Loyal patrons of Manes Studio Theatre in Lindenhurst will have to find another way to get their cardio. When the renovated theater officially reopens Jan. 14, they will no longer have to climb the steep, narrow stairway to reach the second floor.
Moving the 140-seat theater to the first-floor space that was once a bridal shop was the major goal of the $500,000 renovation, says executive artistic director David Dubin, noting that the theater had tentatively decided to go ahead with the project right before COVID-19 closed things down nearly two years ago.
"When the pandemic hit, it was a good and a bad thing," says Dubin, sitting on the nearly finished stage in early December. "Bad in that there’s no money coming in from ticket sales, good in that we were going to be closed for a while so we could shut down without disrupting our program. It worked both ways for us."
BUILDING A DREAM
The makeover also includes a new first-floor lobby and restrooms, as well as offices, dressing rooms, rehearsal studios and classrooms for youth productions on the second floor — which can be reached by, wait for it, an elevator. There’s also a branch of the "Casablanca"-themed Rick’s Café Americain, similar to the one at Bayway Arts Center in East Islip, which Studio acquired from Broadhollow Theater and opened in May after its own $150,000 renovation.
The cafes are named for Rick Hachemeister, a longtime patron and board member who has made significant contributions to the two theaters, both financially (more than $300,000) and physically. The retired Grumman engineer has devoted nearly 3,000 volunteer hours to construction on both theaters, joking that the pandemic is to blame. "My wife wanted me out of the house."
But the Studio executives are beyond grateful. "Rick took something that was a dream for all of us and he’s making it come true," says Michael Blangiforti, Studio’s managing director.
"We wouldn’t be here without him," adds Dubin.
All involved acknowledge it’s been a risk. "Who acquires another theater in the middle of a pandemic," asks Blangiforti. As Dubin quipped, "we already had one closed theater, now we would have two closed theaters."
The gamble appears to be paying off. Audiences at Bayway, with its ambitious schedule of shows including the upcoming musical "Titanic" and the New York metro premieres of "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner" and "Grumpy Old Men," have been so happy with the quality of the productions, he says. And, notes Dubin, with money coming in again, they were able to get back to the Studio relaunch.
A soft opening in December featured a short run of "Reasons to Be Pretty" by Neil LaBute, an edgy playwright Dubin thought might entice the patrons of the brew pub across the street who he’d noticed peaking in the windows. "Pictures of a controversial-looking show might bring in a new audience," says Dubin. "Our subscribers are graying and we need an audience for the future. … I wanted our first show to get new people into the theater."
While audiences weren’t as big as he hoped, Dubin says the show did attract some newcomers. "I think we made an impression on the people who came for the first time," he says.
For the official launch, Studio will pick up exactly where it left off, presenting the season that came to a halt in March 2020. First up is the British farce "See How They Run," which was four days from opening when the shutdown hit. Other plays on the schedule include "The History Boys," "On Golden Pond," Harvey Fierstein’s recent Broadway hit "Torch Song" and "A Disturbance at Hemingsford Hall," by local playwright Frank Tangredi.
Still the pandemic hangs over the proceedings. While Studio follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines regarding masking, social distancing, enhanced cleaning protocols and requiring casts to be fully vaccinated, what’s happening on Broadway is a concern. As of now, plans for a grand opening champagne gala have been put back until sometime in the spring, and Dubin is painfully aware that anything could happen between now and opening night.
Echoing a familiar sentiment in these trying times, he says simply, "I’ll believe it when I see it."
WHAT “See How They Run”
WHEN | WHERE Jan. 14-30, Manes Studio Theatre, 141 S. Wellwood Ave., Lindenhurst
INFO $35, $30 seniors, $25 students; 631-226-8400, studiotheatrelongisland.com