Tag Archive | "Bay Street Theatre"

At Bay Street’s Fireside Sessions, Nancy Atlas and Special Guests Hope to Keep Locals Warm this Winter

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Nancy Atlas performed with special guest drummer Chad Smith during the first of her Fireside Sessions at the Bay Street Theater on Friday (Michael Heller photo).

Nancy Atlas performed with special guest drummer Chad Smith during the first of her Fireside Sessions at the Bay Street Theater on Friday. (Michael Heller photo).

By Tessa Raebeck

Schools, government offices and the Long Island Expressway (LIE) were all closed, but one thing brought Sag Harbor residents out of their homes in spite of Friday’s blizzard: music.

The theatre was filled to capacity for the inaugural performance of Bay Street Theatre’s newest program, “Fireside Sessions with Nancy Atlas,” showing that murmurs of cancellation and the threat of icy roads cannot quell die hard music fans – and that those fans do in fact exist on the East End in January.

“It was insane, it was really insane,” Atlas said Monday of the concert, which featured Chad Smith, the drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Each week, the fireside sessions feature Atlas, her band, the Nancy Atlas Project, and a different special guest, such as Smith, who sits in with the band.

The audience enters to see a giant “fireplace,” a projected display of a cackling fire on a screen behind the band. The fire is always there, but the performance changes with each guest.

“The guests,” said Atlas, “are all top-shelf world class professional musicians.”

Atlas, who lives in Montauk with her husband Thomas and their three children, has met or worked with each guest at some point during her two decades in music and personally invited each musician to join her on stage.

While Atlas and her musician friends are quickly booked up during the busy summer months, they – like most people on the East End – find they have sufficient downtime come “the dead of winter,” she says.

“I started calling them up and they were available and it was just kind of meant to be,” said Atlas.

Each separate event focuses on the musical desires and talent of that particular special guest, who chooses which songs are performed.

For Smith’s performance, the focus was, naturally, on songs that showcase drums and percussion.

This Friday, January 10, the special guest is Andy Aledort, who is “an amazing, amazing guitarist,” says Atlas, and is the sideman for Dicky Betts. The session with Aledort, who has played with legends like Jimmy Page, will feature guitar-centric songs.

Nancy Atlas goofs around with special guest drummer Chad Smith during the first of her Fireside Sessions at the Bay Street Theater on Friday. (Michael Heller photo).

Nancy Atlas goofs around with special guest drummer Chad Smith during the first of her Fireside Sessions at the Bay Street Theater on Friday. (Michael Heller photo).

In addition to showcasing the guests, the original music of the Nancy Atlas Project is also featured.

“It’s nice,” said Atlas, “you never know what you’re going to get. There’s so much in life these days, with technology, there’s no surprise. We’re like a little Christmas present every Friday – it’s all wrapped up.”

“You’re going to see that fire cackling on a big screen,” she continued,  “you don’t know what you’re going to get under the tree…I’m trying to change it up each week.”

The fireside sessions started with drums, will feature guitar this week and will move on to keyboard and vocals in the following weeks.

On January 17, funk and R&B keyboardist Danny Keane will join Atlas on stage.

Bay Street plans to announce the remaining guests for the series soon.

“There is an art to the show,” explained Atlas. “It doesn’t just happen. I’m trying to really provide just a top shelf show for Sag Harbor and also a chance for us to get together as a community and enjoy it.”

“We always – all of us – have to work so hard in the summer,” the performer continued. “This is really about reconnecting with the locals and giving them something that’s affordable and really great – that’s my goal.”

According to the turnout Friday, the first session met that goal.

“We were sold out with a waiting list,” said Tim Kofahl, Bay Street’s director of marketing and public relations, of Friday’s show. “People are anxious to get out of the snow.”

Atlas is hopeful the concerts’ good turnout will reverberate throughout downtown Sag Harbor.

“I’m tickled pink,” she said, “if in any way the repercussion goes out to some of the restaurants or some of the bars in Sag Harbor on a Friday night, if the bartenders and the waitresses make a few extra bucks.”

She said when the concert got out around 11 p.m., some 200 people were “roaming the streets looking for food.”

Expecting an intimate show, Atlas was surprised and encouraged by the response.

“In its own way,” she said of the blizzard, “it was kind of endearing, because it is about the winter and getting together and being all together as a community. And having this wonderful, magical – hopefully – show and then to have the snow – it was just enough.”

Fireside Sessions with Nancy Atlas will run every Friday at 8 p.m. through January and February, excluding February 7. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online at baystreet.org, by phone at (631) 725-9500 or in person at the Bay Street Theatre Box Office on the Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In Levine’s Memory: Slow Food, Education & Organic Farming Celebrated

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By Amy Patton

An upcoming celebration of locally cultivated food, sustainable farming and micro-agriculture will mingle next month with the memory of a North Haven man who held a passion for all these things.

