Tag Archive | "Stony Brook Southampton"

East End Digest – September 18

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Celebrating Local Ecology On The Greenbelt

On Saturday, September 27 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. will mark the 10th Annual Long Pond Greenbelt Celebration Day. Trail hikes with botanists, birders, local historians and a snake expert will be on hand, as well as Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre, ready to provide children’s activities, and exhibits from local environmental organizations. There will also be updates on the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt’s own vineyard field restoration project. Confirmed exhibitors include South Fork Natural History Society, Southampton Town Community Preservation Fund, Southampton Town Environment Division, Southampton Town Trustees, The Nature Conservancy, Southampton Trails Preservation Society, East Hampton Trails Preservation Society, Group for the East End, Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference, Long Island Trail Lovers’ Conference and the John Jermain Library.

Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt is a non-profit membership organization formed in 1997 dedicated to the preservation, stewardship and public appreciation of the Long Pond Greenbelt — a unique expanse of over 600 protected acres of freshwater swamps, wetlands, and woodlands, stretching from Ligonee Creek in Sag Harbor to Sapaponack Pond in Sagaponack.

For more information on the celebration, call Sandra Ferguson at 537-3752.

Southampton Town: High-Tech Park At Gabreski

Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot and councilman Chris Nuzzi traveled to Hauppauge on Monday, September 8 to join Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy in announcing a county deal struck with a major development firm to build an industrial-commercial park at Gabreski Airport.

The choosing of Rechler Equity Partners of Melville marks a milestone in the long-awaited collaboration between Suffolk County and the Town of Southampton to re-develop 58.6 acres of industrial land into a homeland security-oriented “Hampton Business and Technology Park.”

The project is part of a larger effort to foster economic development in the region, and more specifically to generate revenue from the county-owned property. Both the county and the town of Southampton have had long-held plans to upgrade Gabreski’s facilities and transform the area into a long-term economic rejuvenator.

“We want attract businesses offering year-round, decent-paying, jobs for East End residents,” said Kabot. “The Town of Southampton is excited about the selection of Rechler Equity Partners to capitalize the necessary improvements and create a visually-pleasing business center. The initial concept plan includes a 145-room hotel and conference center, as well as technology-based industries.”

The redevelopment will be made possible through the Town’s designation of the area as an Airport Planned Development District (APDD), with an accompanying Master Plan to detail site requirements and the types of businesses allowed there. Long-standing issues over zoning and suitable uses slowed the project for years, but it was revived and brought to fruition through the cooperative efforts of County Executive Levy and the Southampton Town board led by former supervisor-turned county economic development commissioner, Patrick Heaney.

Under the APDD, Gabreski Airport will be converted into a hub of commercial activity that will permit a host of high-tech industrial, office, service, support, ancillary retail, transportation, lodging, and related uses. In making the changes, the objective is to lure businesses involved in homeland security, alternative energies, and “green” research and development. Particular attention will also be paid to courting producers of film, television, and digital media.

In addition, the New York State Department of Economic Development designated 48 acres within the proposed park as an “Empire Zone” in 2004 for enhanced incentives to stimulate private investment. They include lower business tax rates, reimbursement of local taxes, exemption from state sales tax, lower utility rates, and up to $3,000 in annual credits for each new employee hired. The Gabreski Airport PDD is one of five such areas in Suffolk County, and officials say the designation complements Suffolk’s effort to increase investment in commercial sewer capacity upgrades and the potential development of workforce housing.

Overall, according to the county, the area’s redevelopment is anticipated to generate more than $7 million in rental revenue to Suffolk County over the next 10 years, and more than $40 million over the life of the 40-year lease.

Supervisor Kabot credited Deputy County Executive Jim Morgo “for helping to build consensus among community stakeholders and environmental advocates to balance the need for economic development, cap the site’s build out capacity, and ensure the County’s commitment to not grow aviation uses at the airport.”

“This project is a great example of all levels of government and the community working together,” concluded Nuzzi. “It not only offers an essential component for our affordable housing initiatives, but promises the creation of economic development opportunities within the town.”

Stony Brook Southampton: Doubles Students

It’s back to school for Stony Brook Southampton. Now in its second full year, the campus continues to grow as planned.

