Tag Archive | "Bay Street Theatre"

Bay Street Forum Draws Scores While Southampton Village Remains the Most Viable Option

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While professing a devotion to staying in the Village of Sag Harbor, in the same breath Bay Street Theatre administrators and board members made it clear Thursday night that a move to what will soon be the former Parrish Art Museum in Southampton Village may be the best option in the wake of the theater’s decision not to renew its lease following the upcoming summer season.

After 21 years on Long Wharf, the theatre administration said it has a “self imposed” 30 to 60 day deadline to make a decision on where its new home will be in 2013.

The revelation came near the close of an emotional meeting with over 150 residents of the village who anxiously crowded Bay Street Theatre to hear about its potential fate, and brainstormed ideas in an effort to keep the theatre anchored in Sag Harbor. Facing a reality that there are few viable options for the theatre in the village, Bay Street’s creative director, Murphy Davis, said moving to Southampton was the best offer on the table, barring the generosity of hefty donations from those committed to keeping the theater a part of the fabric of Sag Harbor.

Bay Street’s executive director, Tracy Mitchell, stressed that the theatre’s impending move is not the result of its rent, which is controlled by landlord Patrick Malloy III. Mitchell said the theatre was currently paying $185,000 a year to Malloy, which, she said, is market price for the space. However, between that rent, housing for actors and production crews and a space for set construction and storage, Bay Street Theatre spends a total of $500,000 in rent alone, said Mitchell.

It’s short-term lease, added Mitchell, minimizes the amount of grants the theater is awarded and scares off investors looking to give money to an institution with a solid home.

“Let me be very clear about this,” she said. “We want to stay here in Sag Harbor, if we can.”

Looking at Sag Harbor Village, Mitchell said the theatre has explored renting or purchasing the former Stella Maris Regional School on Division Street, but that the space is not for sale and if they did lease the building, the Catholic Church “would have to bless anything that went on there.”

“That means no ‘Betty’s Summer Vacation’,” joked Davis, referring to the controversial play Bay Street offered last summer.

The theatre has also looked at the possibility of moving into the Sag Harbor Cinema, which has been on the market with an asking price of $12 million for several years now. With a price tag like that, said Mitchell, the concept seems like “a non-starter.”

The National Grid lot, where the former KeySpan blue gas ball once sat on Long Island Avenue, was also explored, said Mitchell, but the Village of Sag Harbor does not own the property and there are questions about what can be done there.

Mitchell said they have also looked at the Schiavoni property on Jermain Avenue, but that there were code questions and wetlands issues making it an unattractive option. Lastly, administrators at Bay Street have talked to the Sag Harbor School District about constructing a theater at Pierson High School.

Outside of Sag Harbor, Bay Street has been approached by Rechler Equity Partners, which would build the organization a new theatre in a business park at the old Grabeski Airport in Westhampton. The Parrish Art Museum, which hopes to open its new facility in Water Mill next year, has also offered Bay Street a space in its new home.

And then there is the proposal from Southampton Village to have Bay Street Theatre serve as the anchor tenant in the proposed Southampton Center of the Arts at 25 Jobs Lane (in what will soon be the former Parrish Art Museum).

“And being completely pragmatic and taking sentiment out of it, certainly the old Parrish space in Southampton, for Bay Street, is the most practical and feasible option,” said Davis.

On Tuesday, Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley confirmed Bay Street is his first choice for a main tenant for the center.

Epley said it is his goal is to have the Southampton Center of the Arts operational by the summer of 2013, a perfect timeline, he noted, for Bay Street.

In addition to basic building repairs, Epley said the first phase would include the construction of a café and outdoor theatre space. New construction, including the creation of a new 400-seat theatre, has also been planned.

Additions and construction would be funded through private donations, added Epley and Bay Street Theatre would be offered a long-term, possibly 49-year lease, at little cost.

“The reality is you need leases like that for arts institutions to continue,” said Epley. “If they are successful here, the village is successful, my merchants are successful, my restaurants are successful, and we have created a place people feel excited to come to.”

While the village has also entertained discussions with faculty at the Stony Brook Southampton campus, Epley said he envisions a partnership would be forged between the college and Bay Street, should the theater come to the site.

On Thursday night, Bay Street board member Gregory Ferraris said as a business owner he sees how critical the theater is to the village’s economy.

“I don’t think there is any coincidence that the success of Sag Harbor has coincided with the success of the Bay Street Theatre,” said Ferraris, former mayor of the village.

However, while ticket sales have increased, he said, since 2007 private donations to Bay Street has dropped a whopping $700,000.

“The bottom line is the way we are going to stay in Sag Harbor is going to have to come from some major donations stepping up to the plate because we can go to other spaces while we build a new space,” said Davis.

Peter Solow, an art teacher in the Sag Harbor School District, said the school was in dire need of new theater facilities and has formal plans for a 400-seat theater space in an existing courtyard at Pierson High School. He suggested Bay Street could partner with the school to privately raise funding and become a resident theater company in the space.

School board member Chris Tice said there was excitement about the prospect and that discussions would “accelerate” in coming weeks.

Resident John Landes wondered whether a benefit district could be created to help fund Bay Street Theatre.

“It could support the debt that would be incurred in building a new facility in Sag Harbor,” said Landes.

“We all share the same feeling that Bay Street Theatre is critical to the future economic health of the village,” said New York State Assemblyman and Sag Harbor resident Fred W. Thiele, Jr.

But with no immediate solution available, Thiele said he believes a short-term plan should be devised for the theater while a long-term plan in Sag Harbor is explored.

Board president Frank Filipo said that if a permanent solution in the village became clear, the board would look at a new lease at its current location if construction were not imminent.

