Old Library Theatre was announced the recipient of NJACT’s Perry Award for Community Theater of the Year at tonight’s 2017 Perry Awards ceremony, held at the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway, NJ.
Craig Tiede, current OLT President, accepted the award on the company’s behalf, and his remarks are below.
Congratulations to all who give of themselves to make OLT such a special place where art and memories are made!
Thank you. Receiving this recognition means a lot to all of us and we’re so grateful to those who wrote a letter of support or nomination on our behalf, to the executive board of NJACT for selecting us to receive the award, and everyone who donates their time and talents to Old Library Theatre, helping us engage, entertain, educate, and do what we love in the context of our greater lives, sharing that love to make others’ lives greater.
My name is Craig Tiede and I’ve been the president of Old Library Theatre since 2012. For those who’ve not heard of us, or for those who picture us performing finger puppet productions of The Brothers Grimm from behind book-filled stacks, here’s a primer: We are the resident theater company of the Fair Lawn Recreation Department in Fair Lawn, NJ. We perform in a beautiful 170-seat theater space that we share with a handful of other community and professional theater companies. We are in the midst of our 50th anniversary season and we produce eight shows per year – including original works and Broadway favorites. We are committed to showcasing talented performers of all ages, shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and stages of development, teaching them the art of creating live theater and bringing the joy of its creation to their community.
For many, community theater is a punch line. It’s some second-class version of a great art form, better left to the professionals, than to the part-timers who believe they could have been stars had they only not been “born too soon and started too late.” We’re seen as this collective of the ones who never made it, or never tried.
For others, community theater is a hobby. It’s just a fun place to go after school or work, where temporary, but intense, relationships are formed, memories are made, and we get to share our talents with our friends, family and coworkers.
And for others, community theater is a lifestyle, a hashtag, a second home, a first home – the partner, best friend, boss, and staff that never leaves us, even if it occasionally lets us down. It’s the blood that runs through our veins, the air we breathe, the proof of a life lived out loud.
To us, community theater is a privilege, and a calling. We choose to spend a portion of our lives engaged in this form of social intercourse and personal recreation because we know community theater matters. It makes a difference. It shapes, and transforms, lives. It brings stories and poses questions to communities they might not otherwise encounter. What we do, what we love, what we are so lucky to be celebrating here tonight, matters.
Our company, like most of yours, has its share of challenges. And in the years I’ve been involved, more than a few seemingly insurmountable obstacles. You know what I mean – the kinds of people, and situations, and tech weeks, and ticket sales – that make the joy and magic we’re trying to capture and share something only chemically possible with a great deal of alcohol, or distance, or passive aggressive social media posts.
But as artists, our creativity and persistence musn’t waver. And we, Old Library Theatre, have persisted. We have pushed ourselves to do better, be better, expect better, and attract better. And when we get it wrong, we recalibrate. And when we get it right, we don’t brag. We dig in. And we keep going, keep trying to do right, to spread joy, and allow ourselves to feel lucky that we get to do something that we love and that we know matters.
None of us think receiving this award means we’re the best community theater in New Jersey. We don’t think it means this was our best year, or the one where we finally got it right. We don’t think it means we’re any more or less deserving than any other community theater in New Jersey.
What we hope it means is that we’re on the right track and you’re proud to have us as members of this community. We are the dreamers, the creators, the storytellers, the educators, the risk-takers, the sharers of joy our communities need and are better for.
This group behind me – only a select few of those who make OLT the special place it is – work everyday to honor this community and our shared craft. We are not your competition – we are your collaborators. And we promise to keep working to ensure that the drama stays on the stage, that the work and the people who do it have value and are valued, and that our product and its impact make it easier for you to do the same within your own communities.
When daytime television superstar Susan Lucci finally won an Emmy Award, on her 19th nomination, she ended her acceptance speech this way: “I was only supposed to be on every other Tuesday. But thanks to you, I’m here. And I promise I will try my best never to let you down. I’m going back to that studio on Monday and I’m going to play ‘Erica Kane’ for all she’s worth.”
To you, our fellow creators, storytellers, educators, risk-takers, and sharers of joy, we leave you with this: We were only supposed to be a small theater of dreamers performing in an old library. Thanks to you, we’re here. And we promise we will try our best never to let you down. We’re going back to that theater tomorrow and we’re going to play ‘Community Theater of the Year’ for all it’s worth.