The American Hotel, in partnership with the Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation, will host a dinner and pre-dinner cocktail party Sunday, March 24 to raise funds in part for the Edible School Garden Group and the three “master” gardeners chosen to help local school districts cultivate and expand their school gardens.

The foundation is guided by Myron and Susan Levine, of Sag Harbor, who lost their son Josh in 2010 when he was fatally injured in an accident while working at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett.

Josh, who was 35 years old when he died, left behind two small children and his wife, Ann.

Myron Levine said the overwhelming support for his family from the community after the tragic accident spurred him to find a way to raise funds to better the community. Since Josh was so passionate about organic farming and its benefits, said Myron, the family chose to promote what would most significantly preserve his son’s memory.

Although Josh began his career as a real estate developer in Manhattan, his father said after spending many summers on the East End, his son found a calling in farming and in 2008 he became a volunteer at the Peconic Land Trust’s Quail Hill Farm where he served as a summer apprentice on the Amagansett acreage.

“He was such a gentle man,” said Myron. “He was so drawn by what he saw out here, the simplicity, the purity. He saw the value of keeping local agriculture alive.”

Also to benefit from March’s event is Slow Food East End (SFEE), an organization that, as one of its charitable projects, works with local schools to teach children about the value of homegrown produce. Last year, the group helped several school districts like Greenport and the Hayground School install greenhouses and small gardens so that kids could learn hands-on the benefits of small-scale organic farming.

“Slow food is obviously the opposite of fast food,” said Mary Morgan, the former director of SFEE, who recently stepped down from the organization to head another related charity. “Our goal is for local children to understand that not all they eat must come out of packages at the supermarket.”

The schools that currently benefit from the Edible School Garden program, said Morgan, which this year number 20 throughout the North and South Forks, “are in various stages of working with the students on building and maintaining food gardens.” Morgan noted some of the kids’ homegrown efforts have even led to some of the produce being sold at area farmer’s markets or used in cafeterias. The master gardeners, who are hired with funds garnered from the now-yearly Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation event, work in conjunction with teachers, administrators and students towards the SFEE’s goal.

“For children to understand where their food comes from is so important,” said Peconic Land Trust president John v H. Halsey, whose organization works, in part, to promote the use of local land for farming and allocates funding to make that land more affordable for farmers. “The Slow Food East End movement and the Edible Garden School program both help to instill a conservation ethic in these kids. We’re very supportive of fundraisers like this that help to promote the use of food production farmland and assure that such a valuable legacy stays with us out here.”

The American Hotel’s Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation dinner/fundraiser is currently sold out; However, there are still tickets available for the pre-dinner cocktail party which will be held at Bay Street Theater from 5 to 7 p.m. on March 24, featuring wine, hors d’oeuvres and music. A donation of $75 will secure a place at the event and reservations can be made at www.joshualevinefoundation.org.

 

Bay Street Theatre Announces a Change in Direction for 2013

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By Annette Hinkle

Truth be told, 2012 was a year of challenges for the Bay Street Theatre.

First came a summer mainstage season in which the three productions — two of which were premieres — often played to less than packed houses.

Then, in October, came Superstorm Sandy — right in the midst of Bay Street’s Literature Live production of “The Crucible.” Because of the storm, schools across Long Island were forced to cancel trips to Sag Harbor to see the play at Bay Street.

“We were very fortunate not to have physical damage here from Sandy, but we were hit hard when all the schools canceled Literature Live because of what they were going through,” explains Tracy Mitchell, Bay Street’s executive director. “We lost $20,000 for that production alone — and these kinds of numbers are hard to make up for us.”

Then, right before Christmas, Bay Street’s long-time artistic director, Murphy Davis, left his position with the theater.

So given all that’s transpired in recent months, last week, when Bay Street announced its summer mainstage line up, it should have come as no surprise what the focus will be for 2013.

This summer, it’s all about maintaining a sense of humor.

“I just want to laugh this summer,” says Mitchell. “I said, ‘Can we please have a summer of fun?’ That was kind of what we came to. Get people in here with titles they know.”

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With that in mind, Bay Street’s mainstage season kicks off May 28 with Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor,” which is set at a gala fundraiser in 1934 where chaos, mistaken identity and double entendres ensue. Don Stephenson will direct the comedy, which runs through June 23.

