Federal loan helps South Jersey theater stay in show business

The USDA is getting into show biz, offering a $594,000 grant and loan package to a rural South Jersey theater.

The Eagle Theater in Hammonton, N.J., has been operating as a performance venue since it was restored in 2009. The 200-seat theater was built in 1914 as a silent picture house, but was being used as a storage warehouse when the Hammonton Revitalization Corporation acquired it six years ago with the intention of making it an anchor for a developing downtown arts district.

Hammonton is on the edge of the Pine Barrens, and known for its blueberry farms. The USDA’s office of Rural Development makes grants and loans available to potential economic generators in rural areas.

After three years of staging theater, concerts, and magic shows, the Eagle is becoming a bona fide regional theater company. President Jim Donio says performances pull cast members and audiences from as far south as Maryland, north of Princeton, and Philadelphia.

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“This was our first full season with musicals and live plays, and the start of a subscriber base,” said Donio. “We’ve just announced our 2013 season, which includes seven shows.”

The Eagle Theater recieved a $571,000 loan, and a $23,000 grant to improve the lighting and sound inside the theater, and expand its lobby area. Some of the work will begin immediately following the run of its currrent production, “Hollywood Abridged.”

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