Bay Street board member and real estate broker Jane Holden said she believed the Schiavoni property on Jermain was a viable solution, noting the five-acre parcel is for sale for $2.5 million. While zoned residential, Holden said she believed the theater could get a variance from the village to open a theater there. In total, she estimated developing a theater on the site would cost between $6 and $8 million.

“We did say the goal and desire is to stay in Sag Harbor, but the bigger priority is that Bay Street survives,” said Mitchell.

Potential Bond Between Theater and School

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By Claire Walla

As the community searches high and low for ways to keep Bay Street Theatre, Sag Harbor’s only live theatre venue, here in the village, some say there’s a viable option — and it’s right under our noses.

For many in the village, it’s no surprise that the Sag Harbor School District has had plans in the works since at least 2006 to redesign the Pierson Auditorium. (In fact, a new design for the auditorium had been part of the facilities bond proposal that was voted down in 2009.)

But, what many may not know is that, as recently as last year, the idea of making the proposed auditorium a joint venture between Pierson High School and the Bay Street Theatre was already in the works.

Bay Street Theatre’s Executive Director Tracy Mitchell brought the idea to the district’s Facilities Planning Committee last year, of which she was a member. Bay Street was already beginning to set its sights on a new location, so she casually suggested the school team-up with the independent theatre company.

According to Pierson art teacher Peter Solow, who had discussed the idea with Mitchell last year, “There are many of us who believe the school should be one of the centers of the community, a place where people congregate.”

The union of Pierson and Bay Street, he added, would be a step in the right direction.

“We should be actively participating and trying to help our neighbors as much as possible,” he said.

Though Solow admitted there was no real substantive discussion about the nuts and bolts of how a partnership would unfold, he declared, “It was clear to the members of the Facilities Committee that Bay Street was reaching out to do this. And it was articulated to the board of education that there was an immediacy to this.”

But, as Solow tells it, the discussion hit a standstill — before it even got off the ground.

“Since last spring, nothing has happened,” he lamented.

The proposed $12 million design for a new auditorium, drafted by district architect Larry Salvesen, would completely replace the existing theater space, giving the auditorium a more sophisticated look, complete with a lobby and a separate entrance. (The current auditorium — a refurbished high school gym — is only accessible from within the Pierson building.)

The issue was brought to the attention of the Sag Harbor School Board again at a regularly scheduled meeting last Monday, January 9 when board member Ed Drohan urged the board to attend tonight’s “community meeting” at the Bay Street Theatre. It begins at 7 p.m.

“Having been on this school board now for a while, I realize we often refer to ourselves as a community,” Drohan said of the school’s attempts to integrate with the village. “This might be the last opportunity we have to get out of this small community and address the community as a whole.”

School board president Mary Anne Miller, who had been part of the Facilities Planning Committee last year when Mitchell first raised the idea of collaboration, said she would attend, as well.

In fact, she said the model for a community co-op theater is out there.

“But somebody needs to step up and take this on. It seems like an amazing opportunity to do something great, I just don’t know who has the wherewithal, time, connections, or the money to do it.” She continued, “We need to be doing things like this, but boy is it a big job!”

Miller concluded by saying it’s not too late to make this happen. And even Mitchell said Bay Street is open to the option.

Though Bay Street’s lease will run out in May of 2013, she said the theater is hard-pressed to stay in Sag Harbor.

“I live in the town,” Mitchell said. “I’m very concerned with what would happen to this little [community] if Bay Street left.”

And while the school does not yet have the ball rolling on its proposed theatre construction project, Mitchell said it’s still possible for Bay Street to consider moving into a temporary space while a more permanent location at the school was being prepared. But, it’s just a possibility at this point. A joint project proposal has not yet been drafted or presented.

“It is interesting,” Mitchell continued. “I’m certainly not discounting anything at this point. We want to hear from everyone in the community.”

As far as Solow’s concerned, however, Monday’s school board meeting sealed the deal. To him, that Bay Street was not made a priority during discussions indicates the worst.

“If there was anyone who held out any hope that this could happen, last night’s meeting demonstrated that it’s never going to happen,” Solow said on Tuesday. “There was an opportunity, but I can’t conceive of how it can happen now.”

Holiday Fun for All

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by Deborah Skinner

The holiday vacation is right around the corner. School will let out Friday, December 23, for a winter recess somewhat shorter than you are used to — just one week. That is still enough time for many of you to travel to be with family or to take a lovely vacation. Others will remain close to home.

Here’s what our area has to offer during the coming days and the coming weeks:

Many students from Pierson Middle School are getting their play practice time in before the holidays, for the upcoming play — “Grease!”

They get down to the Community Room Program, after school in the Pierson cafeteria, to take a break from the chorus, dance or main character readings. You can hear the excitement as they tackle their parts. Look for the play to take place early in February.

On Friday, December 16, through Sunday, December 18, Studio 3 will debut “Mixed Nuts” at Bay Street Theatre.

“Mixed Nuts” is a classical Holiday Nutcracker… with a twist, where jazz, contemporary and hip hop are mixed in with traditional ballet. Come bring your families and support the many Sag Harbor dancers who are involved in this amazing performance. You may contact Melissa Spano Russo or the Bay Street Theatre box office in Sag Harbor at 725-9500 for more information or tickets.

Buckskill Winter Club, a seasonal ice rink and club house in East Hampton, will re-open for the season on

Friday, December 16. The Buckskill Winter Club, which first opened late 2004, will return for another winter season offering hours of open skating during your vacation. They also offer junior hockey, junior figure skating and evening firefly public skating parties. For more information call 324-2243 or take the short drive down Route 114 to 178 Buckskill Road in East Hampton.