Next up will be Charles Ludlum’s “The Mystery of Irma Vepp” from July 2 to 28. Directed by Kenneth Elliot, the three-act play is a satire of several theatrical and film genres (including Victorian melodrama, farce and Alfred Hitchcock). The play stars two actors who, between them, take on eight characters of both sexes with 35 quick costume changes.

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The summer season will wind down with the 1963 Stephen Sondheim musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Marcia Milgrom Dodge (who directed both “Hair” and “The Who’s Tommy” for Bay Street) returns to helm this musical comedy, which tells the story of a slave who attempts to win his freedom by helping his young master woo the girl next door.

“The shows for this summer, I think, are literally laugh out loud,” says Mitchell.

This summer’s line-up of tried and true comedies represents a bit of a departure for Bay Street, which has long sought to balance its summer season by offering well-known plays along with new work, including dramas. While the focus on premieres has not gone away, Mitchell notes the timing of some of those productions just might change.

“I think one of the things we’re looking at is our mission, which is both new contemporary and classic theater,” explains Mitchell. “That has been the mission of the theater all along — so last year we did not one, but two premieres.”

While these premieres often garnered critical acclaim, Mitchell concedes they are a tough sell for summer audiences who are looking for light-hearted plays with name recognition.

“It’s a really important thing to get new work seen, but premieres are really hard to do because they’re not known titles people are familiar with. They don’t automatically drive audiences to come to the theater,” explains Mitchell. “The one thing that drives that is a title name — either a play you recognize as good summer fare or a star name.”

And summer, as any business owner out here knows, is all about packing houses while the sun shines.

“We, like many other non-profits, struggle financially, and it’s the chicken and the egg,” adds Mitchell. “Sometimes you want to support new work, but running this business in the Hamptons when you only have eight weeks to make your mark means you have to sell lots of tickets while people are here.”

“Then maybe we start to do some of the new work not during those eight weeks,” says Mitchell. “My feeling is, it’s a new day at the Bay, and it’s all about laughing and having a good time. Not that we won’t do another drama. I think we might get back to that in the shoulder season.”

But the theater isn’t looking to do any of this in a vacuum. Late last week, Bay Street announced it is embarking on a six month “listening tour” to garner input from audience members as well as potential artistic and community partners about how the theater might form new alliances on a year round basis.

“This is the most exciting opportunity since the founding of Bay Street,” notes Mitchell. “It really represents a sea change in the sense that we have decided to really reach out — to refresh, renew and explore artistically beyond where we have been.”

“We do believe that there is a place for more dramatic theater, new work, as well as the more avant-garde and experimental,” she adds. “We do know that younger audiences enjoy more participatory offers and theater without walls … it is certainly our goal to explore it all.”

One good example of such a partnership is this summer’s production of “Lend Me a Tenor,” which is currently running at the Paper Mill Play House in New Jersey. Director Don Stephenson, it turns out, has a home in Southampton and has always wanted to work with Bay Street on a project.

“So it’s another way to partner,” says Mitchell. “It’s not an actual co-production, but we can take elements like props, costumes and the cast — if we like the cast and if they’re available. It’s a way of cutting costs.”

“You’ll hear us doing a lot of that — forming artistic partnerships with people and organizations,” she explains. “It takes people who might not otherwise connect to the theater, and brings all our needs together.”

And for Mitchell, this means ushering in the next intriguing chapter of Bay Street’s tenure in Sag Harbor — one the community will help to write.

“Frankly this is the most exciting time in the history of Bay Street, this is the next moment that’s going to make a difference,” says Mitchell. “This really is the first time we will be bringing in these artistic ideas. At the end of the day, the new partnerships we form are all about new ideas. What is it people want to see?”

Bay Street’s board of trustees is committed to this vision as well and to support the 2013 mainstage season and Bay Street’s future, the board’s executive committee has announced a $100,000 challenge grant. Now through March 15, every dollar the theater raises from patrons, subscribers, donors, volunteers and the community at large, will be matched dollar for dollar by the committee, up to $100,000. All donations are tax deductible. To donate, visit the Bay Street box office (Tuesday to Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.), call Jessica Lemire in the development office at 725-0818 ext. 129, donate online at www.baystreet.org, or send a check to Bay Street Theatre, PO Box 810, Sag Harbor, NY 11963.

To purchase a subscription to Bay Street’s three mainstage season plays this summer, visit the website or call the box office at 725-9500.

 

Red and Blue Unite: Presidential Debate Screening at Bay Street in Sag Harbor

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Photography by Michael Heller

It’s presidential election time! And while politics can make for strange bed-fellows — both donkeys and elephants are invited to head down to Bay Street Theatre in coming weeks to watch the presidential debates on the big screen.

