BUILDING THE WATERFRONT SOUTH THEATRE
Thanks to the generosity and caring of friends, architects, consultants, volunteers and two very special angels, Pepe Piperno and Helene Pierson, the theatre structure began to take shape. Pepe agreed to fund the construction of the theatre through his Domenica Foundation, named for his late mother. Unfortunately, the property was too water damaged to restore and the decision was made to demolish the old bar and replace it with a theatre designed to be an exact replica from the exterior. Now, instead of whiskey and beer on the menu, there will be Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams and more to "stir the souls" of all who come. Meaningful theatre, produced by professionals, will take place where life's real dramas once unfolded. This is how the new, 96-seat, Waterfront South Theatre was born.
THE FUTURE — ANCHORING THE REBIRTH OF A NEIGHBORHOOD
In September of 2010, the resident theatre company will launch it's sixth season with a fully-stage production of, “Last Rites”. As the play unfolds, the audience will be sitting in the place where the shipbuilders once sat on stools, tired and grimy from a days work. They will be reminded of Joe’s grandparents, Walt and Sue Evanuk, who would make sandwiches, serve drinks, and give repose to men who worked long days and did such memorable, important work. It should not be difficult to picture them; given that you are seated within the walls of the once thriving bar…turned theatre. You are the continuance of their dreams and the beginning of a new one. Being in the new theatre during this first play and the many that will follow will make you an important part of live theatre in a neighborhood that needs it most and, in a larger sense, you’ll be a main player in the renaissance of the city.
And to think, when this all started, so many said, “no one would come”.
From the time South Camden Theatre Company's Producing Artistic Director was “Joey” not Joseph M. Paprzycki, his grandfather’s corner saloon, Walt’s Café, and the interesting group of men that were his customers fascinated him. His grandfather purchased the bar at the corner of 4th and Jasper Street in Camden, New Jersey, just before the onset of Prohibition (a bad time to own a bar) and for many years, until 1967, quenched the thirst of thousands of local shipbuilders from the shipyards in Camden. During World War II over 30,000 men and women went to work at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation. These men and women built the battleships, cruisers and carriers that would help lead the United States to victory. By the 1960’s the workers dwindled in numbers. What did not dwindle, however, was the number of bar regulars or their profound need to wind down after a long day of welding, fitting, or riveting. It is from these experiences that Joe's first play, “Last Rites”, set in Walt's Cafe, was born.
In 2004, the Waterfront South neighborhood was changing once again, this time for the better. Boarded up buildings were, one by one, being refurbished and replaced by homes, thanks to the efforts of Helene Pierson and the Heart of Camden, a nonprofit group dedicated to revitalizing the Waterfront South neighborhood. Our Producing Artistic Director, had been going to Sacred Heart Church, led by Msgr. Michael Doyle, who is no stranger to important causes. One day after Mass, Father Doyle asked him why he hadn’t done any of his plays in Camden. When asked "where" Father Doyle said one word. “Here”. With that, we did a reading of the play, “Last Rites” to raise money and, within a week, six Camden Catholic High School stage crew members met for two days and built a stage.
On this stage, in the church basement “Last Rites” was performed the following year. We heard from many that “nobody would come to Camden for a play…especially at night”. This was an obvious concern. But the Company's passion for theatre and for the neighborhood was strong. Soon, we discovered that they were wrong. Over 450 people came during the three-week run to see the play about the bar and the neighborhood. Since that first play, the South Camden Theatre Company has continued with plays like, “The Exonerated”, “The Old Settler” and Eugene O’Neill’s “Hughie” "Mass Appeal" and "Youth In America". These plays took to the stage just steps away from Joe’s grandfathers boarded up and unsightly bar. This is how the idea was born to turn a deteriorating bar into a theatre.