The July closing of BayWay Arts Center in East Islip was only an intermission. On Monday, Manes Studio Theatre of Long Island in Lindenhurst announced that it had signed a 10-year lease with Melville-based Fairfield Properties on the former venue of BroadHollow Theatre Company.
The deal marks the final act in a long history between BroadHollow and Studio, which at one point had been a third location for BroadHollow along with Elmont Memorial Library. "We couldn’t let it [BayWay] become condominiums," said Michael Blangiforti, managing director of Studio. "We felt it important to keep it a theater. We knew if we could make it happen, we wanted to go in there and make it happen. And thank God we did."
Studio has ambitious plans for BayWay, which includes spending about $50,000 on a face-lift for the space. Improvements will include a new lobby area; a full bar and cafe with indoor and outdoor seating; upgraded sound and lighting equipment, bathrooms for people with disabilities, and an orchestra pit.
"I'm a big believer that if it’s live theater, then the music needs to be live and not tracks," said Chris Rosselli, Studio's executive director.
Another crucial change will be the construction of new dressing rooms equipped with showers. "We want to make sure that we create a space that the actors are going to thrive in and are going to be comfortable in again," Blangiforti said.
The theater's relaunch will be contingent on when the state government announces that theaters can reopen. Rosselli said that Studio is eyeing January to begin offering classes at the BayWay location, which is expected to be renamed. March is the target date for beginning the season, which will consist of large-scale musicals. (Studio's lineup will consist of 10 to 12 plays and an occasional "Off-Broadway-style musical" Rosselli said.)
Don't be surprised if the cost of the renovation gets passed onto customers. "Ticket prices may go up slightly, obviously," he added, "but we’re going to put a higher level of artistic quality into our productions."
Studio's expansion plans are in juxtaposition with most local theaters that have been struggling financially during the pandemic. In addition to expecting to revamp BayWay, Studio is in the midst of a $250,000 renovation on its Lindenhurst location.
"We have a pretty robust children’s program and the educational portion of our business does well, so we’re OK," Rosselli said.
Questions remain whether all the renovations will be enough to lure pandemic-weary audiences back to the theater.
"People who want to come see a show when the governor says we can run shows again, will come," Rosselli said. "The ones who do not want to come see a show will stay home. I think at first we’re going to be given a maximum capacity of 30 or 40 percent, and I think the audiences will reflect the number we’re allowed to have. As the numbers go up mandated by the state, I'm sure the audiences will start to match that number."