“This is another opportunity for Bay Street to give back to the community by opening its doors for free,” says Tracy Mitchell, the theater’s executive director. “We welcome all to join us — no matter what your political inclination. Bay Street is a great place to enjoy gathering with your friends and neighbors for events that affect all of our lives.”

To that end, the theater will broadcast all three presidential debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney — October 3, 16 and 22 — as well as the vice-presidential face-off between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan — October 11. All four debates begin at 9 p.m.

Bay Street will also offer live election night coverage on November 6 (when doors open at 8 p.m.) Because “all politics is local,” the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons will join the October 16 debate with information available in the Bay Street lobby … and because politics can also be highly theatrical, refreshments will be available at the lobby bar.

Queen Mother of Soul

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by Amanda Wyatt

 

Before Aretha Franklin became the undisputed Queen of Soul, there was Big Maybelle.

Hailed as America’s “Queen Mother of Soul,” soulful songstress Maybelle Smith was one of the biggest names in blues/R&B during the 1950s. But today she will be played by one of the biggest names in Broadway, the Tony and Emmy award-winning Lillias White, in a new musical at Bay Street Theater.

The preview of Big Maybelle: Soul of the Blues is slated for August 7, four days before its August 11premiere. Written and directed by Paul Levine, the musical is the very first to tell the story of the talented, but troubled crooner.

“When I direct, I like to make people feel stuff,” said Levine. “[The audience is] going to feel this woman’s brilliance and the enormous talent of Lillias White playing her. They’re going to feel the life of a blues singer in the 1950s, which was very difficult. [They’ll feel her] struggle with weight, with dependency issues, with health issues.”

“And racism, a major problem during that period,” White added.

“It’s a period that a lot of people think of as an Ozzie and Harriet, Doris Day kind of world, and it’s much more than that, so I want them to feel all of that,” agreed Levine.

Born Mabel Louise Smith in 1924, Big Maybelle grew up in Jackson, Tennesse in the heyday of Jim Crow and other severe forms of racism. Like many African American singers, Maybelle was reared in the gospel tradition, but began singing R&B as a teenager.

She spent her youth singing and playing the piano both in bands and as a solo artist, but she didn’t find stardom until she was signed to Okeh Records in 1952. With hits like “Gabbin’ Blues,” “Way Back Home” and “My Country Man,” she quickly established herself as one of rhythm and blues’ brightest stars.

In 1953, Quincy Jones produced her recording of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On”— a song which would later be a massive hit for Jerry Lee Lewis. Three years later, she released “Candy,” which remains her signature song.

Maybelle performed at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, as well as the Newport Jazz Festival, before her career took a downward turn in the 1960s. Between drug addiction and other health problems, she stopped performing in person. In January 1972, she went into a diabetic coma at a Cleveland rehabilitation center/psychiatric hospital, where she died.

“Twenty years ago, somebody gave me her music, and I had never heard her before,” said Levine. “Then [a couple of years ago], I woke up one morning and her voice was in my head saying ‘go do your research.’”

There was little information on Big Maybelle’s personal life, but the music was powerful enough for Levine to construct a story around.

“Whatever research there was, I used, but we created a dramatic narrative based on the music and the lyrics that Maybelle sang and put them in a dramatic order, and I spun a story around it,” he said.

And for Levine, White was the perfect choice for the role of Maybelle.

“Mr. Levine came to me at a wonderful little theater, the Rubicon Theater, up in Ventura, California,” recalled White. “I was doing a show called The Best is Yet to Come — it was a Cy Coleman Review — and Mr. Levine came to see the show and pitched the idea of me doing Big Maybelle.”

“I heard her sing, I saw her perform, I saw her get two standing ovations in the middle of the show, and I offered her the role right afterwards,” said Levine.

In the fall of 2010, Levine and White teamed up to do a workshop of Big Maybelle in New York City.

“It went very well,” Levine remembered.

In fact, White not only received multiple standing ovations from the audience, but also immediately attracted the attention of corporate sponsors who wanted to invest in the project.

“Then a friend of ours got it to Bay Street, and they said, ‘Love it! Come on down!’” Levine said. “And here we are.”

In order to prepare for the role, the Brooklyn-born White said, “I have listened to her music incessantly. I’m still doing so.”

“And I’m reinventing my voice,” she added. “I’m going back to my vocal coach, Susan Eichhorn, to put her voice in my voice. Her voice is quite lower in register than mine, so I’m still working that out to do what hers does. It’s a process.”

This is not the first time White has played a musical superstar of the 1950s. She appeared as Dinah Washington in the musical Dinah Was, although she noted that Washington and Maybelle were two very different characters.

