Northport's John W. Engeman Theater will not be alive with the sound of music for the rest of this year. On Wednesday, the theater announced it would remain closed until March due to the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath.
"Broadway is technically closed through September, but if you listen to the executive director of the Broadway League, she is even saying it's not going to be until January at the earliest, and she’s an optimist," said Richard Dolce, Engeman's producing artistic director. Other factors such as winter flu season and the wait for Actors Equity to issue an official set of safety guidelines for theaters played into Engeman's decision.
Last month, Engeman announced it would be closed through June 30. Dolce said the possibility of reopening before March was considered but wasn't feasible from a financial standpoint. "Theater just doesn’t work with social distancing. We just can’t do it with 50 percent or 25 percent capacity. There’s just no model that works unless we start doing one-man shows," he said. "Instead of just going show by show, we decided to take a realistic view of the situation and try to stay closed long enough for this virus to pass and a vaccine to be found."
On Wednesday, subscribers were sent an email that featured a link to a video in which managing director Kevin O'Neill outlined the theater's plan. Subscribers with questions on tickets can go to engemantheater.com or call 631-261-2900 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The theater's directors also plan to have a virtual Q&A with theater patrons on Friday.
Engeman has been closed since March 12, just one week before the musical "Sister Act" was slated to open. When the curtain does go up again in March, "Sister Act" will finally be presented followed by Cole Porter's "Anything Goes," which had been slated to close out the 2019-20 season. The lineup for the 2020-21 season — "On Your Feet," "A Bronx Tale," "The Sound of Music," "Elvis the Musical," "Kinky Boots" and "Hello, Dolly!" — will now be presented beginning in the summer of 2021 for what O'Neill referred to as "the Season of Recovery."
Dolce said the theater is attempting to stay closed and at the same time keep its staff at full salary, adding that the government loan programs that the theater has received will help in this effort for a time. Those programs will run out in advance of March, which will make it difficult to accomplish that goal, he said. The theater is actively pursuing extended funding programs for businesses that will reopen in Phase 4.
The question still remains whether the audience will come back. "We've gone anywhere from 'Who’s going to show up?' to 'There’s going to be a huge pickup in demand for it,' " Dolce said. "People are just going to need to feel comfortable sitting in a theater again."