By Madeline Orton
At Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion, decorating for the holidays is about more than spreading cheer — it’s a matter of state pride.
“There’s always been a tradition of decorating this beautiful, historic home for the holidays,” said Executive Director of the Drumthwacket Foundation Robyn Brenner. “And I know for many folks that come through for our open houses…it’s become a part of their family tradition as well.”
While the Christies have chosen not to live at the governor’s mansion, the estate is the site of much official business and a destination for about 2,000 to 3,000 visitors a month — 5,000 during the holiday season — so the pressure is on to make each year more spectacular than the last. This year’s theme is “Drumthwacket on Stage.”
Twenty professional theater companies from across the state loaned costumes, props, set design models and even a Tony Award for Drumthwacket’s holiday display. John McEwen, executive director of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance, helped coordinate the efforts.
“We just started to brainstorm about the artistry of theater,” explained McEwen. “And costumes, and scenic elements might lend themselves to enhancing what the Garden Clubs of New Jersey have been doing here for the past several years.”
The historic mansion’s foyer, dining room, parlor, music room, library and study receive the star treatment, as theatrical design becomes home décor.
“The theaters came by, they looked at the different rooms, and remarkably, each theater was naturally drawn to different rooms in the residence,” said Brenner.
Shows from theater seasons past and present are called upon for inspiration. In the music room, The Growing Stage’s production of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer leads the way. And in the library, Centenary Stage Company’s A Christmas Carol.
“For the dining room, which is really a show-stopper in and of itself…we decided we would have a smattering of all the different theaters,” Brenner said. “But then, to tie that together…putting a Christmas tree on the table, which is a first, certainly, for Drumthwacket, and then having spilled forth presents — offerings from the different theaters.”
For Premiere Stages at Kean University, whose display adorns a majority of the parlor, the opportunity to showcase the art form in such a high-profile setting is an exciting one.
“It shows how much a part of the state theater is and how vital the arts are to New Jersey,” said Premiere Stage’s Producing Artistic Director John Wooten.
For visitors, the touch of drama adds a little something special.
“We have that beautiful dress from the Shakespeare Theatre, and she looks as if she’s an escort of Gov. Belcher’s whose portrait is right next to her,” Brenner said. “This year, it’s a lot more fun — exquisite, but fun at the same time.”
And just as soon as this holiday season ends, the next begins. Planning for next year’s holiday display begins in February.