The Town of Southampton Youth Bureau is holding open auditions right after vacation, for the fifth annual Hampton Idol competition on Friday, January 6, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Hampton Bays Community Center located at 25 Ponquogue Avenue in downtown Hampton Bays.

Any Southampton Town middle or high school student in grades 7 to 12, is eligible to enter the audition with a solo performance of their choosing.

Sag Harbor has had a number of finalists over the years; the next winner could be you. Contestants should bring their own music without vocals. Finalists selected will perform in a Hampton Idol competition to be held March 24 from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the Southampton High School. Admission is $10. For additional audition information please call the Southampton Town Youth Bureau at (631) 702-2425 or visit them on the web at  www.town.southampton.ny.us. Information can be found by scrolling down the Department Directory to Human Services/Youth Bureau.

Sign up now! The Town of Southampton Youth Bureau is sponsoring a ski and snowboard trip to Belleayre Mountain on Saturday, January 22, for youth 12 years old and up. The $80 per person fee includes roundtrip transportation, an all-mountain lift ticket, lunch and a free beginner lesson. Equipment rental is an additional $25.

The bus will depart from Red Creek Park (Hampton Bays) at 4:30 a.m. and will return to Red Creek Park at approximately 9 p.m. Chaperones are provided by the Youth Bureau and families are welcomed. Space is limited. First come, first served. For a registration form call 702-2425 for more information.

If we are lucky enough to have a little snow during this vacation, remember the Park & Recreation Department’s 9th Annual Snowman contest. Get outside and get to work creating your snowman, give him a title and send a picture of the snowman and the artist(s) to the Snowman Contest. Have fun. Be Creative. Win Prizes. Call Southampton Town Parks & Recreation Department at 728-8585 for all the details. Contest entry is free and open to residents of all ages.

Whether you spend your holiday near your Christmas tree or near a palm tree, enjoy the school break wherever you are.

Happy Holidays!

Claes Brondal

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web convo Claes Brondal

The musician and organizer of the November 10 All That Jazz benefit concert at Bay Street Theatre on Sag Harbor’s music scene, jamming on Thursdays and musicians who crash and burn.

How did the benefit concert come about?

It actually came about in April of this year, and we were initially shooting for a May benefit. In its original form it was to promote live music in Sag Harbor and the East End. Bay Street Theatre has been a big help to us in the past. By giving us a platform they are directly helping to promote our music.

They need all the help they can get. It makes a statement there is culture and life in Sag Harbor outside the season and helping to sustain Bay Street Theatre makes sense.

It seems there has become quite a vibrant music culture here.

Humans as species need arts and music in their lives. Unfortunately, live performances have become more absent, and people need that stimulation.

There’s also that social aspect, social interaction. To go and listen to live music, rather than a movie, encourages conversation. As a performer, I don’t mind people conversing.

There’s been a void for some time. You can always find live music at The Talkhouse, but finding consistent live music in Sag Harbor is a bit challenging.

I think the desire for live performances is also a reaction to so much time spent on social media online. There’s a place for that, but there’s also a need for real live social interaction.

The jam session at Bay Burger started nearly two years ago; how has it evolved?

Jam sessions started out as an experiment, as an after concert performance. We took that concept to Bay Burger.

We had the concept of a jam, with a house band as a core. It was not an open mic, which encourages anyone to come in and do their own act. The jam welcomes everyone, but the music is done as a group.

Content each night is determined by those who show up. You have to trust the process. If you keep it steady and consistent it will act as a magnet for local talent.

We originally took musicians of all ability, I was curious to see what pool of musicians existed out here. More and more people came down,

We kicked it up with Morris Goldberg when he sat in. He had worked with Paul Simon and a lot of others. He’s just a nice unassuming gentleman who sat in for a couple songs and everyone asked what was that? What happened?

Were you surprised by the talent that has shown up?

Very surprised. Still surprised by plenty of local professional musicians who come down or want to come down. We now have a pool of about 50 to 80 musicians.

You’re getting some big names, what is their attraction to the jam and playing at Bay Street?

I’m amazed by their generosity. They’re not just nice and doing me a favor; they’re doing it for the common good. Jazz musicians play their instrument to work their craft. It’s a need they have, whether they’re getting paid or not.

The jam session provides a venue for musicians to ply their craft. Why would someone like Randy Brecker come down after touring for nine months, had barely been home, but comes down the next day to play?

Is the jam session a laboratory of sorts, allowing musicians an opportunity to do what they might not be able to in concerts or other performances?

The nuts and bolts of the jam is a lab, an unrehearsed rehearsal open to the public. It’s not a performance in the traditional sense, and the musicians enter the room knowing this is open ended.

It’s a reflection of life itself: you’re given cues from others, you can take them or not. You may crash and burn. Audience members love to see a musician sweat and get themselves out of a pinch; but we have the trust in each other knowing we can get back.

Jam sessions afford you the opportunity to create, to make mistakes, to be part of that laboratory.

What can people expect at the concert?

The benefit concert is not a jam session. But it’s a celebration of 140 plus jam sessions we’ve done. It’ll feature past special guests, Ada Rovatti, Randy Brecker, Jim Campagnola, Morris Goldberg, Max Feldschuh, Rashid Lanie, Bill Smith, Jim Turner.

Partially the whole band will be playing at the same time, and then fragments of the band playing: a tentet, a quintet, a quartet.

We’ll do some familiar jazz pieces, to Latin, to Funk. My intention is to showcase the different styles of jazz.

How important is Bay Street Theatre to the community?

I think it’s very important. I think going forward it’ll be even more important. There’s a growing year-round community and it’ll be great if they can operate year-round.

There is a mutual relationship between Sag Harbor and the Bay Street Theater, and it’s known nationwide. It’s role as a cultural center for Sag Harbor is extremely worthwhile.

