Mark Roxey had the worst 53rd birthday.
When the remnants of Hurricane Ida began to lash New Jersey on Sept. 1, he was home expecting to enjoy a quiet day inside. But what began as an overcast morning soon escalated.
“As my wife took a pump to the back… I was in the front trying to divert water by building trenches and scooping it out with a shovel,” Roxey said.
In addition to other damage to his home, Roxey’s driveway was completely flooded. Because he lost power, there was no way to know how bad the storm had been throughout the state, he said.
His first stop the next morning would be his dance studio, the Roxey Ballet Company in Lambertville.
Roxey would soon discover that his business was one of several theater venues — and thousands of properties — throughout the state overwhelmed by flooding. It was also among the studios and theaters that did not have flood insurance because they aren’t located in a flood zone.
Ida led to at least 30 deaths in New Jersey, including six in Hunterdon County. The storm may be over for some, but even two weeks later many are still recovering from the havoc wrought by the deluge of floodwater— including theaters that were gearing up to start their fall seasons after more than a year of COVID-19 shutdowns.
Venues hit across the state
Julie Barbieri, the owner of the studio and dance school, said she is still waiting on word from her landlord to gauge next steps.
“We just don’t know when we’ll be back at this point. Will it be six months? A year? Will we have to walk away from the building?” Barbieri said.
Main Street Dance & Music, which marks 11 years this month at its Manville location, had up to seven feet of water cover the 2,500-square-foot space. In addition to flood damage to its rehearsal area and 75-seat black box theater, Barbieri lost two $800 pianos, two drum kits and hundreds of dance shoes.
When President Joe Biden visited Manville to assess the damage, his motorcade drove right by her business, Barbieri said.
“Our students want to know what we’re doing next,” said Barbieri, noting that pre-COVID-19 the school taught over 100 students of all ages. “Some are older and said they will wait it out with us but the younger ones are not as attached, so they may go somewhere else.”
Barbieri, a mother of two, said she was lucky to only have minimal damage at her nearby Hillsborough home.
On Monday, she walked about her studio collecting photos amid the refuse. The venue also flooded in 2011 during Hurricane Irene and a year later during Superstorm Sandy. However, Ida has presented the biggest challenge because Barbieri didn’t have as much time to prepare and doesn’t know what financial assistance she may get from the government to get back on track, she said.
A Sept. 18 Open House, meant to be a warm welcome for old and prospective students, has been called off.
Among the largest theaters in the state, the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn had flooding in its orchestra pit, first few rows of seating and basement areas. However, a theater official said its upcoming cabaret show did not have to be rescheduled.
“Thankfully, the severity of the flooding was not as impactful as it was on other downtown Millburn businesses,” said Hawley Abelow, a spokeswoman for the Paper Mill Playhouse.
About 4 miles east, the Summit Playhouse experienced some damage too.
The theater lost furniture, carpeting, costumes, props, cabinets and other items because of flooding. The Summit venue, which is gathering donations, said it was able to resume rehearsals a week after the storm.
A month’s worth of shows gone
All performances at the South Orange Performing Arts Center have been put on hold through at least Oct. 1.
SOPAC’s Executive Director Dee Billia said the lobby, auditorium floor, orchestra pit and elevator were all damaged during the storm.
“We were about to have our opening night and then comes this storm and here we are. It’s a disaster ... and very deflating,” said Billia, who also noted damage costs are still being calculated.
Billia said the elevator shafts have been drained of water but the drywall surrounding the shafts can’t be salvaged. It’s one of many unwelcome discoveries theater employees have made during the cleanup.
SOPAC will likely also need funds to remediate its 400-plus theater and stage, which were inundated during the storm. Shows for artists booked at the theater for the start of the fall season have either been canceled or postponed.
“We book artists here who are touring, so that’s their livelihood. We will reschedule most of the ones we can, but not all. They’ve been out of work for a year-and-a-half and some won’t be able to perform. I just feel very dispirited by that,” Billia said.
‘Time stood still’
In Lambertville, Roxey’s trip to his dance company the morning after the stormbore worse news.
The drive, which usually lasts 15 minutes, took over an hour due to road closures from flooding. He arrived after navigating through wet roads and debris. After climbing through a broken glass window, he discovered the 80-seat theater, various studios and office were all beyond repair.
A piano was completely wrecked from water damage, as were mirrors, dance equipment and up to $20,000 worth of PPE. A pile of ballet shoes, soaked and covered in dirt, were barely recognizable.
Water rose to eight feet in some parts of the building, a theater spokesperson later said.
Roxey and other theater managers would soon learn the building would have to be condemned.
“When I saw it, I didn’t even know where I was or how I got there. Time stood still for me. It’s the best way I could describe it, time stood still. It was the oddest feeling to experience,” Roxey said.
He called loved ones over to both assess the level of damage and help him find his bearings. The dance company, which celebrates its 29th anniversary this month, is home to about two dozen professional dancers. Roxey said its worked with thousands of students both in-house and through partner schools in the Hunterdon County and Bucks County, Pennsylvania, areas.
“After all we had to deal with at the height of COVID with the school and company closing and having to rebuild and hold on and use our life savings to make it work, and then for all of it to just vanish,” Roxey said.
The production, “The C-Word … Personal Stories of Triumph Over Breast Cancer,” which was supposed to mark the theater’s return after a coronavirus closure, has been canceled.
A series of other shows have also been nixed or postponed. However, the theater has found a temporary home at the New Hope Eagle Fire Company. Some shows will go as planned, including “The Nutcracker.”
Several theater companies and other supporters have reached out to help including fellow Lambertville venue, the Music Mountain Theatre — which held a benefit show over the weekend.
Roxey said it is too early to say whether the Roxey Ballet Company will be able to erect a new home in the same location.
“It just goes on and on as far as the amount of support we’ve had from the community. They’ve really pitched in to help us overcome this terrible tragedy,” Roxey said.
How to help
To donate to SOPAC online visit sopacnow.org/donate/. You can also call (973) 712-4102.
To support Main Street Dance & Music, you can shop at Barbieri’s online store by visiting tap-it-out.creator-spring.com/ or sign up for a Zoom dance class on the theater’s Facebook page at facebook.com/MainStreetDanceofManvilleNewJersey.
To help the Summit Playhouse visit thesummitplayhouse.org/tickets-donate.html.