Standing in the upper level of the 90-year-old building that is now the home of the Smithtown Performing Arts Center, Michael Mucciolo said the East Street theater held a special place for many in the community.
“There isn’t anybody who hasn’t lived in this town or a neighboring town who hasn’t had a memory here,” Mucciolo said. “The amount of stories you hear where somebody says they had their first date, their first kiss, they had their first opportunity to go and do something without their parents, they saw ‘Star Wars’ here, they saw ‘Jaws,’ but it has a lot deeper history than that.”
The nonprofit Smithtown Performing Arts Council, which owns the building, has spent more than $500,000 in renovations during the past 18 months as part of their efforts to get the building ready for the next generation of actors and theatergoers. In mid-July, the center reopened with its first main stage show, "Travel Back to the 80s Experience,” a 1980s-theme show for people of all ages.
Some of the recent interior renovations added LED lighting in several spots throughout the building, including the stage, plumbing, sound system upgrades, new seats in the upper lobby, new heating and air conditioning, and new front doors.
The theater also has several renovations planned for the exterior, including repairing the marquee, repainting, and adding exterior and digital LED lighting. Fixing the exterior, particularly the marquee, Mucciolo said, could go a long way in “bringing the light back to Main Street.”
Ultimately, Mucciolo said, the council is looking to raise more funding from donors so they can continue making future renovations, including installing solar panels on the roof, which would “really help the council in its mission to be here for another 90 years for the residents of Long Island.”
As many as 500 children each year participate in the theater's educational programs, where they learn how to act on stage in plays and musicals. At a recent Disney-themed showcase, children performed songs from such movies as “The Little Mermaid,” “Frozen,” “Mary Poppins” and “Sleeping Beauty.”
Aman Verma, who sits on the center's board of directors, said a combination of fundraising and grants helped get the theater to this point.
Verma, whose daughter Anika Verma, 7, has been acting onstage in theater programs since she was 5, said he could see his daughter become more confident as she tried out for roles in different performances.
“When she first started theater, she was a little shy,” Verma said. “She always liked the stage, but you can see she’s more confident. When I watch her, you can see her confidence, her energy is a lot different. And when you build confidence in a child, it carries through to other things, as well.”
Bonnie Hinson, of Smithtown, whose daughter Erika Hinson, 19, has been acting and participating in theater programs since she was 7, said her daughter learned not only confidence, but how to study for a role and take responsibility for it. Because of the children's programs, Hinson said the theater was a key part of the community.
“It gives the community a safe place,” Hinson said. “It gives the community a place somewhere they can bring their kids to dream and not be afraid … it opens their eyes and kids can then dream that they can be on stage or in the theater. It gives them stars to reach for.”