The venue itself is wonderful. It has such a creative vibe. The whole package, lobby, stage, it’s as good as any live music venue in the world.

Putting this all-star lineup in there Thursday night can be just as good as any jazz club in the world. I’m billing it as one of the most serious live jazz performances east of the East River.

Anything else?

We’re talking about styles of musicians and the vibrancy of the music scene, but all of this is kept alive by the wonderful audience that keeps showing up. There wouldn’t be live music without a faithful audience.

Bay Street Theatre Will Find a New Home in 2013

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If Bay Street Theatre executive director Tracy Mitchell could make one message about the future of Sag Harbor’s beloved not-for-profit clear this week, it is that the theatre is not closing.

That being said, the Bay Street Theatre East End residents have enjoyed for two decades will never be the same come 2013, when it will leave its home on Sag Harbor’s iconic Long Wharf after its lease with property owner Patrick Malloy III expires.

During a Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday night, Mitchell with the theatre’s creative director Murphy Davis announced the theatre would not seek to renew its lease with Malloy, citing the high cost of operating the theatre at that location.

The theatre’s board of directors, along with its management, is united in the decision, said Mitchell.

The theatre is also currently fundraising for its 2012 season. It has $250,000 of a $375,000 annual appear left to raise through donations, according to Mitchell.

“So we are getting there.”

“The idea is eventually we will have a permanent home in Sag Harbor, which is a place we are committed to staying in,” said Mitchell on Wednesday morning. “It may take a few years to do it, to raise the money and find the right place, but we are exploring every avenue possible.”

In the meantime, Mitchell said that after the 2012 season it is possible the non-profit may operate as a “theatre without walls” while solidifying plans for a new home. The board of directors and management have formed a Housing and Venue Committee and is looking at everything from empty spaces like the Stella Maris Regional School, said Mitchell, to partnering with developers in the village.

“Our number one goal is to stay in Sag Harbor,” continued Mitchell. “That was one of the reasons we got the news out there, in case there are people with the financial wherewithal to move this ball forward, because we will need help to do this, to find our new home.”

The reason Bay Street Theatre is unsustainable in its current location, said Mitchell, is primarily because the space the theatre occupies is not for sale. While reports after Tuesday night’s meeting cited declining ticket sales as part of the impetus behind the theatre’s decision to move on, Mitchell noted that ticket sales have actually increased over the last two years and that the theatre generally is at 48-percent capacity – much higher than the average not-for-profit theatre of Bay Street’s size.

On top of that, the theatre’s budget has been pared down some 30 percent over three years, said Mitchell. If the budget was cut any lower, it would impact the productions the theatre produces – the death knell for any performing arts company, she said.

According to Mitchell, the theatre pays Malloy about $185,000 annually. However, that is not the only rent the theatre pays. Because it employs union actors and staff, management must provide housing for those people within a half-mile of the theatre – in downtown Sag Harbor, in the summer. That adds an additional $150,000 to $200,000 in rent to the theatre’s budget.

The theatre also spends monies on a space in Riverhead to construct its sets.

“So we are talking about half a million in rent, and that is before we start talking about everything else the theatre needs to operate,” said Mitchell.

The not-for-profit is also often denied grants because such a large amount of money is going towards rent, and not towards the arts, said Mitchell. Large donors, she added, are reluctant to donate to a theatre that is not in a permanent location.

“We have been here for 20 years, and not it is time for us to take the theatre to the next level for the next 20 years,” said Mitchell. “It’s exciting really – a challenge, certainly, but exciting. Can’t you just picture what it will be like when we have a permanent home for Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor?”

Bay Street Theatre Faces Financial Deficit

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A dwindling endowment, a looming lease negotiation and a summer season that was marred by car accidents, illness and the brutality of Mother Nature doesn’t seem to have impacted the plucky disposition of Bay Street Theatre’s Executive Director Tracy Mitchell.

Even faced with the reality that the theatre has entered into yet another capital campaign — chaired by new board member, television personality Joy Behar — and will need to raise $375,000 to move forward with its 2012 season, Mitchell remains undeterred, convinced the theatre will find enough community support to continue its year-round programming.

“After 20 years, we have always managed to eke through and I don’t see this year being any different,” Mitchell said this week. “I am just going out there and trying to meet people who can help us continue our programming for another year.”

Bay Street Theatre may have found critical success this year with its three Mainstage productions — “Tru,” followed by the controversial “Betty’s Summer Vacation,” and  the final summer production “Enter Laughing, The Musical,” but the season was not without drama behind the scenes.

In addition to illness that sidelined two performances of “Tru,” its star, Darrell Hammond, was in a car accident at the end of the show’s run, leading to the cancellation of the final two performances — a revenue loss of more than $25,000.

If sickness and accidents were not enough, Bay Street also suffered at the hands of Mother Nature. When the bands of Tropical Storm Irene swept over the East End, the theatre was forced to cancel three performances of “Enter Laughing, The Musical” — a show that happened to be the commercial success of the season. The impact was the loss of over $70,000 in ticket sales alone, according to Mitchell.

The total loss of eight summer performances meant that Bay Street Theatre lost 10 percent of its projected ticket sales revenue due to situations beyond their control. Given that ticket sales account for only 48 percent of what Bay Street needs to survive, that left the theatre with another uphill battle to fight this fall. So they’re reaching out to the public in the hopes of raising enough money to keep the theatre alive.

If the theatre cannot raise the $375,000, noted Mitchell, with an endowment that is now virtually non-existent, the reality could be a darkened Bay Street in 2012.

“There is so little left and that is the issue,” said Mitchell of the theatre’s endowment. “We are feeling the pressure because we don’t have a place outside of fundraising to go to for this money even if we wanted to.”

