WEST CAPE MAY — Lee O’Connor refused to use the tired expression “the show must go on” when discussing the outlook for the East Lynne Theater Company’s upcoming season.
But after a fire destroyed the West Cape May home he and his wife, Gayle Stahlhuth, used as the theater company’s office, the sentiment rings true.
“We will continue,” O’Connor said Tuesday. “It takes a lot of passion to get this together.”
In a news release, the East Lynne Theater Company announced it will continue with its 2018 season, which included 11 productions beginning in May and a student summer workshop in June.
On April 4, a landscaper called 911 reporting smoke coming from a nearby home in the 100 block of Fourth Avenue. Fire crews arrived to find the two-story home engulfed in flames. Fire Chief Chuck McPherson told The Press the fire caused extensive damage to the historic cottage that dates to the late 1880s, as well as the personal belongings inside. The cause of the fire has yet to be announced by the Cape May fire marshal.
In 1999, O’Connor and Stahlhuth took on the roles of technical director and artistic director, respectively, and began splitting the year between their New York City and Cape May homes. The same year, the theater company was financially unable to keep its office and performance space at the Cape May Institute, so Stahlhuth began working out of her home. The house also served as additional housing for out-of-town actors performing with the theater company.
Years of paperwork, play scripts and sentimental items O’Connor said can’t be replaced were lost.
“As far as the house, we’re going to make the best of a painful situation,” O’Connor said.
The Board of Trustees took to Facebook, asking for the community’s help to find temporary housing and office space.
According to a statement from the theater company, within 24 hours, O’Connor and Stahlhuth were offered a seasonal rental in a Layfayette Street condo for the six-month theater season. O’Connor said a friend of a board member needed to rent a one-bed room condo and agreed to the temporary situation.
“Gayle will have her laptop, printer and the ever-necessary internet hookup,” said O’Connor, “As far as the theater goes, the production standards will still be high.”
O’Connor said they are still working on finding housing for incoming actors, but believes that may be resolved in the next week.
The East Lynne Theater Company said it has received a lot of community support following the fire, and the theater is accepting donations through its website.
“If you haven’t been to the theater in a while, come see a show,” said O’Connor. “People can support the theater by supporting our work.”
More information about donations and upcoming performances can be found at east lynnetheatercompany.com or by calling 212-684-1582.