(MILLBURN, NJ) -- Paper Mill Playhouse, along with the Gala Chairs Sofia and Peter Cocoziello, announced that the theater’s annual Gala, which was held at the Hilton Short Hills on Friday, May 20, was sold out and raised almost $1.2 million with the most successful Live Auction in Paper Mill's 84-year history.
Gala Chair Sofia Cocoziello shared her reasons for supporting Paper Mill Playhouse: “It is important to make deposits in people’s emotional banks. It’s what drives a strong relationship and that is exactly what Paper Mill does for us through magical performances and Theater school. When a play is over that’s how we all feel. It’s acombination of magic, happiness, hope, and human connection that always creates a deposit in our emotional banks and leaves us in a better place.”
“We are so thankful for the tremendous support we have received from our community of subscribers, donors, funders and board throughout this crazy time,” said Mark S. Hoebee, “We are excited for new beginnings, and we’re VERY happy to be back onstage at the theater, where we just ended a fantastic run of The Wanderer and are currently in rehearsals for Sister Act. Both were shows scheduled just before Covid changed everything, so to say we are thrilled to finally be sharing them is an understatement.”
“We’re so thrilled to be back together for this night of celebration here at the Hilton. After three years away, it’s wonderful to bring our Paper Mill Playhouse community together. To know that we have so many loyal supporters is heartwarming. And this enthusiasm and generosity at this year’s gala will contribute invaluable resources to our productions and our groundbreaking education programs,” said Managing Director Mike Stotts.
Audrey Bartner, a member of Paper Mill Playhouse’s Board of Trustees since 2004, received the Antoinette Scudder Patron of the Arts Award. In addition to being an accomplished entrepreneur, Audrey is a talented visual artist with works displayed in countless galleries in New Jersey and New York as well as in private collections. Audrey is a true patron of the arts. Prior to joining the board, she served on Paper Mill’s gala committees and was active with the Leading Ladies. A resident of Verona, Audrey is active in the community. She is a trustee of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and of the Women’s Association of New Jersey Performing Arts Center; she chaired its first gala and co-chaired subsequent galas. Additionally, she is a member of Lion of Judah, Metropolitan Museum of Art, West Essex Art Association and the NJSO’s Amadeus Circle.
Ali Stroker, the recipient of the Frank Carrington Award for Excellence, has a long Paper Mill history. Ali participated in Paper Mill Playhouse’s Summer Musical Theater Conservatory and New Voices concerts while in high school before making her mainstage debut in 2011 as Olive in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Ali later went on to win the 2019 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as Ado Annie in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
Stroker made history as the first actor in a wheelchair to appear on Broadway in Deaf West Theatre’s acclaimed 2015 revival of Spring Awakening. Ali’s mission to improve the lives of others, disabled or not, through the arts is captured in her motto: “Turning Your Limitations into Your Opportunities.” She speaks all over the world spreading her message of possibility with engagements at such institutions as ReelAbilities Film Festival, Brooklyn College, Vassar College, NYU Leadership Academy, and Easterseals Colorado, among many others.
This evening’s surprise honoree was long-time employee Patrick Parker, receiving the Byrne/Kean Arts Advocate Award. Patrick Parker has served at Paper Mill for 27 years, currently as Associate Artistic Director. Patrick began his tenure as assistant to the artistic director under Robert Johanson and was the Assistant Director for many of Paper Mill’s breakout shows including Follies and Gypsy with Betty Buckley and Deborah Gibson. As the resident historian of Paper Mill, Patrick has been the gatekeeper of the organization’s archives. He is a key member of the senior leadership team intimately involved in season planning, casting, production, donor relations, the education programs and so much more.
Gala Diamond sponsors included Investors Bank, Advance Realty, Audrey Bartner, Kathleen and Ted Bourke, David Yurman, the Ferolito Family, FirstEnergy Foundation, Gottesman Real Estate Partners, Hilton Short Hills, Jerry Rose Floral & Event Design, Julie Keenan and Jesse Hermann, and the Wilf Family Foundations. All proceeds from the gala support Paper Mill’s world-class productions, professional training programs, celebrated arts education programs, and community outreach.
PAPER MILL PLAYHOUSE, recipient of the 2016 Regional Theatre Tony Award, is a nationally renowned, not-for-profit theater under the direction of Mark S. Hoebee (Producing Artistic Director) and Mike Stotts (Managing Director). A beloved NJ arts institution since 1938, Paper Mill creates and produces groundbreaking new musicals and reimagined classics. Several productions have gone on to Broadway and launched national tours, including Disney’s Newsies, Les Misérables, Honeymoon in Vegas, A Bronx Tale, and Bandstand. The theater is also the home of an award-winning center for musical theater education and artist training, with outreach programs that impact tens of thousands of students each year. As one of the nation’s premier musical theaters, Paper Mill fosters a creative environment to advance the art form, educate students, develop future theater lovers, nurture inclusion, and provide access for all. Paper Mill Playhouse programs are made possible, in part, by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. Paper Mill Playhouse is a member of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, the Council of Stock Theatres, and the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.
Photos by Jerry Dalia