Mitchell said the theatre will need the aid of community members who can give Bay Street even $15 or $25 as well as those who are able to provide larger donations if the theatre is going to being able to raise the necessary money.

“We are trying to run a non-profit theatre in one of the most expensive areas in the world,” said Mitchell. “No non-profit theatre I know of has ever made it without the donation side of funding. We have cut our expenses to the bone, and we just can’t draw anymore blood from the stone.”

Mitchell said that on the bright side, Bay Street Theatre did not see a drop off in ticket sales this year, and has successfully secured a number of new subscriptions to the theatre for next season, meaning its sales will likely grow in 2012. The theatre has already announced that the 2012 season will include the commercial and critically successful musical “Into the Woods” by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim as well as the Charles Busch comedy “Red Scare on Sunset.”

The theatre has also offered a Bay Pass, allowing patrons to pay $20 a month for access to any Mainstage production, workshops, its Literature Live! programming and the Bay Street Picture Show.

“It is a sign that people are saying they are committed to the theatre and all that we do,” said Mitchell.

Looking beyond 2012, to 2013, the theatre will begin negotiating a new lease with building owner Patrick Malloy III.

“It is the goal of Bay Street’s management and board to stay in Sag Harbor,” said Mitchell. “That is where we want to be, and we will do our best to stay in this location. That being said, we do have to be realistic about the costs and we will see what happens during negotiations.”

Mitchell was candid about the fact that Bay Street Theatre management have looked at other spaces, despite wanting to remain at their current home.

“I took a lunchtime walk with some of the other members of the management team to look at an available space last week,” said Mitchell referring to the now dormant Stella Maris Regional School building. “On the way back, I stopped for a sandwich and I swear I had three messages on my voicemail asking me if we were looking at new spaces.”

At the end of the day, Mitchell said if the theatre cannot negotiate a new deal with Malloy, they will look at any, and every, potential theatre space in Sag Harbor.

“We are at the mercy of either philanthropists or developers — anyone who has the capability to help us and recognizes this village needs arts and culture at its center to keep it going,” said Mitchell.

Tick Talk

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tick pic adjusted
By Claire Walla

In case you hadn’t heard, fashion designer Ally Hilfiger — daughter of famed fashion icon Tommy — was in Sag Harbor last Friday, August 19. But it’s not a story the tabloids picked up on.

“I had Lyme disease fro 19 years and was undiagnosed for 11,” Hilfiger told a crowd of nearly 100 people who had gathered inside the Bay Street Theatre that afternoon. She was among four speakers — including physicians Dr. George Dempsey, Dr. Darren Wiggins and Dr. Benjamin Luff — who had come for a forum put on by Connecticut-based non-profit Time For Lyme.

Above (from left to right): Dr. Darren Wiggins, Ally Hilfiger and Dr. George Dempsey.

As isolated heads in the crowd nodded in empathy, Hilfiger (now 26) explained that she believes her case of Lyme went back to when she was seven-years-old and spending the summer in Bridgehampton. She had been bitten by a tick, but it hadn’t caused a bulls-eye rash.

Even so, “I had fatigue and joint pain, and eventually it turned into confusion,” she said, her brow furrowed. “Lyme disease had crossed the blood-brain barrier. I spent a lot of my life in ‘the fog.’”

She went on to say that she saw several specialists who misdiagnosed her case as multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, among other diseases. Finally, it was a specialist in Boston who treated her for Lyme and for seven years she was on antibiotics and IV drips.

“Today, it’s been a full year since I felt completely better,” she said.

The purpose of the day’s forum, she continued, was to give the East End community the impetus to act if symptoms of Lyme crop up.

“I want you guys to know that your tests can come back wrong,” she said. “You have a right to follow your instincts. The symptoms you are feeling are real.”

Dr. George P. Dempsey, who runs a family practice in East Hampton, said he’s “fascinated” with studying and learning more about Lyme disease, which he frequently treats at his practice on Pantigo Place.

Picking up where Hilfiger left off, he tried to fill in the details of tick behavior and anatomy, both of which he said are important for East End residents to be aware of so they know what to look for and what to avoid when it comes to the small, black critters. He explained that ticks typically have a two-year lifecycle and are more likely to carry Lyme in their second year, after they’ve had the opportunity to be exposed to more white-tailed deer and mice, where they pick-up the disease.

“About a third of ticks have more than just Lyme in them,” he said.

Dr. Dempsey went on to explain that ticks also have a sense of smell, which means they know when you’re around. “They smell animals and they like to go on trails,” he said, adding, “Ticks know where to go.”

The East End carries three types of ticks: deer ticks, dog ticks and Lone Star ticks. While he said the latter do not carry Lyme, they can be infected with a whole host of other diseases: anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, powassan virus, tick fever and Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI) among them. “Now we have to figure out how many people with Lyme disease actually have other infections.”

For physician Darren Wiggins, who is the chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Southampton Hospital, Lyme is more prevalent than many people believe. He said Southampton Hospital treats 24,000 patients a year for the disease, most of these cases occurring in the summer months.

But, Southampton physicians have been trained to look for and test for Lyme, he went on. Regarding a symptom like facial nerve palsy, he said, “out here it’s Lyme disease until proven otherwise. In [other places like] Arizona, it’s not.” Meningitis could also be Lyme disease, he added, which is why “we do a lot more spinal taps than most ERs do.”

Lyme is easily treated in its early stages with antibiotics. It’s only when the disease progresses to stage three that it becomes hard to diagnose. (He said Lyme characteristics bear an uncanny resemblance to syphilis, and Babesiosis looks very much like malaria.) That being said, he cautioned people to take preventative action to avoid the disease progressing into stage three.