The student body has almost doubled in size to over 300 full-time students and approximately 400 students overall while maintaining the same rigorous admissions standards as parent Stony Brook University. The number of classes offered, majors and professors has also increased.

“We are very pleased with the progress we have made here at Stony Brook Southampton with our curriculum and our infrastructure,” Interim Dean Martin Schoonen said. “Students really seem to be responding to our focus on the environment and sustainability, and that shows with their increased interest in our programs.”

Building continues on a new library while more space for student affairs and student services will open in early October in the renovated Atlantic Hall building. This follows the recent renovation of the Avram Theater and Gallery that saw the Sustainable Treasures vocal series and the Southampton Writers Conference doubles its offerings this past summer. This past spring, new state monies were announced for the Marine Center and the Student Center. The historic and symbolic Windmill on campus is also undergoing a facelift with new blades being installed later this fall.

More residence halls are online with over 150 students living on campus now; again, almost double last year’s number. Residence Life has also added a community service element that will see more Southampton students going into the larger community to volunteer with not-for-profit, community and civic groups.

Stony Brook Southampton, a model of sustainability that was featured in The New York Times this past summer and on “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” and “The Today Show” this past spring, also continues with its plans to build one of the nation’s truly green campuses. All new buildings will have LEED certification, while, already, lighting systems, a greenhouse and even vehicles on campus are energy efficient and use alternative forms of energy. The school café doesn’t use deep fryers and uses local produce, some of which is grown on campus, whenever possible.

Earlier this year, Dr. Schoonen announced that the New York State Department of Education had approved three cutting-edge, new majors for Southampton: Ecosystems and Human Impact; Environmental Design, Policy and Planning, and Sustainability Studies, which join SBS’s existing three majors in Environmental Studies, Marine Sciences and Marine Vertebrate Biology. A “green” Business major is also in the works for Fall 2009.

Southampton Hospital: Collecting Clothing

Southampton Hospital proudly announces a new fundraising system utilizing the collection of used clothing. This concept will help to raise additional funds towards the expansion of the Hospital’s Breast Health Center in 2009. The pink metal containers, which stand 5x5x6 in size, raise awareness of the Breast Health Center, while housing all unwanted used clothing. Although new to the Hospital, this program has proven fundraising success. The company administering this program, Earthrite Textile Recycling, is presently working with North Shore LIJ, Southside Hospital, Carol M. Baldwin Breast Care Imaging Center, Breast Cancer Help Inc. and its Long Island Cancer Help and Wellness Center. For more information on this program, please contact Earthrite Textile Recycling at 580-7092.

Westhampton Beach: Restoring Environment

Sun Stream USA, The Renewable Energy Company, located in Southampton will take part in an upcoming CURE (Classmates United in Restoring the Environment) meeting at Westhampton Beach High School on Friday, September 19 at 2:30 p.m. to help kick-off the year’s CAUSE program at the school.

The CAUSE (CURE Alumni Undertaking for Solar Energy) program is made up of alumni and students of CURE, who work to raise awareness about environmental protection and conservation.

CAUSE was developed by Jok Kommer, the environmental and marine science teacher at Westhampton Beach High School and Brian Tymann, Director of Operations at Sun Stream USA.

This year’s CAUSE program will focus on developing and installing two renewable energy solutions at Westhampton Beach High School. One system will use solar power-to-power waterfall pumps in the school’s new courtyard, and the other solar solution will provide back-up power to the school’s science lab, which contains many living organism such as marine animals, reptiles, plants, and a working tidal salt marsh ecosystem.

Suffolk County: Text Ban Begins

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy was joined by County Legislator Jay Schneiderman at a press conference Tuesday afternoon to remind Suffolk drivers that effective next week the text message ban will be in place for drivers in the county.

Suffolk’s landmark legislation banning text messaging while driving — sponsored by Legislator Schneiderman and co-sponsored by Legislator Jon Cooper — passed in May, was signed into law in June of this year and will formally take effect September 21. Violations will carry a fine of $150.

“Drivers of any age, but most especially young drivers who have practically grown up with a cell phone in their hands, need to realize how distracting typing and reading text messages can be while behind the wheel of a car,” said Levy.

