For this year's summer theater season, local stage companies will work to attract audiences by trying new things while also offering crowds something familiar.

Cape May Stage is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a pair of plays marking a similar milestone. The company will kick off the summer by staging a play by a playwright who grew up in southern New Jersey.

The Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven opens its summer season with staff there having spent the winter cleaning up after a pair of disasters - a fire in the theater's living quarters and water damage from Hurricane Sandy.

Patrons might not notice the cosmetic changes, but theater staff think audiences will respond to the Surflight premiere of "Les Miserables."

At Cape May Stage, the 25th anniversary season sees preparations being made both on and off stage.

Roy Steinberg, Cape May Stage's producing artistic director, said the theater's current season was chosen in part with the company's 25th anniversary in mind.

"We are starting the season with a new play. At the same time we are looking forward, we are also paying homage to our past. The next play right after that is the 25th anniversary of a comedy called 'Lend Me A Tenor' that was on Broadway 25 years ago, and later in the season, we are doing a drama called 'A Walk in the Woods,' and it is also the 25th anniversary of that," Steinberg said.

"How To Make A Rope Swing" is the title of the new play, which is performed today through June 7. It was written by Shawn Fisher, who grew up in Vineland and later moved to Ocean City.

"The poetic sensibility and original voice of Shawn Fisher compelled me to produce 'How To Make A Rope Swing,'" Steinberg said.

It is the first time one of the five plays written by Fisher will be performed in the area. Fisher is the head of the graduate program in theater at Utah State University. His mother will be at the theater to see her son's play.

Fisher, 43, said the specific events portrayed in the play are fictional, but there are historical truths about his story of an old southern New Jersey schoolhouse being replaced. Two local elders - one white, the other black - meet to decide who the new building should be named after. Fisher said his play explores how time, changing generations, aging and mortality affects the views of everything, including history and race.

"Many of the schools in southern New Jersey, not all of them, just in select towns, especially rural towns, had defacto segregation right up until the early '50s. It wasn't necessarily a legal policy, but it was a practiced policy," Fisher said.

Backstage, the theater is entering its first season with a full troupe of eight paid interns working behind the scenes.

During the season, the interns will be working in areas that include marketing, costumes, scenery and sets.

Cape May Stage managing director Jon Wojciechowski, who started in the job in December, instituted the change from mostly volunteer summer interns to seven paid season-long interns with dedicated areas of responsibilities. An eighth, college intern, will work through the summer.

Wojciechowski brought the idea with him from his previous job as managing director of the Portland Stage Company in Maine.

"The advantage of doing things this way is having the continuity of people who are here all season long from the day we open right through to the day we close at the end of December. If they are here for the summer months only, we missed them in the spring with our first production, and we miss them right after they go back to school in August for the rest of the season," Wojciechowski said.

Kathleen Soltan, a 21-year-old Temple University student, is the intern working through the summer. She wants to make her living as a professional stage manager for live theater productions. Soltan sees this summer at Cape May Stage as the most important in her career development so far.

"I really like being there for the whole process. It's more hands on. I can see it from a table reading to a full production," said Soltan.

In Beach Haven, the drama at the Surflight Theatre has not been confined to the stage. The theater's lobby was flooded during Hurricane Sandy in October. The theater had already been dealing with damage the theater's largest housing unit suffered during an April 2012 fire. At the Surflight, a large number of cast members are recruited in New York and spend the entire summer working and living at the theater.

The damaged housing area has been completely rebuilt with new furnishings, paint jobs and carpeting, said Surflight's executive director Ken Myers.

This summer the Surflight will offer a couple of dramatic shows along with musicals and other offerings.

One crowd favorite is Rodgers & Hammerstein's "South Pacific," which be performed July 10 to 28. Surflight will premiere the drama "Our Town" from Sept. 25 to Oct. 4. The drama is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and the cast will consist of local and professional actors.

"Sleuth," which stars Fred Grandy, has its last performance 2 p.m. today. Myers called it "a great cerebral mystery."

Contact Vincent Jackson:

609-272-7202

Local summer theater

Dante Hall Theater

14 North Mississippi Ave., Atlantic City

609-347-2162

Today: "Barefoot In The Park"

June 13: "The Golden Age of Hollywood"

Tickets: $20 adults and $18 seniors and students for "Barefoot In The Park." "The Golden Age of Hollywood" is free for seniors. Call 888-426-9243 to reserve tickets.