Increased fatigue and muscle pain could be Lyme, he said. (He emphasized that coughing, stuffy noses and diarrhea are not typically Lyme symptoms.) “Most people will also get a rash [if they have Lyme], and that’s usually when the tick is long-gone,” he said. “It’s typically about the size of a silver dollar. If it’s smaller, it’s probably not Lyme disease.”

Like Dr. Dempsey, Dr. Wiggins said this in no way means people should avoid the outdoors, even heavily wooded areas; but, they should proceed with caution. “Avoidance and prevention is 90 percent of what we’re doing,” he went on. “You have to strip to do a tick check. You have to check every crack and cranny, so do it with someone you love because they have to look everywhere.”

Dr. Benjamin Luff, whose interest in the disease hinges more on the research side of things, did say that he’s developed a vaccine that is now being tested in Europe. (While the FDA approved a vaccine in the U.S., it was only on the market from 1998 to 2002, when it was withdrawn by the manufacturer after some of those who got the vaccine claimed it caused health problems.)

“We believe it will be effective against all strains of Lyme disease,” he said, adding that he will know the results of the study in about three years. But already, early tests look promising: “Certainly in mice it’s really great!”

Keep Laughing

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Enter Laughing sm

By Courtney M. Holbrook

There are certain stereotypes about would-be actors that never seem to go away. For instance, they want to be famous — even if they don’t want to memorize their lines. They want to be loved — even if they’re working for the saddest production in small-town America. And, of course, they want to be seen as artists, receiving the respect owed to an “actoooor” of their stature. Because that’s how it should be spoken — emphasis on the “or.”

In “Enter Laughing: the Musical,” the word “actor” is bandied about as though it were the name of Jesus himself. Never has the “or” at the end of a word been elongated so well. For these characters, being an actor is a Christ-like occupation — even if they don’t really know what it entails.

“Enter Laughing,” which runs at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor until September 4, is the Depression-era story of David, a young man from the Bronx who decides he wants to be an actor. No, he hasn’t been inspired by Sophocles or Shakespeare — though he has a vague idea of what the latter may have written — David is inspired by a youthful libido and a knowledge that, should he become famous, girls will probably sleep with him.

However, there are set backs to David’s pursuit of stardom on Broadway. His parents want him to be a pharmacist. His boss, Mr. Foreman, wants him to wake up to the harsh realities of life. The play for which he auditions — “Fate is a Strange Mistress” — is not exactly ready for Broadway. And then, of course, there’s the tiny detail that David knows nothing about acting.

Although the story is familiar — coming of age meets theatrical in-jokes — the steady script, fetching song-and-dance routines and, most importantly, the impressive cast make for an evening that can only be described as delightful.

Based on the 1958 semi-autobiographical novel by Carl Reiner, “Enter Laughing” works well thanks to its understanding of the ridiculous — both in young men and the acting world. David is constantly desperate for girls — he can’t stop “undressing them” with his eyes. Moments such as David’s first audition — where he doesn’t realize one shouldn’t read cue lines — and first time on-stage — when stage fright takes hold with dizzying results — are captured with over-the-top hilarity.

The audience clearly appreciated these humorous ventures. But what made them so funny was not just the script or music — it was the cast. Many of the cast members were featured in the show’s original production Off-Broadway at the York Theatre. It’s a treat to watch them return.

David, played by Josh Grisetti, is a wonder of awkward horniness and eager youth. The way Grisetti puckers his lips like a drowning fish at the sight of girls, an audience and his mother was enough to bring tears to my eyes. It’s no wonder he won the Drama Desk Award for his performance at the York Theatre.

From the beginning, Richard Kind, playing Marlowe, the director and owner of the theatre where David auditions, was an audience favorite. Kind’s well-known past in comedy earned him several rounds of applause. Yet, Kind genuinely earns every one of those fits of clapping. In his hands, Marlowe moves through jokes as quickly as he moves through bottles of alcohol — sipped through a straw, if you please.

The diva role belongs to Kate Shindle, who plays Angela. Angela seems unaware that she isn’t actually on Broadway. Though her lines are funny, Shindle’s strength lies in physical humor; flailing her body from side to side, and swishing her hips, her every movement is like a lizard that doesn’t realize it’s dying.

Each character remains unique and funny in their moments. Ray DeMattis, as Mr. Foreman, and Michael Tucker, as David’s dad, dance a duet to “the kids a’ today” as though they were half their age. In less capable hands, the role of David’s mother could have been taken to pure stereotype — Jill Eikenberry keeps her from falling into the standard “Jewish mother” role with sweet aplomb.

And let’s not forget the stage manager, Pike, played by Erick Devine, whose “humphs” — so perfectly timed — generate some of the largest laughs in the show. With only a few lines, Devine makes Pike a memorable bit of grumpy joy. Emily Shoolin, as Wanda, plays up the standard ingénue role. This girl is sweet and ever so slightly dumb, but no one is going to take her David away. Eric Mann, as David’s lapdog best friend, Marvin, seems unaware that David’s success has yet to happen — Marvin’s already dreaming about the Hollywood life he can live alongside David.

Aside from the actors, David Toser deserves praise for his deceptively simple costume design. An Elvis Presley wig and an oversized suit set the tone for one of the most hilarious scenes. The carefully designed outfits for Angela and Wanda make one seem ridiculous, and the other the perfect 1930s girlfriend.

And after what seems like an interminable amount of musicals designed around the “American Idol” belting and screaming style of singing, it’s refreshing to hear actors use correct diction and tone. These actors don’t belt when they don’t need to. They don’t show off — they sing with precision. There’s no need for crazy high notes — a good ear can tell these actors know what they’re doing.

With music and lyrics by Stan Daniels, the score brings to mind the simple refrains of musicals past — with dirtier lyrics. This isn’t another “rock opera” — and thank goodness for that.