“This groundbreaking law continues the long tradition of Suffolk County taking the lead in adopting innovative and important legislation that sets an example for the rest of the nation,” said Schneiderman, noting that similar bans are under consideration in Nassau and in New York City.

Conserving Sea is Goal for College’s New Center

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The already strong School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University became even stronger on Friday when the university announced plans to establish the new Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at the Southampton campus. SoMas professor Dr. Ellen Pikitch, who was named the institute’s Executive Director, called the announcement a “high water mark” and said the new research team will build on the program’s “impressive track record” and together will make it an “even more powerful force” in ocean conservation.

The institute, which is expected to be completed in the fall of 2010, is being made possible by a $4 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trust, will be located where the current marine center now stands, on Little Neck Road just south of the Southampton campus. The institute is also expected to benefit from $6.9 million in state funding.

“Our oceans are in a state of emergency,” said Pikitch. “[The institute] will generate the science needed to better safeguard threatened marine life and ecosystems and we will use those findings to shape smarter policy.”

She said the university plans to enlist a number of top scientists, beginning this fall, and their first project will be to establish a forage fish task force to look at the rapid depletion of small schooling fish such as sardines, anchovies and menhaden. These fish serve as the primary food source for most ocean mammals, larger fish and seabirds. As a result of the health trends involving fish oil supplements, which are believed to reduce the chance of heart disease, and the demand for livestock feed which also uses the small fish, their population is dwindling. Pitcitck described the over-fishing of forage fish as “pulling the rug out from under ocean ecosystems.”

A number of elected officials were on hand at Friday’s event at the site of the new institute, including U.S. Congressman Tim Bishop and New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele. Bishop, who once served as Southampton College provost when the school was part of the Long Island University system, said, “It was wonderful to see the investment being made [in the university].”

He said that both he and Thiele often face the challenge of balancing commercial fishing with recreation fishing, both of which are prevalent on the East End. He said many times they battle with the decisions and policies they make being based on “good science.” He said with the institute in Southampton now in the works, he felt “confident” knowing the decisions they make would be based on the excellent research that will take place there.

Thiele graduated from Southampton College. He said everyone knew it was “diamond in the rough” that only suffered because of a lack of “support. Thiele also brought up the fact that ocean conservation is “near and dear” to everyone on the East End. He mentioned the fact that the Shinnecock and Montauk canals are the two largest commercial fishing ports in the state.

President of Stony Brook University Shirley Strum Kenny said, “This new institute was important not only to Southampton, but to New York State, to the nation and to the world.”

Stony Brook University is the only institution in New York State that offers degrees in marine science at the bachelors, masters and doctorate level.

Future site of multi-million dollar marine science study center is pictured above

 

James McMullan: Imagining the Scene

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Theater posters represent a unique art form. Graphically intriguing and designed to catch the eye, in a single moment, a good poster says enough about a play to entice audiences – yet does not risk alienation by revealing too much.

Tapping into the core idea of a play and interpreting it in a single iconic image is a talent that Sag Harbor’s James McMullan has mastered. For 23 years, McMullan has been the principal poster artist for Lincoln Center Theater productions. From “South Pacific” to “Six Degrees of Separation” and “Carousel,” McMullan’s work is instantly identifiable and always unique.

By its nature, poster art is fleeting — pasted up on train station platforms or in subway corridors, it is both transit and transient. Yet long after the plays have closed, many of McMullan’s posters remain larger than life (literally) and continue to persist in the mind’s eye.

Fans of McMullan’s work can see some of his most famous posters up close and personal in “McMullan’s Theater Posters: First Sketches to Final Art” on view through September 8 in the Avram Gallery at Stony Brook Southampton. The exhibit features more than a dozen full size McMullan posters, along with his original artwork for each. Also on view are four projects which show his entire working process from pencil sketch to final product — complete with photographs, rejected sketches and alternate versions.

“People are always amazed that these originals are so tiny yet they blow up very big,” notes McMullan, holding his latest mock-up for “Dividing The Estate” a poster he is currently designing for Horton Foote’s play starring Elizabeth Ashley which opens at Lincoln Center in October.

McMullan almost always portrays key characters from the play in his posters. Through photographs — ideally taken of the actual actors, though he will use stand-ins if necessary — he strives to capture the essence of the play in a single pose.

