Father and son duo Mark and Dylan Perlman, owners of The Argyle Theatre, had high hopes that once phase 4 of Long Island's reopening of businesses took effect in July, the curtain might finally go up at the Babylon venue. As fall approaches, the curtain has not risen an inch.
"We don’t have a phase," said Mark Perlman. "We’re phase question mark. We've come up with a few different configurations for reopening, but we have no data and clarity from the governor's office."
It's a sentiment shared by others running Long Island theaters which have been closed for six months and are likely to remain dark for the remainder of the year. The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, for instance, is following Broadway's projected opening and eyeing March to return with the same lineup of musicals it had planned for the 2020-21 season.
"We're hoping by that time there might be a vaccine," said Richard Dolce, Engeman's producing artistic director. The theater has maintained its staff and has been using this period to work on cleaning, organizing inventory and trying to plan for reopening.
Jeffrey Sanzel at Theatre Three, however, is growing impatient with the lack of guidance from the government. The executive artistic director at the Port Jefferson theater has written Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking for guidance for theater owners and some indication of when they might reopen. When asked if he received a response, Sanzel replied "Nothing."
As a result, theaters are looking at creative ways to provide alternative forms of live entertainment. Theatre Three's fall slate will be a continuation of its "Off-stage/On-line" series of free original one-act plays which it began in May.
"It's not live theater, it's not a movie, it's Zoom, whatever that is," said Sanzel of the plays which premiere every Sunday and Wednesday at 7 p.m. on theatrethree.com as well as the theater's YouTube channel and Facebook page. To date, the nearly 40 productions have garnered roughly 17,000 views.
While Dolce said Engeman has no plans at the moment to do livestreamed theater, it's an option the Perlmans are eyeing. "In the world of Netlfix and Disney +, it’s a wonderful thing, but I don’t think we as an industry can kid ourselves into thinking this will replace a live performance," said Dylan Perlman.
Guild Hall in East Hampton is considering using its indoor theater as a production studio this fall. One idea being mulled is recording "The Gin Game," with Mercedes Ruehl and Harris Yulin without an audience and presenting it online. The actors performed the show outdoors this summer in Guild Hall's garden which was reconfigured to present outdoor performances that met with social-distancing guidelines.
The Gateway in Bellport, which presented drive-in movies in lieu of its summer slate of live musicals, plans to continue the screenings along with a Drive-In Gala hosted by Isabella Rossellini as a benefit for the theater on Sept. 25 and 26.
Still, theaters are clearly feeling a financial strain. Argyle, which furloughed most of its employees, and Manes Studio Theatre in Lindenhurst, got some income by running children's theater summer camps. One casualty has been BroadHollow Theatre Company: In July, the company which operated out of Elmont and East Islip and had been a Long Island theater staple for 44 years, was forced to close when it could no longer meet expenses.
Both Dolce and Mark Perlman believe that the government is waiting to see what effect the reopening of schools has in terms of coronavirus cases before determining when theaters may reopen.
"This is a really devastating time for our industry. For business owners and performers, there isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel," Perlman said. "Our elected officials need to step it up with additional funding. We were the first to close and the last to reopen."