Let’s hope “Enter Laughing” follows a more successful route to Broadway than David. If this audience pleaser — and old-fashioned piece of entertainment — keeps up the good work, its Broadway aspirations won’t amount to blind stargazing.

Laughing His Way On Stage

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Carl Reiner’s story of an artist becoming an actor-and vice versa.

By Courtney M. Holbrook

A lot of people want to be stars. They want to see their name in lights and their picture on the cover of Vanity Fair. But what about the people who want to become artists?

“Enter Laughing: the Musical,” is the story of David, a young man from the Bronx during the Depression who wants to be a star. After auditioning for a play, he realizes that he, in fact, wants to be an artist.

Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor presents “Enter Laughing: the Musical” from August 9 to September 4, with preview performances August 9 to 12. Directed by Stuart Ross, the show originally ran Off-Broadway at the York Theatre, to positive reviews. Now, the company has returned, with a few cast changes, and is ready for an East End audience.

“The York stage was tiny, and the Bay Street Theatre proscenium stage allows us to do different things with physical comedy,” said Erick Devine, who plays the stage manager, Pike. “The script is still there, but we’re able to keep things interesting.”

With a book by Joseph Stein, the writer for “Fiddler On The Roof,” the cast has a lot of help in keeping things interesting. Carl Reiner, the screenwriter of “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Twelve” and “Thirteen,” wrote the semi-autobiographical novel which inspired the musical and a movie in the ‘60s.

Much of the joy of “Enter Laughing” comes from its coming-of-age story. At first glance, the show can seem “like a vehicle for one actor, but it’s the entire cast — the way my character interacts with everyone — that makes this show come alive,” said Josh Grisetti, who plays David.

David’s journey from gawky — and horny — would-be star to artist is a relatable one. Beyond the terrors of the audition process, “Enter Laughing” is the story of trying to be an actor — and all the insanity that comes with it.

“I think anyone can relate to David,” Grisetti said. “As actors, we remember those beginning thoughts about why we wanted to go into this business in the first place.”

What can appear clichéd becomes bitingly real with the 14-member supporting cast, which fleshes out David’s story. David’s father and mother, played by Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker of “L.A. Law,” would rather he be a pharmacist. David’s best friend, Marvin, played by Eric Mann, wants a part of David’s possible celebrity. And while David toils at his job at a machine shop, his boss, Mr. Forman, played by Ray DeMattis, serves as the “dose of reality about life,” according to DeMattis.

“When you’re an actor, you get used to people just assuming you’re dabbling in the business,” Devine said. “When you tell people you’re an actor, they tell you about how they did a play in high school. A lot of people — parents, friends — don’t see it as a legitimate profession.”

But the struggle to make acting an art does not just occur in the arguments between parents and children. There are also the struggles between actors and other actors, directors and stage managers. Much of these internal battles are displayed in David’s interactions with Angela, played by Kate Shindle, and Harrison Marlowe, played by Richard Kind of “The Producers” and “Spin City.” Marlowe is David’s acting teacher and the director of his first play, “The Strange Fate of the Mattress.” Angela is the “star” of the show, and cannot figure out why she hasn’t ascended the Broadway stage.

“Angela thinks she’s Greta Garbo,” said Shindle. “She thinks she’s the ultimate stage actress, but she’s really not.”

Angela is the classic theatre presence — the stage diva; Shindle noted that finding the artist beneath the cliché kept the character interesting. Despite Angela’s over-the-top attitude, she does “care about her art. The best part of this role was finding these layers in her through her interactions with David. She’s more than a cartoon.”

Shindle was one of the new additions to the cast. Adjusting to a show where many of the actors had already performed together was “wildly intimidating.” But thanks to the “supportive cast,” Shindle had “no time to be neurotic. I just had to jump right in.”

Despite the seemingly serious subject matter of artistic passion, the show’s strongest link to audience pull is simple — it’s funny. DeMattis said after years of comedy performances, he had yet to see as strong an audience reaction as they received in “Enter Laughing.”

“People just don’t stop laughing,” DeMattis said. “And that’s because of the script and the director, Stuart Ross. It’s unbelievable, but thanks to Reiner’s book, our job as actors was so much easier. We’ve got the script — Ross added this fantastic physical comedy.”

When the final show within the show begins, “Enter Laughing” has gone into full-blown farce. Gerry McIntyre, who plays many characters in the musical, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Don Darwin, noted that the “intensely fast-paced nature of the comedy just keeps you tuned in.”

Many in the cast noted Grisetti’s performance as the center of the show. For Grisetti, comedy has always been his theatrical choice.

“Even when I try to work in drama, everyone thinks I’m adding comic undertones,” Grisetti said. “That’s just the way my mind and body communicates.”

And in keeping with the over-the-top humor of “Enter Laughing,” Grisetti worried about audience reaction in the East End. After all, “families will love it,” he said. “But I’m really not attractive enough to bring in the artistic, young gay crowd that lives out here. So, I’m hoping for families.”

When “Enter Laughing: the Musical” holds its opening night on Saturday, the cast hopes they will laugh and enjoy the show. But, perhaps they’ll see something they can identify with — the story of growing up and finding the passion in a career.

“People come to theatre to be engaged, not just to laugh at mugging and stupid stuff,” Shindle said. “And with “Enter Laughing,” they’ll be engaged, they’ll care about these characters. But they’ll laugh while that’s happening.”

Bay Street Theatre: Take a Wild Ride with Betty

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By Annette Hinkle

Beware: In this play virtually no subject is off limits. Expect scenes rife with lewd language, excessive sexual references, castration, inappropriate familial relationships and overall disturbing behavior

And that’s just act one.

