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Allison Perrine Larena ’01 MA

President and CEO of the Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC) urges colleagues and students alike to remain positive and make opportunities in these hard times, and to look at the current affairs as great opportunities to create.

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Allison Perrine Larena ’01 MA was already well on her way to professional success by the time she decided to pursue a master’s degree at Montclair State. “At the time, I was married with a family and working at the Garden State Arts Center (now the PNC Bank Arts Center),” she recalls. Although her career in the entertainment field was advancing, her heart kept calling her to the theatre.Montclair State’s graduate program in Theatre Arts/Speech Communication allowed Larena to heed that call, and to prepare for a leadership role in the theatre industry.“The program enabled me to delve into works from classic playwrights such as Ibsen, Chekhov, Brecht and many others,” she says. “It also provided opportunities to meet experienced arts and entertainment professionals, from Broadway producers to directors to artists. This helped me expand my understanding of the industry, from both a creative and business perspective.”

Dr. Jane Peterson was a particularly strong influence on Larena’s graduate education. “Dr. Peterson challenged us to explore deeper ideas, meanings and layers in every aspect of our studies,” Larena says.

Today, Larena is President and CEO of the Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), which houses The Community Theatre. Under her leadership, the theatre has grown into a full-fledged performing arts center with an annual operating budget of approximately $13 million. Prior to the shutdown of arts venues due to the pandemic, MPAC was welcoming more than 200,000 patrons to 200 events annually, generating more than $9 million in ticket sales and creating an estimated impact of $15 million dollars on the local economy.

MPAC is one of New Jersey’s most popular venues to see world-renowned entertainers such as Diana Ross, Tony Bennett, BB King, Liza Minnelli, Rob Thomas, John Legend and Ringo Starr. The Theatre’s arts education program reaches tens of thousands of children, often providing them with their first live theatrical experience through in-theatre school performances, the Center’s Performing Arts School, in-school residency programs, and outreach programs for local organizations.

Larena also spearheaded a fundraising campaign that raised $10 million. Funds raised transformed the Theatre, built in 1937 as a vaudeville/movie house, into a state-of-the-art facility. It is now designated as a Major Presenting Organization by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

In 2012, Larena was recognized as “Arts Advocate of the Year” by the Arts Council of the Morris Area (now Morris Arts). She serves on the boards of ArtPride New Jersey and the Morris County Tourism Bureau, and she was included in the NJBIZ 2016 list of “The Best Fifty Women in Business.”

“The arts are needed now more than ever,” Larena says, reflecting on the many challenges facing the nation right now. “As we continue to emerge from this overwhelming time, we will need the collective experiences we share through music, theatre and culture to help us to understand, come together as a community and ultimately heal.”

Larena is prepared to lead, and to inspire others with her optimism. “The theatre industry of the past has been shattered, but I believe we can and will emerge even stronger when the stage lights are turned back on,” she says. “Students should look to the future of this incredible profession with positivity. For those just entering the field, consider this turbulent time as one of great opportunity.”

Larena advises her colleagues to look at this moment as a time to be bold, creative, innovative and – importantly – collaborative. “While live entertainment venues are shuttered, we have been forced to create new ways to connect with communities,” she says. “We must lean on each other and forge partnerships in unprecedented ways. Push forward, and keep in mind that we are all recreating the arts sector together.”