To say this past year has been difficult for regional theatres would be an understatement. They have dealt with closings, uncertainties about reopening, and restrictions on audience capacity.
Despite all of the obstacles, Studio Theatre of Long Island at the BayWay Arts Center in East Islip is preparing to begin an exciting mainstage season on July 9.
“It’s really growing into something much bigger than we anticipated,” said executive artistic director Rick Grossman of the July 9 opening of “Catch Me If You Can.” The opening will be the Long Island Regional Theatre premiere of the show.
For quite a few months, there was uncertainty in the regional theatre community about how to proceed. On April 2, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that arts and entertainment venues were allowed to operate at 33 percent capacity, which Grossman said was “like moving chess pieces.” Every other row in the theatre was blocked off, which allowed for approximately 100 audience members. On May 19, all capacity restrictions for theatres were lifted, although Grossman noted that they’re “not going elbow-to-elbow just yet.” Each “pod group” will have an empty seat between them, allowing for about 240 to 250 audience members out of 372 available seats.
Because Broadway does not plan to open until Sept. 14, Grossman hopes that will give regional theatres on Long Island like BayWay an opportunity to showcase themselves.
New ownership at BayWay
Last summer, due to COVID-19, the owners of the Broadhollow Theatre decided to walk away from the theatre. That’s when a new team, including Grossman, executive director Christopher Rosselli and executive artistic director David Dubin, stepped in. The Studio Theatre also owns The Manes Studio Theatre in Lindenhurst, which is currently undergoing extensive renovations and is due to open sometime this year. Once that theatre reopens, it will be where Studio Theatre will put on most of their plays. Musicals will mostly stay at BayWay.
The renovations at BayWay include a new beautiful entryway with chandeliers, as well as Rick’s Café Américain, a bistro serving drinks, snacks and specialty coffees with at-seat service provided by its waitstaff.
Tiana Christoforidis, director of educational theatre, is passionate about the importance of theatre for kids.
“For young children to have an opportunity to be in a 300-plus-seat theatre with real lights and chandeliers in the lobby, even if they never do it again, that stays with them forever, no matter where they go in life,” Christoforidis said.
An important part of Studio Theatre of Long Island’s Mission is “no child turned away.” Children with special needs, on the autism spectrum or with financial hardships are all welcome. The Gary Scott Milenko Memorial Fund was established for this purpose and provides assistance to those with financial hardship so that the theatre is accessible to all student performers.
The upcoming season
With many exciting upcoming shows this season, Grossman said the theatre is committed to bring a property each season that has some kind of social significance, be it showcasing racial diversity, the LGBTQ community or anti-Semitism.
“Lots of theatres a year ago were making statements,” Grossman said. “We support this. We support that. We’re going to use our art as our platform. Let that speak for itself—don't just put it out there with words, put it out there with your product.”
After “Catch Me If You Can,” BayWay plans to present “Noises Off,” Elton John’s “Aida,” “Bonnie & Clyde,” and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” In addition, on July 15, the Long Island Comedy Festival will come to BayWay and on Aug. 12, a stand-up comedy show “for moms by moms” titled “Mom’s Night Out LI” will perform. If a concert is more your speed, Kenny and the Jets will perform on July 14 for “a night of original music encompassing elements of jazz, funk, Afro-Cuban and world-beat rhythms.”
Tickets and season subscriptions can be purchased at studiotheatrelongisland.com.