In May 1928, the Mountain Lakes Dramatic Guild was founded by Arthur Stringer and a small group of local people dedicated to the idea that good amateur theatre holds an important place in the life of a community. The following month, the Guild was organized at the home of Mrs. Jennie Robertson in Mountain Lakes with its purposes set forth in a charter, and Mr. Stringer (in whose memory your theatre’s annual ‘Arthurs’ are awarded) as its first President. Work was immediately begun to renovate a former chicken coop on Mrs. Robertson’s property to be used for their first theatrical production that same year. On September 28, 1928, the ambitious Mountain Lakes Dramatic Guild, ancestor of today’s Barn Theatre, made its debut in the State Theatre in Boonton with the play Ice-Bound by Owen Davis. Productions in the former chicken coop soon followed.
In 1942, Mrs. Robertson passed away, and her property in Mountain Lakes was sold, leaving the Dramatic Guild without a home. Group meetings were held in libraries, etc. – the Guild performed ‘on the road’ in schools, parish halls, and restaurants in such areas as Boonton, Lincoln Park, and Mt. Lakes while it was in search of a permanent ‘home.’ In 1953, an ‘officio’ of the Guild drove past a dilapidated red building on Route 46 in Parsippany. An inquiry revealed that it was an old blacksmith shop owned by a former publisher of The Citizen newspaper, and was vacant. And so in October 1953, after much hustle and muscle from many of its 90 members (painting, pouring cement over the dirt floor, installing seats from the old Lyceum Theatre in Boonton, etc.), the Guild celebrated its Silver Anniversary with a ‘new’ home in Parsippany. Because of its outward appearance, people began referring to the Little Theatre in Parsippany as “The Barn,” an official name change that would come later.
By 1958, Guild officers were beginning to worry about their ability to accommodate bulging membership and box-office demands in the future. Then, in 1960, the property on which the Little Theatre building stood was sold and the new owner announced different plans for the property’s use. A two-and-a-half-year search ensued for land on which to build, and a fundraising campaign by new Barn Founders expanded the existing building fund. After a variance application to build on Vail Road in Parsippany was denied, The Citizen newspaper even campaigned on behalf of the group in a 1962 editorial: “We respectfully urge (Par-Troy) Township officials consider a site for a cultural center with a Barn Theatre and Library as its nucleus.”
Our current home in Montville:
After much searching, property suitable for constructing a new and permanent home was found and purchased at the end of Skyline Drive in Montville. Construction on an ambitious new performing arts space with an art gallery lobby was started, only to suffer a setback when the skeleton framing collapsed during a severe windstorm. Undaunted, although now behind schedule and over budget, the structure was rebuilt and on April 9, 1966, the lights came up on the first production, The Miracle Worker, in what was now officially named The Barn Theatre Guild!