by Elsie Walker
Driving down Route 46 in Budd Lake, a newcomer might blink twice at seeing what appears to be a white castle on the other side of the lake. However, the castle is real. Just like any castle, it is a place where dreams, drama, and comedy take place. This is Pax Amicus. (The name means “peace, friend”.) Located at 23 Lake Shore Road in Budd Lake, Artistic and Administrative Director Stan Barber describes it as an artistic center, “where a group of budding artists, friends, and family come together to share the arts with the community”, a place where people young and old can find “kindness, acceptance and inclusion” while discovering the talents within them. This year marks the castle’s 50th anniversary. Over those years, it has told many stories; now this is its “once upon a time”:
In the 1960s, Stan Barber and his friend Bob Findley were teachers at West Morris Regional High School in Chester. Barber taught English and one day was approached to direct a school production. He’d been tapped because it had been noticed that he had studied acting for a short time. Barber wasn’t interested in directing the production, but after persistently being asked to do it, he gave in. “I fell in love with the energy I was able to share with students,” he said. He found it to be a more comfortable creative setting than the structured classroom. He went on to do school productions for a couple of years. Meanwhile, Findley discovered the same feeling Barber felt. Findley had a folk group called “Rasberry Jam” and worked with students after school in a less structured creative setting. Barber and Findley felt their lives going in a new direction and first took a sabbatical from (and later left) teaching to develop a community arts center.
Pax Amicus started in a former Presbyterian church in Flanders, purchased with personal loans and mortgages. Its first production was Jacques Brel, directed by Findley. Findley left the arts center a few years later, but is on its Board of Trustees and his wife performs there periodically.
In 1977, Pax Amicus decided to purchase the Knights of Columbus building on its current site for its growing children’s productions. Barber’s idea was to make it look like a castle so it would be intriguing to children. He pictured having a plywood facade, but some friends talked him into something else: building a castle. The re-construction took less than two years, and in 1979, for their efforts, Pax Amicus Castle was named Outstanding Building of the Year – first place by the National Remodelers Association.
At the time, Barber had made friends with an agent who said he could have one of his clients, an older actress, appear at the ribbon cutting. That actress was Margaret Hamilton of The Wizard of Oz. The agent supplied her with an escort, a then unknown actor named Kevin Bacon.
While both the old church and castle sites functioned as theaters for a while, in 1983, the Flanders site was sold.
Pax Amicus has shared a wide variety of offerings: Broadway musicals, Shakespeare, comedy, drama, stand-up headliner comics from New York, Atlantic City and Las Vegas, puppeteers, clowns, magicians, concerts, operas, and ballet.
Thousands of people have been part of this arts center. Lifelong friendships have been made and many people have met spouses there. Still others have discovered a new interest; while some lacking confidence, have found their voice there: in more ways than one. One example Barber shared was of a businesswoman who told him how performing on stage helped her be more confident speaking in front of boardroom audiences.
Many who have come to Pax Amicus as children have continued the relationship. For example, Rich Boyer, Jr. came to Pax Amicus in the 8th grade.
“My first show at Pax was The Sound of Music in 1980. [Since then], I have performed in over 100 productions, directed over 60 productions and have written or co-written 23 children’s musicals,” Boyer shared. Pax Amicus soon became a family affair with various family members taking on roles in front and behind the scenes.
In describing Pax Amicus, Barber explains that “theater is what we do, not what we are”.
The castle has become so much to so many, opening up talents in themselves many never realized they had.
Barber noted that a landmark show, was Pax Amicus’s 1972 production of Man of La Mancha. Aptly, the castle, like that play, is about people realizing their impossible dreams.