Social Worker-Slash-Playwright on the Beauty of Community Theater

Eric Alter's Generations, a production of seven one-act plays, is kicking off a six-show run at the Grove Street Theatre in Montclair.

Theater stage with red curtains and spotlight
Photo: Shutterstock/Lidiia

Livingston playwright and producer Eric Alter has been putting on an annual, low-priced showcase of short, one-act plays with his theater company, Apricot Sky Productions, for 23 years. This Friday, October 20, his latest collection of playlets, Generations, opens its six-show run at the Grove Street Theatre in Montclair.

Generations will feature seven short dramas and comedies written by Alter, exploring themes of ageism and following stories of children, elders and everyone in between. Themes of love, life, loss and human connection will also be woven throughout.

At Apricot Sky, a Montclair-based community theater and production company that debuted in 2000, local New Jerseyans serve as both the actors and the production team. In Generations, the 20-person cast and five directors—plus writer-producer Alter—are from all the Garden State, where some of the playlets take place.

Alter, who is a social worker and educator at a school for students with disabilities, never traditionally studied theater. When he began writing and producing in 2000, he tells New Jersey Monthly, he “didn’t know anything at all.” He learned by reading plays and surrounding himself with theater.

“I used to have a tendency to sort of overwrite a little bit,” he says. “And I wrote heavy dialogue when I first started, because I kind of thought I needed to hit the audience over the head with so much exposition. As I got older, I learned that the audience is very smart, and they pick up on things right away.”

Alter has since written over 160 plays, mainly one-acts. He says he prefers shorter plays because there tends to be more space for creative freedom, and fewer expectations to adhere to traditional rules. Additionally, he believes a format of multiple playlets increases the chances of audience satisfaction.

“If you go to see a night of one-act plays, you may not like the first one, but you may like six others, or vice versa,” he says. “Whereas if you’re sitting in a play, typically—but not always—if you don’t like the first 15 minutes, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not going to like the next hour and a half.”

Much of Alter’s work has an autobiographical influence, whether featuring his Maplewood and South Orange hometowns or incorporating aspects of his personal life.

Unfortunately, Alter says, community theater is a dying art, in part because people are often unaware of their local theaters. Alter emphasizes that great productions happen on a local scale—via off-off-off Broadway programs like Apricot Sky Productions.

“I’m not saying people shouldn’t go to Broadway, but take a look in your own town as well,” Alter advises, explaining that community members can typically see high-quality theater productions in their own towns or counties for only around $20-$25. By doing that, he says, “Number one: You’re supporting the theater. Number two: You’re supporting the town. Number three: You’re supporting the arts. And number four: You might be pleasantly surprised at a great production.”

Generations will run Friday, October 20, through Sunday, October 22, and Friday, October 27, through Sunday, October 29. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 pm; Sunday matinees are at 1 pm. The two-hour production, which includes an intermission, contains seven one-acts, roughly 10 to 20 minutes each.

All shows are at the Grove Street Theatre (130 Grove Street, Montclair), which is handicap-accessible and has free parking. General admission tickets are $20; student and senior tickets are $15. Credited cards are not accepted. Call 973-509-2350 to reserve tickets or for info on group discounts.

For more information about Apricot Sky Productions, visit their website or follow them on social media (@apricotskyproductions).

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