Award-Winning and Popular Kelsey Theatre Is Celebrating Its Golden (50th) Anniversary
THEATRE MAGIC: “We are proud of what we do, which is to offer you and your family a high quality convenient alternative to Broadway theater in New York City, and other theaters in New Jersey and Philadelphia,” says M. Kitty Getlik, artistic director of Kelsey Theatre, located at Mercer County Community College. “Our semi-professional theatre center offers musicals, plays, comedies, drama, children’s theater, dance programs, and music concerts year-round. And we try very hard to keep it all affordable for your budget.”
By Jean Stratton
The play’s the thing” at the Kelsey Theatre!
Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, the 399-seat theatre, located at Mercer County Community College (MCCC), 1200 Old Trenton Road, has a proud history of offering high quality productions.
Much of the theatre’s success is due to the longtime involvement of artistic director M. Kitty Getlik, who joined Kelsey’s operation a few years after its establishment in 1972-73.
Starting as stage manager, she has seen it grow into an important resource for theater-goers.
Originally established as a community and student theater, the theatre was named for philanthropist and benefactor Henry C. Kelsey.
“Initially, we did two to four shows a year as well as presenting some cultural events and speakers,” recalls Getlik. “The theatre was losing money at the time, and I had taken on some secondary jobs in the summer, including general manager of the Washington Crossing State Park Theater. I got to know a lot of different excellent repertory companies.
“I reached out to the Yardley Players about coming to Kelsey, they agreed, and then other groups came too. Over the years, we have built up to nine different community groups, and we still feature the Academic Theater and Dance Company, the Kelsey Players, and also a modern dance ensemble and a tribute band. It has been a combined semi-professional and professional operation.”
“This year, we are collaborating with Playful Theatre Productions, Maurer Productions OnStage, the Yardley Players, Theater To Go, MTM Players, Pierrot Productions, Shakespeare ’70, Broken Legs Productions, and K2K Entertainment. For our 50th anniversary, we have 17 full-length productions, and 11 different one-hour shows for kids.”
Getlik’s passion for theater began at an early age, she reports. Growing up in Philadelphia, she was introduced to theatrical performances by her parents.
“My mom loved the theater, and my parents performed in church theater. They also loved Gilbert & Sullivan, and I was exposed to lots of different kinds of theater. I loved it!”
“Make Me Believe”
Live theater is a unique and magical experience, she believes. The anticipation and excitement right before the curtain goes up, when the audience is about to be taken to a new world, on a new adventure, or into a special magical moment, is palpable.
“There is nothing like live theater,” she says. “Every show is different. The energy back and forth with the actors and audience is unique. Theater requires willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience, so they can be transported to the world of the performance. The audience expects the actors to ‘Make Me Believe’.”
Actors must bring all their energy, enthusiasm, and talent to accomplish this, she points out.
“I’ve worked in other businesses when I needed to. Some people give 100 percent, others don’t. In the theater, every single person gives 100 percent all the time. They are there because they want to be there. And this is everyone behind the scenes too. It’s everyone connected with the production.”
She is looking forward to an exciting season ahead, with the full schedule of adult and children’s shows.
“This will be a great season. We have something for everyone. We also have new seats, new curtains, and a new T-Coil Assisted Listening System for those who are hard of hearing. People also appreciate our secured lighted parking area.”
Among the full-length shows, with performances Friday and Saturday evenings, and Sunday matinees, Once, a musical fable is scheduled starting September 23. Other upcoming productions
include Something Rotten, Come Blow Your Horn, The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge, The Children’s Hour, Romeo and Juliet, White Christmas Movie Sing-Along (with audience participation), The Fantastics, Hello Dolly, and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.
Kids’ shows, which are one hour, are another highlight at Kelsey, and this season offers wonderful choices.
The Emperor’s New Clothes is set for October 15th. Then A Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail comes along November 26th and 27th, followed by Twas the Night Before Christmas, The Nutcracker, and into next year, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Movie Sing A-Long, The Ugly Duckling, and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, among others.
Kelsey also offers free concerts with the MCCC jazz band Winter and Spring concerts, and the MCCC Symphonic winter and spring concerts.
In addition to the productions, Kelsey offers creative theater classes on Saturday mornings for pre-K through 6th grade during the school year, points out Getlik. “In the summer, we will have the 50th anniversary of Tomato Patch Workshops — the longest-running and most successful multidisciplinary summer program in theater, dance, vocal music, visual arts, and video in central New Jersey.”
Getlik’s experience includes involvement in nearly every aspect of theater production. Over the years, she has served not only as stage manager but also as lighting, sound, and set designer, and acted on stage. As artistic director, since 1992-93, she oversees the full range of artistic operations.
“I compile an exciting and varied season by collaborating with our resident theatre companies and the MCCC Theatre and Dance Curriculum coordinator Jody Gazenbeek-Person,” she explains. “I then flesh out the season by producing some events and bringing professional theatre companies to present one-hour children’s events.”
She is proud to have received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Jersey Association of Community Theaters, and equally proud of the theatre’s many honors, including three awards in 2018, seven in 2019 and four in 2020. No awards were given in 2021 due to the theater closings in 2020.
Kelsey is nominated for 11 awards this year, and was also honored as “Best Local Theatre and Best Playhouse” in the Trentonian’s 2022 Readers’ Choice Awards.
Keeping theater affordable for everyone is a major priority, and Getlik is determined to make Kelsey’s productions as accessible as possible. Single tickets for musicals are $24, $22 for plays, and $12-$15 for children’s shows. Various subscription series are offered including 13 adult shows for $183, kids’ shows for $75, or opportunities to create your own series. Senior, student, and children’s discounts are offered. Tickets can be ordered by phone or online.
Quality and Variety
Audiences have responded enthusiastically over the years, and Kitty Getlik is happy that after the COVID shutdown, they are coming back. “They are from all over the area, including lots from Princeton, but also farther away. We have subscribers from Staten Island! They really appreciate our quality and variety, and reasonable prices.”
She also points out that audition opportunities for actors are available, and also positions for lighting, sound, and set design.
“I look forward to more young people becoming involved in all ways. As audiences, actors, and behind the scenes as stage managers, lighting and set designers, etc. There are so many wonderful opportunities in the theater.
“I am really encouraged. This is a wonderful live entertainment resource, and more and more people are discovering us. People will always want to see live theatre. There is nothing like it!”
For more information and to order tickets, call (609) 570-3333 or visit the website: www.kelseytheatre.org.