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After racial slur, a call to support cast of musical at Northport theater

Not In Our Town is rallying locals to

Not In Our Town is rallying locals to support the cast of "Smokey Joe's Cafe" at Northport's John W. Engeman Theater. Credit: Howard Simmons

Northport activists want the community to sell out Wednesday's performance of a musical at the John W. Engeman Theater — a show of solidarity with the cast after a Black performer was called a racial slur over the weekend while walking on Main Street.

When the musical revue, "Smokey Joe's Cafe," begins Wednesday night, it will mark the cast's first return to the theater's stage since a white male called the actor the N-word between shows Sunday. In response, the Sunday night performance was canceled.

Proceeds from tickets sold for Wednesday's show will go to a cause chosen by the cast, officials said.

"The last thing we wanted was to profit over this horrible event that took place," said theater owner Kevin O'Neill.

Of the nine-member cast, seven are Black.

"We thought on Wednesday it would be a powerful message to have a sold-out crowd to show the support of the community," said Meghan Saporita, an attorney and a founding member of the Northport chapter of Not In Our Town [NOIT], a national organization working to stop bigotry and hate crimes.

Saporita said the group is also encouraging locals to buy tickets for the remaining performances through Oct. 31 as well as to send cards and flowers to the cast.

When O'Neill heard about the plan, he was touched but not surprised.

"That’s proof in the pudding that there’s a lot of heart in this community," he said.

Northport police, in a Sunday statement on Facebook, said the cast member, who was not identified, informed the theater staff "they were subjected to racist comments." However, the cast member did not wish to file a police report, the statement said, adding that the department will "conduct its own investigation."

Police had no updates on their investigation Tuesday.

A previous post on the theater's Instagram page, said: "Words cannot begin to express the deep sadness and disappointment we felt in learning of a racist incident outside our own theater today. We are disgusted that this happened and stand in strong support of all our cast, crew and staff."

NOIT Northport, which consists of eight founding members — all women — was created in the summer of 2020 after racist and antisemitic graffiti was found on the playground at Ocean Avenue Elementary School.

"We were not happy with the response from the town," Saporita said. "It wasn't publicized and there wasn’t a firm message or an unequivocable condemnation of that behavior."

The group has since organized book drives, fundraisers, lectures and more events as part of its mission.

"The message we want to send is that although this hateful, despicable incident happened in Northport, this is not who Northport is," Saporita said. "That’s not what we’re about and that there are many, many more people here who believe in a message of inclusion, in the beauty of diversity in this town and of working to make it better and combating these racist incidents."

With Keldy Ortiz

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