Located on the Monmouth University campus, the Lauren K. Woods Theatre houses the Department of Music and Theatre Arts. It was once the carriage house for Murry and Leonie Guggenheim of the famed Guggenheim family; students and theatergoers can still see the look of horse stables in many of the building's features. Newly renovated but with the same charm of a century-old building, the theater is named after one of Monmouth's most celebrated faculty members and hosts a variety of events and productions.
The theater's rich history makes students' learning experience that much more unique:
Murry's father, Meyer, was an immigrant from Switzerland in the mid-19th century. Starting as a peddler from house to house, he amassed enough money to begin importing embroidery from his homeland. He used this capital to invest in mining and smelting of steel. His sons joined him in this, and the family soon became multimillionaires. Benjamin Guggenheim, one of Meyer's 11 children, died in the Titanic disaster. His brother Solomon commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design the now-famous Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
It was typical of the family to give back to their country a considerable part of what they had been given the opportunity to earn. In 1929, Murry and his wife, Leonie, organized the Murry and Leonie Guggenheim Foundation of New York City, which was noted for its support of research in dentistry and the establishment of a dental clinic on East 72nd Street. This institution was the largest of its kind in the world. It was created to provide dental care for underprivileged children whose parents could not afford the services of a private dentist.
The Guggenheims' home in West Long Branch (now the Monmouth University Library) was world famous even before its completion in 1905. The building was designed by Carrere and Hastings, architects whose work interestingly enough included the main building of the New York Public Library. The design of the estate earned them the Gold Medal of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1903.
In 1960, the Murry and Leonie Guggenheim Foundation donated the Guggenheim estate at the corner of Norwood and Cedar Avenues to Monmouth College. The estate had been the property of the foundation since the death of Mrs. Guggenheim in 1959.
In addition to the mansion, included in the Guggenheim gift was the carriage house located on the south side of Cedar Avenue. The carriage house was converted to a fine arts and drama building, including classrooms, office space, and a hexagonal multiform theater with a seating capacity of 200. Due to its historic nature, the building maintained the "stables" look, with the costume and makeup area maintaining the horse stalls divisions, and the "tack" rooms became private dressing rooms and storage for costumes.
Once the building was completed, one of the first new hires for the theatre arts program was a recent Amherst graduate, Lauren K. Woods III. An alumnus of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School in New Jersey, Lauren began acting in high school and during his undergraduate work at Rutgers. During his years at Monmouth, he began the Guggenheim Summer Theater at the new arts center, where a different production was done every two weeks with visiting professional actors joining the student participants.
Lauren, affectionately known as "Woody" to his students and colleagues, also continued a professional acting career, appearing on TV in Ryan's Hope and Law & Order and several movies, including Rocky V. He appeared in more than 300 commercials.
When he died in 1995, the theater building was renamed the Lauren K. Woods Theatre in his honor.
(Some of the material above was adapted with permission from the Rumson-Fair Haven Hall of Fame Web site.)
In the summer of 1996, the Guggenheim summer stock company became Shadow Lawn Stage, in honor of the traditional name for Wilson Hall, the main building on the Monmouth campus. Two River Theatre Company, a professional theater, rented the space for a few seasons while waiting for a permanent home. Today, their space in Red Bank looks amazingly similar to that of Woods, only larger.
In 2007, a grant from Patricia Anne Corliss allowed for remodeling of the Woods Theater lobby, as well as adding new seats and a lighting grid to the interior of the theater. In the same year, Monmouth introduced a theatre arts major. The department continued to grow, featuring programs in music performance, music industry, music education, and dual majors in music and theatre arts. In 2010, David Tripold, PhD, became chair of the department. In 2013, Joe Rapolla, MBA, was named chair.
Today, Woods Theatre hosts a variety of events every year, including: