Founded as the Cranford Dramatic Club Community Theatre in 1919 by a group of Cranford residents eager to share their love of theatre with friends and neighbors, we are proud to be the longest continuously producing non-professional theatre group in the state of New Jersey. Over the past 105 years, that humble group of theatre-loving neighbors has grown into a well-respected community theatre company with a mission to present quality and affordable live theater to New Jersey residents, to develop the talents of members in both the performance and technical aspects of theatre, and to stimulate community interest in theatre. Rebranded as CDC Theatre, we produce a year-long season of musicals, plays, Young Artist Programs and special events, all of which feature the area's brightest talent.
The CDC's first home was the Sherlock Hall of the Trinity Episcopal Church. In the 1920s, the group moved to the Cranford Casino, the one-time center of the town’s social life. The group continued to produce shows during the war years and in 1944 was granted nonprofit status as a 501©3 organization. After World War II, many of The CDC's shows were produced at Cranford High School.
In the mid-1950s, a group of the club’s members decided that the CDC Theatre needed a home of its own. After placing their own names on the mortgage guarantee, work began on the building that would become The CDC Theatre located at 78 Winans Avenue. The new theatre officially opened to the public in 1957.
In the decades that followed, CDC has continued to produce full seasons of musicals and plays, children’s productions, and “members’ only” productions of new or experimental works. The CDC also began hosting visiting performers, artists and theatre companies.
In 1992, the theatre underwent some much-needed renovations – replacing its chairs, getting a new façade on the front, and modernizing its plumbing and storage areas.
In 2003, just in time for its 85th season, the lighting system was completely re-done; adding a dropped ceiling, new lighting instruments, and a computer operated dimming system. In 2005, a fundraising effort allowed the theatre to add a downstairs handicapped-accessible restroom, helping to make it possible for more local senior citizens and disabled individuals to attend live theatre.
Through fundraising efforts, central air conditioning was added in 2012. The Junior Theatre program was reinvigorated in 2014 and offered two fully staged productions with students in grades 8-12 and with younger students in the inaugural season. Renamed the Young Artist Program, (YAP), it has continued to grow to include not only shows, but theatre classes and summer camps. In 2016 much needed repairs to the roof of the theatre were made with the help of successful grant applications. Grant monies from multiple agencies also funded the purchase of a range of sound equipment which had previously been rented. Other technical upgrades have included projection equipment, a programable keyboard and new lighting equipment.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of in-person activities and the theatre pivoted to a series of virtual events. In person classes and performances returned cautiously with outside classes and camps and on the main stage with A Dolls House Part 2 in June of 2021. The financial health of the theatre was guaranteed with the funding of a Federal Shuttered Venue Operators Grant and our unbroken record of activity continued. Failing furnaces were replaced in 2022 with the aid of the NJ Economic Development Agency and private foundation money.
CDC Theatre continues to flourish through a wide range of programing, innovative special events and of course, through the generosity of its patrons. If you'd like to add your name to The CDC's rich history, visit the Support Us Page.
In the heart of the Garden State, the vibrant tradition of community theater in New Jersey has a rich and colorful history. Dating back to the early 20th century, local residents with a passion for the performing arts began organizing and staging their own productions, laying the foundation for a flourishing community theater scene.
The proliferation of community theater in New Jersey can be traced to the 1920s, when enthusiastic amateurs gathered in church basements, community centers, and even barns to bring the magic of live performance to their neighborhoods. These early productions were often a labor of love, with makeshift sets, homemade costumes, and a spirit of camaraderie that defined the essence of community theater.
As the decades rolled on, the scene evolved and expanded. In the post-World War II era, community theaters in New Jersey gained momentum, with dedicated groups forming in various towns and suburbs. The 1960s and 1970s saw a surge in interest, as the counterculture movement encouraged experimentation and creativity in the arts.
Community theaters in the state became known for their adaptability, staging a diverse range of productions, from classic plays and musicals to cutting-edge contemporary works. The 1980s and 1990s witnessed a professionalization of sorts, with community theaters investing in improved facilities, technical capabilities, and attracting experienced directors and performers.
Today, New Jersey boasts one of the largest community theater scenes, with numerous groups spread across the state. From the bustling streets of Newark to the charming small towns, these theaters continue to bring people together, fostering a sense of community and providing a platform for local talent to shine.
In an era dominated by digital entertainment, community theater in New Jersey stands as a testament to the enduring power of live performance and the dedication of individuals committed to keeping the arts alive at the grassroots level. As the curtains rise on stages across the state, the spirit of community theater in New Jersey continues to captivate audiences and weave a tapestry of stories that reflect the diversity and creativity of the Garden State.