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Intimacy Is the Aim

Posted on 03 July 2008

The new Avram Theater at Stony Brook Southampton. John Bayles photo.

When Stony Brook University took over the Avram Theater two years ago, visitors had to squeeze into tiny seats with little desks attached to them, and for good reason, since the space often doubled as a classroom. Now, after a million dollar renovation to the theater and the adjacent gallery, that’s no longer the case as the narrow, old seats have been replaced with plush new ones, sans the little desks.
The two-decade-old building has been a leading space for arts events on the East End and now with its new facelift, the university hopes to max out its full potential by hosting concerts, drama productions and author readings. The space will be officially christened next Thursday, July 10, when the gallery opens with an exhibit featuring works by Sag Harbor illustrator James McMullan and the theater hosts to the first installment of the music series, “Music at Southampton: Sustainable Treasures.”
“The theater and the gallery is really a one, two punch,” said university president’s chief of staff Linda Merians.
Like the theater, the gallery was less than functional when Stony Brook inherited it. Its concrete patio was useless because of a large satellite dish that sat, pressed up against the door. Now the dish has been removed, flowers have been planted and the patio will be used for receptions. Media Relations Director Darren Johnson said the two spaces now have a “synergy” that was missing before.
Gallery director Marc Fasanella said the plan is to not have the Avram Gallery operate like other university galleries where students’ and professors’ work hangs for months at a time, but instead to allow more of a “museum quality.”
As for the 439-seat theater, which according to Merians “doesn’t have a bad seat in the house,” the renovation covered everything from the carpet to the walls to the sound and lighting. Theater manager Leonard Ziemkiewicz said, “Aside from the acoustics, the design and layout make the Avram one of the most audience-friendly theaters on the East End.”
The most notable difference between the old Avram and the new one is perhaps the most important aspect of a theater, the stage. Ziemkiewicz described the old stage as “angular,” like a “stop sign cut in half,” while the new stage’s thrust is rounded. The stage also has a semi-spring floor, which allows for dance recitals.
Another aspect of the stage, three traveling curtains, makes it more desirable not just for audiences but for performers as well. The stage can be utilized fully, or curtains can be drawn to make it more intimate. Merians said opera singers rarely have the chance to sing in a recital hall setting and that having the choice of a smaller stage allows them to sing songs not included in their normal repertoire. One such singer, soprano Christine Brewer, will have that chance to tone it down when she appears at the Avram in August, as opposed to when she’s on stage at the Metropolitan Opera. Ziemkiewicz said “intimacy” is the aim of the new Avram, to allow people the opportunity to witness the “marriage of music and language.”

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