“Dinah was a lot more aggressive, a lot more gung-ho. Dinah had her own business and she contributed a lot of her money to the Civil Rights Movement,” White said. “I think that Maybelle was so busy trying to make a living that she didn’t get to do all of those things.”

“And finding love, being loved, and giving love was a big part of [Maybelle’s life],” added Levine.

When asked how she was preparing for the role, White exclaimed: “Practice, practice, practice! We’re in rehearsal, I’ve learned the music and we’re still tweaking music, we’re still tweaking the book.”

“Theater is an ongoing process, up until the day we open on Broadway — please God,” she said. “And even after the show has opened, a good actor is still working on the part and making it as true to life and as real as it can be.”

Big Maybelle, which Levine hopes will run either on or off-Broadway, will be at Bay Street through September 2.

Sighs of Relief 4/26/12

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Word spread quickly this week that Bay Street Theatre will be able to stay in the village for at last another 10 years. Within hours of the announcement of a deal on Tuesday, the Internet filled with postings from local and national media. It was that important a story.

That importance is not lost on those businesses and residents in the Sag Harbor community who have come to appreciate the benefits — cultural and economic — the theater provides. Thanks to those who were able to make it happen, including a special acknowledgment to Pat Malloy, the theater’s landlord. His willingness to be flexible and allow the theater the option to leave early in pursuit of a new —  permanent — home is, as theater board president Frank Filipo says, “a gift.”

With the breathing room this new arrangement allows, we look forward to Bay Street planning its future here in the harbor.

Update: Bay Street Theatre to Stay in Sag Harbor

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Late Tuesday afternoon, after months of uncertainty about its future, the board of the Bay Street Theatre announced it had inked a new lease with landlord Patrick Malloy III to remain in its Long Wharf home in Sag Harbor.

According to Bay Street Theatre Board of Directors President Frank Filipo, Malloy has given the theatre a 10-year lease beyond 2013 with a slight increase in rent. The financial stability of having a fixed 10-year lease coupled with Malloy agreeing to allow the theater flexibility to leave the space with proper notice should Bay Street Theatre achieve its goal of finding a permanent home is a “gift,” said Filipo.

“The beauty of this and what Pat has agreed to is that this lease gives us stability but also the flexibility to pursue other opportunities that arise,” said Filipo.

The announcement came after months of speculation about where Bay Street Theatre would go after its stage went black when its lease expired in May 2013.

Late last year, Bay Street Theatre officials announced they would not seek to renew their three year lease with Malloy citing the inability for the theater to remain financially viable without a permanent home or at the very least a long-term lease option.

At a grim meeting in January, sitting on the stage Bay Street Theatre has called home for over 20 years, theater officials pledged their loyalty to Sag Harbor. But they explained there were few options available for moving the theater within the village and said talks had begun in earnest with Southampton Village where Bay Street was being offered a new home in the soon to be vacated Parrish Art Museum space.

On Tuesday, Filipo stressed that working with Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley and his team in looking at a possible future for Bay Street Theatre in Southampton was a positive experience.

“You have to go back to the basic premise that the organization’s preference was to stay in Sag Harbor if possible,” said Filipo. “Mark Epley was wonderful to work with, but when this opportunity presented itself it was not one we could pass up.”

According to Bay Street Theatre Executive Director Tracy Mitchell, the theatre will pursue a capital campaign for a new facility while enjoying its new longer lease.

“We deeply thank Pat Malloy for his understanding and his goodwill,” said Mitchell. “He has provided us with the stability we have sought — an assurance that we can continue our innovative and award-winning productions while a permanent home is being developed.”

“I am very pleased that Bay Street Theatre has decided to stay in Sag Harbor and happy to be able to help them again with a favorable lease,” said Malloy in a written statement. “My hat is off to the good directors and managers for making the decision to continue to provide great theater to Sag Harbor.”

Filipo said that costs would remain high for the theater and that fundraising, for the theater’s annual budget as well as the capital campaign, will be critical.

“I think it is important that Bay Street Theatre stays here,” said Sag Harbor Village Trustee Robby Stein, who is also a member of the Bay Street Theatre board. “It helps business, it is a cultural center and it has been serving as a community center. I think there was a strong response to people wanting the theater to stay here and I think Pat heard that.”

Looking into a future for Bay Street in Sag Harbor, several sources did report that Bay Street has met with Cape Advisors, the firm developing the former Bulova Watchcase Factory into luxury condominiums. According to those sources, a discussion was had about the ability for the firm to help the theatre develop a permanent home in Sag Harbor.

On Wednesday, Mitchell said the theatre did meet with members of Cape Advisors, but called the discussion “preliminary at best.”

