WEST MILFORD, N.J. -- Erika Crocco first took the stage when she was 5, playing Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" in a school production. Now president of the West Milford Players, she's made the group both a family affair and even more of a community affair.
The Players is a community theater group which has been putting on productions for 36 years. And for more than a dozen years, the group has integrated a tradition of giving back to the community.
"We started doing that about 15 years ago," Crocco told Daily Voice.
The very first recipient was a man who had been injured by a hit-and-run driver, and the Players gathered donations to help him and his family.
"From there we decided to continue the tradition of having the director pick something they were passionate about," Crocco added. The cause may be an issue a particular director cares about generally or a group he personally is involved with.
The Players collect donations at each show and then match the public's donation with proceeds from the production. Some performances have raised as much as $1,000 for the designated group.
The most recent show was "The Last Tycoon," which brought the '50s and the Golden Age of Hollywood to West Milford. Crocco's daughter Gabriella was a lead actor, and she's been involved with the Players since she was 5, as a member of the ensemble in "The Nifty '50s."
With "The Last Tycoon," the director chose the West Milford Animal Shelter Society to receive these donations. This is the second time it's been chosen.
We are 100 percent volunteer, so everything we get is donated. We appreciate that they do this for us. Gail Hettenbach
And some of their volunteers have adopted from us in the past.
"The Players are very proud of the performances and work that we do in the community and were so pleased to choose this wonderful organization, that gives so much to the homeless animals in our community," Crocco said.
Other beneficiaries have included the ASPCA, the Veterans Association, Operation Smile, Project Graduation at the high school, Toys for Tots and the community playground.
The next show the Players will perform is "The Wedding Singer Musical." Based on the Adam Sandler movie, the musical will help you take a trip back to the '80s. Tease your hair and find those acid-wash jeans -- or not -- as you sing and tap along to '80s-style music.
The performances will be on Feb. 24-26 and March 3-5. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m., and Sunday ones are at 2 p.m. Due to some mature language, parental discretion is advised.
Tickets are $18 for adults, and $15 for students and seniors. You can reserve tickets online, by calling 973-697-4400 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If tickets are still available, you can also buy them at the door -- but Crocco expects them to go fast.
For this show, donations will benefit West Milford's PRIDE Program. The acronym stands for Park and Recreation Individual Development Enterprise.
PRIDE is an activity program for developmentally disabled adults in the community. The website notes that the staff "helps disabled adults address independent living skills, leisure skills, as well as survival reading and math skills necessary to function within their community."
Tim Roetman, director of the West Milford Community Services & Recreation Department, told Daily Voice that the program gives these community members a chance to enjoy recreation opportunities and socialize with other adults in the community.
"We certainly appreciate the West Milford Players reaching out to us about the PRIDE program and helping to raise funds," he added.
This will also be the second time that the Players have donated money to this cause.
After "The Wedding Singer," up next is "12 Angry Jurors," based on the hit play and film "12 Angry Men." Get audition details here.
The Players is an all-volunteer organization, Crocco explained, including her, the rest of the board, the actors and even the technical staff.
"It's a lot of love for theater."
The group does three shows per season, and it currently has over 100 people involved -- perhaps as many as 150.
Some get involved after seeing a show, and while some do want to act, there is an array of other opportunities, including set design, lights and social media. "We're always looking for volunteers," Crocco added. Just email or call.
"You're either going to do it once, and it will be in your blood and you love it, or you'll just never want to do it again. Period. There's no in-between."
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