Christopher Durang’s play “Betty’s Summer Vacation,” Bay Street Theatre’s second offering of the mainstage season, is not your average day at the beach and those looking for light summer theatrical fluff would do well to look elsewhere.

But for theater-goers in the right frame of mind who are willing to suspend moral judgment for the duration, “Betty’s Summer Vacation” is definitely a trip worth taking.

As a playwright, Durang offers strong and compelling commentary on the prurient addiction and voyeuristic tendencies of the American public. He also addresses head on societal cravings for ever increasing and vulgar acts of violence, sex, scandal and confession — ideally witnessed by millions through various media outlets.

Ironically, this production, which is directed aptly by Trip Cullman and acted by a stellar cast, opened the same day a jury delivered its “not-guilty” verdict in the over-publicized Casey Anthony murder trial. Though written in the late ‘90s, before the term “reality TV” was even coined, and long before tweets and Facebook, in this era of phone hacking scandals and randy elected officials with a taste for sharing their personal “effects,” Durang’s script is perhaps more relevant now than it was in those innocent days of slow moving Bronco chases.

Scene one of the play opens with Betty (Heidi Schreck) arriving at her summer share, an airy but modest beach rental (nicely conceived by set designer Walt Spangler) with cheesy shell curtains and partial ocean views. Sorely in need of a vacation, she’s sharing the home with her overly-chatty friend Trudy (Celia Keenan-Bolger) who she hopes will quiet down now that she’s out of the city. That seems unlikely though as Trudy never shuts up and wanders with ease from one non sequitur to another, even doing a well honed impression of a car alarm when she stumbles onto that subject.

Relief from Trudy (if you can call it that) comes in short order, with the arrival of Betty’s other “housemates” — among them the pathologically quiet Keith (Bobby Steggert), a suspected serial killer who carries a mysterious hatbox and holes up in his room for much of the play. Also making an entrance is Mrs. Siezmagraff (Veanne Cox), the home’s owner who announces that a change in plans now requires that she take a room as well. The landlady, it turns out, is Trudy’s mother and their contentious relationship plays out for all as Trudy tells of sexual abuse at the hands of her late father while her mother paints her as a dramatic liar. Taking the last available room is the promiscuous Buck (John Behlmann) the young “buck” who can’t function on fewer than 20 sexual encounters per day and is crude beyond measure.

Complicating share house dynamics, Mrs. Siezmagraff, the aging party girl, soon brings home Mr. Vanislaw (Tom Riis Farrell) a homeless flasher she finds taking pictures in a changing room. Mrs. Siezmagraff has no moral boundaries, terrible judgment (and precious little compassion) so has brought the man home for a little entertainment. But the lecherous Mr. Vanislaw is soon bored by charades as well as his hostess and roams the halls in search of other younger diversions — with dire consequences.

A final “character” in the play is a laugh track that provides commentary on the action throughout. It’s a clever devise that draws audiences in and highlights public appetite for private affairs. In the beginning, the voices (Kate O’Phalen, Jacob Hoffman and Tim Intravia) are subtle and at times can barely be heard over the audience’s own laughter – the two are in sync. But as the action progresses,  the laugh track becomes increasingly vocal, aggressive and finally, even menacing toward the people on stage. It interacts with them and justifies inappropriate responses by describing to the residents moments that are uncomfortable, ironic or just plain boring.

With the exception of the even-keeled Betty, a bastion of sanity in a sea of chaos, Durang has created a cast of characters that embody stereotype in the extreme. Though at times, there may be those who question where this play is ultimately headed, Durang knows what he’s doing here. Bordering on the surreal — particularly in act two — this is a play that, despite the inexplicable, remains linear in its story telling, which keeps it in the realm of the logical — if not the plausible.

Cullman’s cast (particularly the incomparable Veanne Cox who is hysterically callous with an endearingly warped philosophy on life) is finely tuned and the non-stop pace feeds the energy, building to a crescendo where even the most offended audience member will be looking for more. Durang brilliantly plays on the notion of voyeurism in a way in which the audience itself inevitably becomes involved. Yes, it’s all tragic and sick, but we can’t wait to see what comes next.

But like the real public, Durang’s soundtrack is fickle, and it increasingly becomes involved in the lives of the hapless residents of the beach house. By the end, it’s directing …  no, demanding, they give them what it wants to see.

“Betty’s Summer Vacation” is along the lines of edgier productions like “Dinner” and “Romance” that have been well received at Bay Street in recent seasons. But in many ways, this play surpasses those in content by questioning the line of social acceptability and ever widening moral reasoning. What’s funny? What’s not? Flashers and serial killers? Yeah, maybe. Condoned rape of a damaged young woman? Hmmm…that’s a harder sell.

There’s a moment late in the play where Betty removes herself from the fray to pause on the beach and listen to the ocean for the first time since her visit. There’s an odd transference that comes with stepping outside the box, so to speak. Suddenly, we feel as if the characters around her are just that, and are struck by the sense that the whole beach house itself is a pre-ordained social experiment with Betty as the hapless subject. Maybe it’s just a sick, 21st century episode of Candid Camera or business as usual at the “Jersey Shore?”

Or perhaps, the TV inside Betty’s head has finally been turned off and the characters left behind are fading like a darkening screen. Simple figments in the mind of one woman looking to get away from what ails society — as perhaps we all should.

“Betty’s Summer Vacation” runs Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. through July 31. Matinees are offered at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays July 20 and 27 and at 4 p.m. on Saturdays July 16 and 23. Tickets are $65. Call 725-9500 or visit baystreet.org to reserve.

Top: Veanne Cox (Mrs. Siezmagraff) and Tom Riis Farrell (Mr. Vanislaw) get cozy on the couch in a scene from “Betty’s Summer Vacation.” Photo by Jerry Lamonica.