“That is really my take on the play — the pose,” explains McMullan. “It’s important for me to find that moment of connection in the play. What am I interested in? What connects to my own psychology?”

“It’s what every artist does,” he says. “Within the subject matter you find the hot spot, the place that really interests and intrigues you and makes you want to go in. It’s a point of entry. I know what the play’s about — but where do I get into the play?”

Many times, that answer reveals itself with help from the actor who brings his or her own unique take and mannerisms for the character to the photo session.

“Every person gives you a new kind of landscape of detail, particularly in the way people move,” adds McMullan. “I like to immerse myself in the ideas and details of the photograph, and then at a certain point during the process, I stop looking at the photograph. I’ve internalized what’s in the photo and draw without it.”

The process has worked well for McMullan, whose reputation is now such that directors often insist on a McMullan poster for their Lincoln Center productions. He notes that it’s always important that they be included in the discussion as well.

“I read the script two or three times and talk to the director and playwright if available,” says McMullan. “One thing I don’t want to happen is that the director doesn’t feel like I listened to him and taken into consideration what he’s thinking.”

While many of the ideas for McMullan’s posters gel organically through a flash of inspiration, there are other times when the process is a struggle — particularly when a director has preconceived notions about what a McMullan poster should look like.

“It starts with this idea that they love me enough to want my poster,” says McMullan. “Then as it’s going on they think, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have a hand in Jim McMullan’s poster?’”

“If my first art doesn’t go through, I do a second one adjusting to what they said. Then it goes to a third one and after that it becomes a long winded situation,” he grins. “If I didn’t have a streak of masochism, I’m not sure I would be able to do it as long as I have.”

“McMullan’s Theater Posters: First Sketches to Final Art” runs through September 8 at the Avram Gallery at Stony Brook, Southampton, 239 Montauk Highway.

A Conference For the Written Word

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Every July in Southampton, novelists, poets and other writers come together like a giant family on a holiday weekend, each year with new faces and old. Director of the MFA in Writing and Literature program at Stony Brook Southampton Robert Reeves would no doubt be the patriarchal figure in the bunch, while other writers and faculty like Lou Ann Walker, Roger Rosenblatt and Billy Collins play the role of the unruly offspring who return each year.
“I’m a repeat offender,” said Collins, who is taking part in his seventh consecutive Southampton Writers Conference (SWC).
Rosenblatt joked, “I think I come before the parole board next year.”
The conference, which author Tom Wolfe has called the “best in the country,” is celebrating it’s 33rd year. There are many aspects that set it apart from the numerous other conferences, and one is the family vibe it fosters.
“We’ve created a sense of the familiar,” said Reeves, “with people returning, as they often do.”
Collins described the inner core of returning faculty as adding “stability” while the newer writers add “freshness.” Other “inner core” members include Frank McCourt, Melissa Bank and Matt Klam. This year Amy Hempel, Christopher Durang and Derek Walcott will embody the “freshness.”
Unlike most family get-togethers, according to Rosenblatt there is very little, if any, bickering with his contemporaries.
Said Rosenblatt, “The oddity is that we all get along, even sober, which is saying something.”
What truly sets the conference apart from others, though, is the fact that it’s a teaching conference. Most writers conferences include fly-by appearances from big name authors who drop in, read their work, sign some books and then skip town, or maybe sit in on one or two panel discussions. The SWC involves intense daily workshops where participants are afforded the opportunity to engage with respected authors and hone their craft.
“Most conferences are just for showing off,” said Rosenblatt. “Which is fine. But even writers tire of showing off. At the center of this conference is teaching.”
“We have plenty of big names,” said Reeves, “but we’re not about celebrity, per se. We are about honoring the craft and the people who care about writing as art.”
Collins admitted to the conference becoming a little more “glamorous” as first Long Island University and now Stony Brook University has become “increasingly aware” of the demographic of Southampton in July. He said that awareness, however, has not taken away from the goal.
“Overall the conference still has a serious nuts and bolts commitment to the workshops,” he said. “There is work to be done.”
One of the benefits of the workshop approach, according to Collins, is the breaking down of the author myth.
“[Participants] come into very close contact with well established professional writers. The hope is they find they’re just as human as anyone else. Though they pretend to be gods, they are just regular mortals who have kept at it for a very long time.”
Walker said she benefits from the workshops just as much as the participants.
“What’s always surprising to me each year is how much I learn,” she said. “You feel recharged, as if you’ve gone away for a vacation. You find yourself rethinking how you approach your writing and how you view other people’s writing.”
Rosenblatt said he goes into every workshop with the goal of allowing his students to find their “original language.”
“That’s a center of all good writing,” he said. “I gear everything in class to encourage [that], so they know they have something in them that no one else has. It takes work to discover what Twain called the difference between the word and the right word.”
The SWC has established itself as an institution on the East End, and this year two other bookend conferences were created with the aim of doing the same. Last week Walker presided over the inaugural Children’s Literature Conference.
“It was quite extraordinary,” said Walker. “It exceeded any expectations we could have had. One woman said it was a life changing experience. I’m definitely hooked and I’m already looking forward to next year.”
After the SWC, the inaugural Southampton Screenwriting Conference will be held from July 30 to August 3. About the two new conferences, Reeves said, “I think it can become a wonderful tradition. We have an opportunity to fill up the summer and really make it a writers’ summer.”
In a time when some see the written word as becoming increasingly endangered, Reeves acknowledged that he couldn’t predict the future. He did however say it has no bearing on the SWC and that people will always care about the art of story telling.
“Poetry at one time was a primary genre,” noted Reeves. “It was at the center of the culture. The novel has not always been around and it’s not written in stone that the novel will always be around, but people will always want the equivalent.”
“This is the place for them. If [the importance of the written word] is declining in the world, so be it. It hasn’t declined to us.”

