The Moorestown Theater Company (MTC) received the 2023 Cultural Access Network Innovator Award from the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts earlier this summer.
The company was presented with its win at the 14th annual Excellence in Cultural Access Awards. MTC is the first of the 250-plus community theaters in the state to become a chapter of the nationwide Penguin Project.
The Penguin Project has evolved into a national program, with chapter sites throughout the U.S. that provide a supportive environment for children with disabilities to explore their creativity, according to its website. The project has also demonstrated that participation in the performing arts has therapeutic value, namely enhancing social interaction, communication skills and self-esteem.
By providing access to community theater, The Penguin Project demonstrates that the special challenges of a disability should not handicap a child’s ability to participate in life’s experiences.
MTC produced a Penguin Project musical – “Annie JR.” – earlier this year, with 14 neurodiverse actors and seven neurotypical mentors. The nonprofit plans to produce a second Penguin Project children’s musical in April.
MTC was also chosen from among 150-plus venues as New Jersey’s Outstanding Community Theater of the Year for 2022 by the New Jersey Association of Community Theatres (NJACT).
It also received several other awards, including Best Collaborative Effort of the Year Award with BAYADA Home Health Care by the Non-Profit Development Center of Southern New Jersey.
“Getting an award like this from the New Jersey Theatre (Alliance) … to be recognized two years in a row with statewide awards from statewide governing bodies of theater, is just huge for us being a young theater company,” noted Mark Morgan, MTC’S co-founding producing artistic director.
“It’s great for MTC, but a better part of receiving the award was having a platform to say, ‘Hey, The Penguin Project is an amazing thing. You all spread the word,’” Morgan added. “Others should be doing it and helping neurodiverse worlds out there.”
The typical MTC season averages 15 productions year round. Subsequent years featured an award-winning children’s summer camp, multiple yearly children’s productions, adult-only productions, and a “rising stage” for 17- to 29-year-olds.
Now in its 21st season, MTC is preparing for its second stage show, “The Prom,” and its holiday show, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer JR.” Both productions will be held at First Methodist Church in Moorestown. Auditions for “The Prom” will be held during the second week of September for high-school students and adults, and the show will run from Friday, Nov. 3, through Sunday, Nov. 12.
Auditions for “Rudolph” will be held during the third week of September for first to 12th graders, who will perform the show from Saturday, Dec. 2, through Sunday, Dec. 10.
“It’s just been a wonderful relationship that pastors are incorporating musicals into their sermons …” Morgan said of MTC’s partnership with the church. “They love that, they love spicing up the sermon with music. So it’s just such an amazing relationship.”
MTC’s 13th annual Extrava-Gala will be held on Saturday, Oct. 21, from 6 to 11 p.m. at The Westin Mount Laurel. Tickets will be available for purchase soon, and Morgan is excited for guests to experience an evening that will include dancing, games, dinner and drinks.
“It’s just become a really fun night,” he enthused. “Some people call it the MTC prom. What we bring to Moorestown and to South Jersey theater and in the various communities around here is that willingness to think outside the box.”
For more information on MTC, visit https://www.moorestowntheatercompany.org.