Authority) for capital improvements. Among these improvements will be a second Ladies Restroom which will alleviate long lines at intermission. Improvements are to be made to our Artist & Technician Housing Facilities and a new wireless microphone system will be purchased to enhance the audibility of our productions. Steve Steiner is named Chair of the Ocean County Tourism Advisory Committee. Surflight and the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce embark on a project to entice day trip overnight bus tour groups to visit Long Beach Island and the vicinity, partnering with over a dozen attractions and businesses.
2007: Surflight Theatre widens its appeal by expanding marketing to groups and increasing partnerships with local businesses. Group sales have increased by 150% since 2003. Surflight also broadens its network by continuing to partner with Breeze Radio, Lakewood Blue Claws, and Yellow Book to increase marketing efforts and advertising campaigns.
2008: Surflight Theatre’s annual audience continues to grow, with over 78,000 patrons enjoying MainStage performances, Children’s Theatre, MainStage Mornings, and the Concert Series. This represents a 7.25% increase from the previous year, which exceeds the 5.8% statewide average increase in tourism visitation reported by Governor Jon Corzine at the 2008 Governor’s Council on Tourism. Surflight-To-Go, educational touring theatre troupe, also continues to expand with 170 shows projected for the 2008-2009 school year, a significant increase from the 63 shows presented during the 2004-2005 season. At the close of 2008, STG has served over 133,000 students! Due to the generosity of several foundations, STG is also able to offer underwritten performances to student populations in economically depressed areas. STG has performed in all 21 counties of NJ. Surflight’s Mailing List now included over 31,500 households of theatergoers in all 21 counties of NJ, as well as all the other 49 states and Washington DC.
2009: Surflight Theatre celebrates its 60th LBI Anniversary of Broadway at the Beach on June 27, 2009.
2010: Surflight faces a financial crisis of epic proportions. New management (former Surflight intern turned Broadway Producer Roy Miller and colleague Tim Laczynski) is brought in to save the theatre from its demise. Due to insurmountable debt, the board of directors and new management decide to file for bankruptcy in order to give the theatre a fighting chance.
2011: New producers Roy Miller and Tim Laczynski call in favors from their Broadway connections. Surflight productions feature incredible talent never seen before, such as Judd Hirsch, Cindy Williams, JoAnne Worley, Justin Guarini, Peter Marshall, Dawn Wells and more. A partnership with NYC’s legendary “Catch a Rising Star” comedy club is formed, and Monday nights are no longer “dark” at the theatre. Despite the badly needed increase in ticket prices, the theatre experienced its most successful season in history. In December, the theatre successfully emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The show goes on!
2012: The transition continues as Surflight announces a family friendly line-up of shows including: Annie, The Sound of Music and a new musical Once Upon a Time in New Jersey. Tim and Roy announce their immediate departure from Surflight in order to focus on their New York projects. Theatre veteran, Ken Myers is brought in as Interim Executive Director to revamp the operation and with his talented staff plan the 64th season.