Top Photo: (L to R) Ursula Hegi, Matthew Klam, Meg Wolitzer, Robert Reeves, Billy Collins, Frank McCourt, Carol Muske-Dukes, Lou Ann Walker, Melissa Bank, Roger Rosenblatt and Marsha Norman.

Evenings of Musical Treasures

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Christine Goerke is a soprano. An opera singer who has toured the world. She has sung in cities across the U.S. and abroad — her European debut was on the stage of the Paris Opera. She has sung the work of Verdi, Mozart and Wagner.

This summer, as the artistic director of Music at Southampton’s 2008 series Sustainable Treasures Goerke will bring her musical talents and those of many others in the field to East End audiences. The series at Stony Brook Southampton is entering it’s second year and if your knowledge is lacking in the arena of classical vocal music, Goerke says not to worry.

“It’s exactly the kind of audience we focus on. You don’t have to know a thing to enjoy this music.”

Goerke is a Long Island girl, a graduate of SUNY Stony Brook and, incidentally, a huge Billy Joel fan.

“He’s a great storyteller,” she says. “I think that’s one of the things I admire about him.”

Opera is also a form of storytelling and Goerke’s story began in Medford where she grew up with an interest in music, but not, ironically, singing.

“I was not a singer until I was in college. I was a clarinet player. I was interested in going to school and being a high school band teacher. I was so impressed and touched by my high school teacher, I wanted to be inspiring to kids so they’d think it’s cool.”

Goerke explains that as part of the college placement process for music majors, instrumentalists were required to take a sight singing test. At the end of her test, two of the choral directors urged her to consider the choir. In the end, Goerke ditched the clarinet and became a voice major.

“I didn’t have to carry anything,” says Goerke who began her college career at Fredonia and attended Suffolk County Community College for a year before discovering the music department at Stony Brook.

“I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know about it,” she says. “That’s what makes me happy and sad. I’m excited we have a strong music program there and are starting to use people who are graduates. Makes me sad that for people on Long Island, our first choice is to go away. We don’t push our own schools enough. We urge students to get away from home and be at college and overlook what’s here at home.”

And what’s here at home this summer is a concert series chock full of musical offerings — not just classical vocal numbers, but jazz and cabaret as well. Goerke is charged by the new energy at Stony Brook Southampton. The Avram Theater has been given a long overdue face lift and Goerke has lined up some heavy hitters to come share their talents with East Enders this summer.

