Behind the scenes

Community theaters provide a home away from home for actors and volunteers, according to Bernice Garfield-Szita.

Garfield-Szita serves as artistic director of the Center Players, Freehold, and co-directs the Contemporary Counseling Center and ActionArtz Training Institute, Marlboro, with her husband Robert Szita.

Center Playhouse in downtown Freehold seats 49 patrons, allowing for an intimate experience. Its logo, “The Theater with a Heart in the Heart of Downtown Freehold,” says it all.

Garfield-Szita has been involved in theater for more than 40 years as a drama teacher, actor, director and designer. She said the Freehold theater has drawn “like-minded” individuals who are proud to be a part of it.

“Some are here as a stepping stone to hone their skills before moving onto professional acting. Others are returning to acting after raising a family,” she said. “And others are retired and trying something they have never done before.

“We are all part of a team,” she said. “We find appropriate jobs for everyone and help them to feel success, that they belong and that they have made a contribution. And they are all very nurturing to one another here.”

The commitment to community theater is large, no matter what the role.

“They want to be part of an artistic group, and they are all respectful of one another. Whether you’re on stage or serving coffee, everyone is important. We get the best people here. They are very serious about their work. And they know we are all professionals here.”

Adam Neary of East Brunswick has been involved in community theater since he was a freshman in high school in 1991. He auditioned and got a small part in a Playhouse 22 production in East Brunswick. Though his goal was to become involved in theater, he said acting was not part of his plan.

In recent years, most of his Playhouse 22 experience has been devoted to stage managing, producing and overseeing the operational side of the theater.

Neary, who spends his days working as chief of staff for state Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin (D-Middlesex), said most of his professional colleagues have no idea he runs a community theater in his free time.

He has been a member of the board of directors since 1999 and has served as executive producer since 2011.

“I want to provide a home for those who want to be a performer, either on stage or off stage. Even lighting and sound designers and costumers are artists,” he said.

Lindsay Wood of Hamilton serves as board president for Phoenix Productions, Red Bank, and acts in the company’s productions.

During the day, she works in development for the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in Newark.

“I think people do community theater because they have to,” Wood said. “Performers perform, whether they’re doing it professionally or for love. The world of professional theater is competitive and unpredictable. Finding a vocation that provides stability in your life, and still finding an outlet for the ‘theater person’ in you is the best of both worlds,” she said.

— Clare Marie Celano