“We had an exploratory conversation and we have not talked to them since,” said Mitchell. “We wanted to meet with each other and the upshot is we are seeing if there is an overlap in both of our business needs and that is all at this point.”

As for whether or not Cape Advisors was interested in helping Bay Street actually construct a theatre, Mitchell said the theatre administration is interested in talking to any developers or private parties about how that can be accomplished.

“Everyone knows what our end goal is,” said Mitchell.

“We view Bay Street Theatre as important to Sag Harbor as it is one of the crown jewels of the village, said David Kronman, a spokesman for Cape Advisors. “We wanted to sit down and map out where they are to see what we may be able to do in the future to keep them in Sag Harbor.”

Sybil Christopher

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The co-founder of Bay Street Theatre who is stepping down from her Artistic Director’s position after 20 years. Christopher will still act as a consultant for the theater.

Emily J Weitz

You’ve been with Bay Street since the beginning. How has it changed over the past 20 years?

There was a wonderful café cattycorner to where Bay Street is now, and [Steve Hamilton and Emma Walton Hamilton and I] looked across the street and said “wouldn’t that be a wonderful theatre?” It had been empty – it was the Black Hole of Calcutta, but it had the bones, as they say. It was like ignorance is bliss. Off we started, and Emma and Steve’s very good friend Murphy Davis came on very quickly.

If I look back, it’s laughing a lot, being dirty, painting, music playing all the time. I remember shouting at Murphy one day, saying “enough Judy Garland!” Our first play was ‘Men’s Lives,’ which was timely and was [about an issue] happening as we were putting on the play. Steve had read the book and said, ‘I think there’s a play here’…  Joe Pintauro was [writing] the play, and Emma was a huge help with him and [the play] was this wonderful little gem which belonged to the East End.

I feel, although 20 years have gone, I still have a sense of sadness that I never did Chekhov or Shakespeare. We did Terrence McNally, Edward Albee, all the great American playwrights. But Chekhov is my favorite of all time — I think he was part Welsh [she laughs].”

We achieved so much of what we set out to achieve: we’ve taken chances, and very few I regret. We did Mamet’s “Romance” and that was like “Oh my God, dare we?”  We got a bit of mail but not much. The word of mouth was extraordinary. Christopher Durang was very hairy — no theater across the country dared touch it. Murphy and I said “no way, no way,” and then we did it. And we got more unpleasant mail than usual. But a lot of people said “Oh my God, we laughed.” We have taken huge chances, huge.


How do you envision the theater growing over the next 20 years?

It will be exciting to watch. Number one: Where will we be? And how the programming grows will always be interesting. Murphy and I agree 99 percent of the time, but we’ll see what happens. I trust Murphy. And Bay Street, for such a tiny organization, is amazing. It’s the hardest working group of low paid people in the area, but it’s worth it. We love it. We know it’s important. I grew up in Wales and when my parents died, when I was 15, I moved to Northampton in England, and there was weekly repertory theatre. From age 15 to 18, I saw 52 plays a year. Since I’ve been here, I’ve always hoped the young people realize how lucky they are that they have this wonderful jewel of a theater down the street. The arts are imperative in your life. When all else fails, the arts are what surfaces.


How important is it to you that Bay Street remains in Sag Harbor?

Very important. [Landlord] Pat Malloy has been kind to us. He’s misunderstood. Although the rent is fantastically high for us, he could have gotten more. But it is what it is. Where we are on that corner with that little courtyard and the lobby and the water and the windmill — it is a joke. Actors come out here and they are speechless. It’s the prettiest lobby I’ve been to anywhere in any theatre, in London, L.A., anywhere. My only issue is I wish the seats were red. I’ve been like a dog with a bone about that since the beginning. I always wanted red seats.

But I think it’s extraordinary. Even things that are strange about it — the dressing rooms behind the bar — it’s fun.


So, can you catch me up on the latest news? Is Bay Street going to stay in the building?

We just don’t know. We’ve investigated different options, like the school, but it just wouldn’t work. We’ll never find anything as sweet as this. In the summer on the weekends, I love to walk towards the theater, and see the magnet of people going down Main Street towards that building. It would make me so sad to see that disappear from the community. We were hoping someone would set up a campaign, but I don’t think anything has happened. We’re hoping to reopen conversations with Malloy.


What does Bay Street mean to the Sag Harbor community? What does it mean to have a small theater in this community?

I believe it’s made a huge difference, I gather, from the restaurants. When we first opened, Friday and Saturday nights the shops weren’t open. I don’t remember such a vibrant Main Street. I know some of the actors can’t believe this town. Most actors when they come out of the theater, town is dead. But Sag Harbor is full of activity. People eating ice cream on the benches. It’s a unique town.


