The intimate Ducktown performance space celebrates its fifth anniversary.
While Dante Hall is celebrating its fifth anniversary this Friday with a pre-show party, auction and musical performance by the singing news anchor, NBC 40's Michelle Dawn Mooney, the idea that this performing arts venue is a mere five years old is a tad misleading.
Located in the heart of Atlantic City's Ducktown neighborhood on Mississippi Avenue, adjacent to St. Michael's Church, the current configuration of the Dante Hall Theater of the Arts did indeed open in October 2003, as a beautifully re-designed 250-seat theater. However, the history of the space goes back to 1926 when it was first built as the parish hall of St. Michael's.
In those early years, the venue hosted amateur performances, the Passion Play, spaghetti dinners and CYO basketball games. In my younger years, I was a basketball referee and did quite a few games at Dante Hall. That was when I learned that a coaching nun screams at the refs just as vigorously as any other coach; my ears are still burning at the memory.
|Michelle Dawn Mooney (right) will sing at Dante Hall's birthday concert.|
As a non-profit theater, and surrounded by such a wide selection of top-name entertainers who headline year-round at the nearby casinos, Dante Hall was designed to find shows that fulfilled the mandate of outstanding entertainment, but at affordable prices for both the venue and the patrons. According to Frank Formica, a member of the Board of Directors of Dante Hall and a long time resident and businessman, "Dante Hall represents a unique venue for the arts, and plays a significant role as a cornerstone of the history and future of Ducktown. Ducktown has traditionally been the Italian neighborhood of Atlantic City, and as we continue to revitalize the neighborhood, Dante Hall plays an important part in the neighborhood's revitalization."
This mission has been accomplished with a dynamic combination of supporting local artists, going out and finding great shows to present as part of Dante Hall's outstanding programming for children, and musical acts that provide fine entertainment, but don't gouge a non-profit's limited budget.
Asked about his favorite shows over the years at Dante Hall, Formica says, "They all are my favorites, although I especially enjoy, as a board member, providing the opportunity for local talent to perform. There is a lot of great local talent with very few places for artists to perform in the area. As a frustrated musician myself, I know how important the venue can be for both the artist and the audience. Dante Hall is such a fantastic setting and the sound quality is amazing -- the overall experience is unique."
Dante Hall has opened its doors to such local organizations and artists as Pattie Harris' Atlantic City Dance Theatre, the Ocean City Pops Orchestra, Leonard Dozier and Cineplay Productions' A Raisin in the Sun, Actors and Playwrights by the Sea, the Frankadelics, Ruth Wyand, the Gina Roché Quartet and jazz singer Terri Showers (see video).
The performance by Michelle Dawn Mooney, besides its anniversary show designation, is also the first in Dante Hall's new First Friday jazz series. Mooney's performance will be followed by piano man Bud Noble (Nov. 7) and the Stockton Faculty Band (Dec. 5).
As for what is ahead for Dante Hall, "Last year was really a year of regrouping for us and as we enter into our sixth year we have a lot to celebrate," says Formica. "My ultimate dream is to see an arts district established in Ducktown, and for Dante Hall to be its heart."
For a schedule of upcoming performances, visit www.dantehall.org.
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