Cape May Stage

Robert Shackleton Playhouse

Bank and Lafayette streets, Cape May

609-884-1341

Today to June 7: "How to Make a Rope Swing"

June 12 to July 26: "Lend Me A Tenor"

July 31 to Sept. 13: "Boeing Boeing"

Sept. 18 to Oct. 19: "Freud's Last Season"

Oct. 23 to Nov. 16: "A Walk in the Woods"

Tickets: $35 adults; $30 seniors (62 and older); $15 students.

East Lynne Theater Company

First Presbyterian Church

500 Hughes St., Cape May

609-884-4358

June 12 to July 20: "Lost on the Natchez Trace"

July 2: An Evening of Fables

July 24 to Aug. 31: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"

Sept. 18 to Oct. 13: "The Late Christopher Bean"

Tickets: $30 adults; $25 seniors and the disabled; $15 students

Elaine's Dinner-Theater

513 Lafayette St., Cape May

609-884-4358

Now to Aug. 1: "Cinder Elvis"

Tickets: $44.95 adults; $34.95 teens; $24.95 children.

Greater Ocean City Theatre Company

Ocean City Music Pier

Boardwalk and Moorlyn Terrace, Ocean City

609-398-1118

June 26: "Broadway On The OC Boarwalk IV"

July 7, 9 and 10: "Singin' In The Rain" with Ocean City Pops Orchestra

Aug. 14 to 16: "Peter Pan" with Ocean City Pops Orchestra

Sept 6 and 7: "Smokey Joe's Cafe" The Songs of Leiber and Stoller

Oct. 26 and 27: "A Murderous Night at the Museum"

Tickets: $20 orchestra, $18 solarium, "Broadway On The OC Boardwalk IV"; $25 orchestra, $20 solarium "Singin' In The Rain"; $25 adults, $15 age 12 and younger, "Peter Pan"; $20 adults, $18 seniors, $15 age 12 and younger, "Smokey Joe's Cafe"; $10 "A Murderous Night at the Museum."

Ocean City Repertory Theater

813 Asbury Ave., Ocean City

609-457-6686

May 17, 18, 24, 25, 31 and June 1: "The Rocky Horror Show"

June 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, 29: "Rent"

July 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, 20, 26, 27: "The Dumb Waiter"

Aug. 2, 3, 9, 10,16, 17, 23, 24, 30, 31: "Into The Woods"

Sept. 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28: "The Gin Game"

Tickets: $15 for "The Rocky Horror Show," "Rent" and "Into The Woods"; $20 for "The Dumb Waiter" and "The Gin Game."

Ocean Professional Theatre Company

Bengal Auditorium, Barnegat High School

180 Bengal Blvd., Barnegat

609-312-8306

Today: "'S Wonderful"

June 20 to 29: "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers"

July 7 to 13: "Anything Goes"

July 17 to 27: "Cats"

July 31 to Aug. 10: Thoroughly Modern Millie"

Aug. 14 to 31: "The Buddy Holly Story"

Sept. 11 to 15: "Irving Berlin's I Love Piano"

Sept. 25 to 29: "A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline"

Tickets: $35 adults, $20 age 12 and younger.

Surflight Theatre

201 Engleside Ave., Beach Haven

609-492-9477

Today: "Sleuth"

May 26: Tommy Tune: "Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales"

May 24 to June 16: "The Boy Friend"

June 19 to July 7: "George M!"

July 10 to 28: "South Pacific"

July 31 to Aug. 4: "Les Miserables"

Aug. 28 to Sept. 8: "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown"

Sept. 25 to Oct. 4: "Our Town"

Tickets: $45

Cumberland Players

Little Theatre

Sherman Avenue and the Boulevard, Vineland

609-692-5626

June 2: An Evening of Opera and Musical Theatre

Oct. 11 to 20: "Scapin'"

Tickets: $25 for an Evening of Opera and Musical Theatre; $15 for all 8 p.m. shows, $15 and $7.50 for Sunday matinee performances.

Landis Theater

830 E. Landis Ave., Vineland

856-691-1121

June 16 to 16: "Menopause The Musical"

Tickets: $45, $50, $60.

The Levoy Theatre

126-130 N. High St., Millville

856-327-6400

Sept. 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15: "Les Miserables"

Tickets: $20, $14 for seniors and students. Military discounts available at the box office.

Off Broad Street Players

Bridgeton

856-451-5437

Today: "Biloxi Blues"

Aug. 2 to 11: "Fiddler on the Roof"

Oct. 18 to 20: "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"

Performances at Levoy Theatre in Millville

Tickets: $20, $14 for seniors and students. Military discounts available at the box office.