Anything you’d like to add?

If you asked me, I wouldn’t be able to say the five best shows we’ve done. But the thrill for me — I always sit at the back of the theater, and to sit there when it’s full, and to watch the faces of 299 people, watching this play, and to know I chose the play. It’s not an ego trip, it’s just — it’s a bloody good play. That’s been exciting. From the word go, I’ve said “I live in paradise, and I work in the theater, and New York’s down the road.”

Pierson/Bay Street Meeting Sparks More Conversation, Draws No Conclusions

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By Claire Walla


Finally, the two boards came to the same table.

On Tuesday, January 31, school officials and Bay Street Theatre board members held a meeting on the Pierson Middle/High School campus to discuss the potential for a collaboration between the two. The idea of the Bay Street Theatre collaborating with the Sag Harbor School District to create a new theater venue has been floated for a few years. And with Bay Street’s impending move from its current location on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, discussions have been spurred with greater urgency in the last few weeks.

The dialogue oscillated in scope for much of the two-hour meeting, wavering back and forth between small details (like whether it’s possible to obtain a liquor license on a school campus since Bay Street serves alcohol), and larger ideas, such as the school and theater working together to build an entirely new performing arts center in Sag Harbor.

But, while no board member on either side of the aisle completely put the kibosh on the potential for collaboration, there were aspects of this hypothetical partnership that raised red flags for both.

“I don’t want to throw any cold water on the issue, but I can’t possibly see how [an independent theater] can be in this school district, in this area,” school board member Walter Wilcoxen said.

Based on a memo the school district received from its attorney, Tom Volz, Wilcoxen pointed out some of the smaller issues, like limited parking and storage capacity.

But Tracy Mitchell, Bay Street Theatre’s executive director, expressed some concerns with the overall picture.

“One of the biggest issues for us, from a creative perspective, is we need to be able to have complete control over what we produce,” she said.

Though Mitchell and the theater’s creative director, Murphy Davis, assured the school that no expletives would be used on any signage related to the theater, some of the theater’s productions can be a bit, well, “racy.”

While Davis said there are elements to what Bay Street does now that could shift to conform to a different production model — for example, the theater could stop selling alcohol if it managed to secure other revenue sources — creative freedom is non-negotiable.

“We can do some pretty racy content,” he continued. “It’s imperative that we don’t feel hemmed in by that.”

Then there’s the time frame.

At best, school superintendent Dr. John Gratto said the process would take three years to complete. (Later, he explained that the time frame would more realistically take up to five years.) It would take six months for the school’s architect to draw-up a new design and then for the state education department to review the plans, another three months for the school to bid the project, then at least a year to construct the building.

“We’re talking two years after voter approval,” he continued. “And voters would have to approve such a project.”

The district’s current design for a 415-seat theater comes in at an estimated $12 million. Even if private funds were used for the project, Dr. Gratto said state aid would still kick-in for 10 percent of the cost, but that would trigger the need to put the project up to a vote.

Mitchell said the theater has a certain degree of flexibility for discussing future plans because it’s not scheduled to leave its current space until spring of 2013.

“The board would be able to back us renewing our current lease if we were working toward a pre-approved plan,” she said. “But, what we can’t do is say it’s going to take us another year to figure out whether we can get through these hurdles, and in the process lose all our other options.”

According to Mitchell, the theater is actively pursuing all possible options, including in Sag Harbor the Schiavoni property on Jermain Avenue, the National Grid lot on Long Island Avenue, the Sag Harbor Cinema, and in Southampton Village the soon-to-be vacant Parrish Art Museum space on Jobs Lane. At this point, Mitchell said the theater has put together several committees to further explore these options.

“It doesn’t sound like [the school] is going to be at the forefront,” Davis stated at the end of the meeting. Besides issues of parking, storage space and creative control, he said the time frame doesn’t seem viable.

“Just what I’m hearing tonight, it makes me uncomfortable that we’re going to have to wait,” he said.

And while nestling into the Pierson campus may seem like a dream sequence too riddled with legal complications to become a reality, school board members were energized by the idea of a potential collaboration off-campus.

Dr. Gratto directed interests to the piece of empty land directly across the street from Pierson, at the intersection of Division and Marsden streets, where the Trunzo family owns four parcels. According to community member John Landes, who’s already investigated the site, the cost would roughly total $4 million — just to purchase the land.

As for the overall idea of collaboration, Bay Street Board Member Robbie Stein said, “When you look at it, there are a lot of problems. But, on some level, starting this dialogue is bringing to the community the idea of: is there a place for arts in the community?”

The Bay Street Board will meet again next week to further discuss all its options.