The series runs through the end of August and kicks off on Thursday, July 10 with the music of Brahms and Liebeslieder waltzes in a joint concert with PianoFest. In addition to Goerke, performers include soprano Lisa Mandelkorn, mezzo-soprano Sarah Heltzel, tenor Thomas Wazelle and baritone Dominic Inferrera. Goerke is excited about the music — and the musicians — that local audiences will have the opportunity to hear.

“In the beginning when I started doing this [singing], people would say, ‘You don’t have a real job,’” recalls Goerke. “If we do our job right, the audience should think we’re not working. We should all be in a great mood and having fun.”

The idea for Sustainable Treasures began when Goerke, who was on the board of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook and Linda Merians, the university president’s chief of staff, got wind that Stony Brook University was considering acquiring the Southampton campus.

“We had wondered about the theater there,” recalls Goerke. “I said, ‘The thing is, I grew up here, there’s a lot of high end music out there, but no vocal music.’”

“There was a big hole in classical vocal music out there. I felt we could use the theater for it.”

For the inaugural season last summer, Goerke put together a small program to see how a classical vocal series would be received by East End audiences. The response, she notes, was great and this year, she’s doubled the schedule and called on friends and musical acquaintances to lend a hand to build the festival.

“It’s a new festival, they’re all willing to come for nothing.”

Goerke also likes the idea that the festival is helping to build audiences for opera, a style of music that she feels really is for the masses.

“What’s really cool now, over the last 10 years, every opera house has supertitles or titles in the backs of the seats,” she says. “Even when I’m singing in English, you won’t get the words as easily. I think it’s great the words are in front of folks. That’s what the art form was originally about. It was the equivalent of Broadway.”

“We don’t want anything to be elitist.”

The first concert in the series will be in German. Goerke notes that all the text will be available for the audience.

“If you happen to come in from a day on the water in boat shoes and shorts, that’s fine,” she says. “We don’t care about the tux. Come have a glass of wine and cheese, come have a picnic, hear some music. That’s it. No high falootin’ things here.”

“We’re doing three classical recitals and a joint recital with PiaonoFest,” explains Goerke. “The stuff we’re singing for the most part is not operatic, but art song — you don’t get the costumes and scenery. It’s text and music. There’s not a single pair of eyes I couldn’t see from the stage.”

“It’s a kick,” she adds. “I think, ‘What’s this song about? What does it mean to me and how do I make it come across in three minutes?’ It’s a challenge every time you open your mouth and everyone coming is good at it”.

In addition to the classical recitals, this season, Goerke notes there have been some additional musical stylings added to the roster.

“We took an exit poll last year,” she says. “Folks had asked for cabaret and jazz concerts so we’ve added those. I’m a classical singer, I know a lot of people in that end of the business. I also have friends in Broadway and as far as being advisors, I asked them ‘Can we afford them?’ Why not give a shot. We’re a fledgling festival, in the beginning everyone is working on a shoestring. Those who come really want to be there.”

The series will include a concert by jazz tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm on July 17 and a concert by the New Jazz Generation on August 21 as well as a concert of standards from the American songbook on July 24 and a full out evening of Broadway cabaret on July 28.

“We’re big on hearing from folks about what they want to hear,” says Goerke. “We actually got a huge range of folks last season. We asked if they were local, travelers, weekenders. It was unbelievably mixed. Every age was in there too. It made me so happy to see people come out for the first year.”

“The fact the theater is renovated is great,” she adds. “I’m really proud of something that can bring this much high level vocal music out here as well. I’ve dreamed of it.”

Music at Southampton’s 2008 series “Sustainable Treasures” offers eight concerts on Thursday evenings from July 10 to August 28. All concerts begin at 8 p.m. in the Avram Theater at Stony Brook Southampton. Concert goers are invited to arrive early to picnic on the grounds and stay after the performance to meet the artists at post-concert receptions. Tickets are $40 ($25 for Stony Brook University and Southampton College alumni,  $25 for senior citizens and $15 for students). Tickets for a series of four or more concerts are $25 each. To reserve by phone, call 632-8000. Tickets may be purchased at the Avram Theater beginning at 6:30 p.m. on the night of each performance. For a full concert schedule, visit www.stonybrook.edu/treasures.

 

 

Intimacy Is the Aim

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

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