History

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.

1952:   Surflight moves   from its tent to an old meat market in Beach Haven

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. 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.

2013: The biggest season in Surflight history announces the arrival of Les Miserables in August. After suffering damages from Superstorm Sandy, the theatre recovered with the aid of volunteers and community support to bring LBI one of the most amazing summers ever. Les Miz because an instant hit and sold out several shows overnight, rekindling the life the theatre has during it’s summer season.