Pierson, Bay Street Plan Meeting for 31st (Plus Cafeteria Update)

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By Claire Walla


For some, the case is closed.

For others, it’s hard to know where to begin.

But for administrators in the Sag Harbor School District, the discussion surrounding the future of the Bay Street Theatre carries on.

Recently, the theater announced it will not stay at its current location on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor when its three year lease expires next year. Instead, Bay Street wants to find a more permanent home. Southampton Village has offered Bay Street the current Parrish Art Museum space  on Jobs Lane — which will be vacated later this year when the museum moves to a new home of its own. But theater board members have expressed a strong desire to stay in Sag Harbor and two weeks ago, hosted a public meeting to explore the possibility.

One option raised that night was the creation of a new theater at Pierson High School that could accommodate both Bay Street and school productions.

Addressing the Sag Harbor Board of Education at a regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, district superintendent Dr. John Gratto announced the district would be meeting with Bay Street Theatre board members on Tuesday, January 31 at 6 p.m. Dr. Gratto said he had met with the theater’s executive director, Tracy Mitchell, and proposed next week’s meeting “for the purpose of discussing how we might collaborate with each other.”

School board member Chris Tice supported the idea, but urged Dr. Gratto to create an agenda that could be circulated to the public before discussions get underway.

“Let’s get it out there early,” she said.

School board’s president Mary Anne Miller agreed.

“This is the right thing to do,” she said, adding “It will probably be a lively discussion.”

The meeting will be open to the public and largely revolve around a plan already in place for the construction of a new Pierson Middle/High School auditorium. The blueprint for a 300-seat auditorium was created in 2009, but was never put to a community vote as part of a bond measure.

However, this fall the school’s Facilities Planning Committee recommended the school board continue to pursue the reconstruction project through private funds instead of taxpayer money. (The committee also recommended the district pursue the most expensive of three proposed reconstruction plans, at an estimated cost of $12 million.)

Dr. Gratto said rebuilding the school’s auditorium is a crucial aspect of any potential collaboration.

“There are hundreds of details that still need to be fleshed out,” Dr. Gratto added. “But my general rule is: if there’s a will, there’s a way.”


In other news…


School district business director Janet Verneuille reported that the Pierson cafeteria has improved its sales — and its menu — since its new manager Greg Pisciotta came on board at the beginning of last year.

“Last year at this time we had a loss of about $20,000,” Verneuille said.

Referring to a chart that showed cafeteria revenues and expenditures for the first half of both 2010 and 2011, she explained the cafeteria earned about $13,973 more this year than it had by this time last year.

“We think we’ll come in in the black this year,” Verneuille continued. “Break even, or maybe run a $5,000 to $6,000 profit.”

Verneuille added that Pierson had the exact same number of students in December 2011 as it did in December 2010, so “obviously, we’re selling more.”

According to Pisciotta, this was the goal when he came on board last year: to break-even and to make the program healthier.

He said he increased program participation by increasing the presence of popular menu items and adding items students specifically requested (like flavored tea). He also cut costs by getting rid of ingredients that weren’t frequently used — food items he referred to as “orphans” — and cracking down on portion control.

“Everyone knows and loves Sue Higgins,” Pisciotta said of the woman who considerately serves Pierson students each afternoon. “But, I always kid her that she feeds the kids like they’re her kids and they’re going off to war.”

He said he’s tried to regulate more portion control to ensure the cafeteria maintains healthy profit margins.

In the way of providing healthier options, Pisciotta said he’s made a number of changes based largely on the advice of the school board. For instance, he replaced “compressed” chicken patties and nuggets to the “full muscle” variety, which he said is not made with rib meat or rib juice.

He’s also been purchasing vegetables and fruits that are flash frozen, rather than canned in containers of fructose. And healthy snack options, like Greek yogurt, hummus and sunflower seeds are seeing some sales.

He added that salad bar sales have improved, thanks to one crucial readjustment:

“As soon as I changed over to iceberg lettuce [from mixed greens] the sales doubled,” he said. “For some reason, kids like it better.”

Heading into the second half of the year, Pisciotta said he plans to add new menu items like roasted chicken, beef stew and chicken pot pie.

Pisciotta did add, however, that sales of certain snack items — like Pop-Tarts and breakfast bars — have dropped since the school started carrying “healthier” options. (Pop-Tarts are now whole grain.)

“I would say if we put [breakfast bars] in tomorrow we’d see about a $250 increase for the week,” he speculated.

But, even so, Pisciotta said the cafeteria is in healthy financial standing.

“Even with the increase of the cost of food and supplying paper cups [instead of the less-expensive Styrofoam], I still think we’ll break even.”