By Tara Mae
“We closed on March 16, 2020 and started planning how we would reopen on March 17, 2020.”
That is how co-founder and Artistic Director of the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts Ken Washington described the process of arranging to reopen the theater after it had to close due to the pandemic.
Located at 2 East Main Street in Smithtown, the theater offers plays, concerts, and educational services to the community.
“We’re scheduling a mix of fun new programs and rescheduling the shows that needed to be postponed, to fulfill those promises to the patrons who stood by us during this time,” said Associate Managing Director Kelly Mucciolo.
Its first mainstage show since March of 2020, Green Day’s American Idiot, is scheduled to open July 9 and will run every Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. through July 31. “Throughout the next six months we will be adding to the schedule … as certain things become available, and audiences become more comfortable gathering in an indoor environment,” explained Washington.
American Idiot provides an opportunity to reunite individuals who share a passion for performance. The rock musical, based on the 2004 Green Day album of the same name, follows the stories of three disaffected young men in a post-9/11 world.
“Rock music and musicals have always been my favorite part of working in theater. American Idiot has very powerful music, and some very poignant lyrics that hit a little bit differently when you think about them in the context of the world today,” said resident Musical Director Melissa Coyle.
Scheduled to open the week the theater was forced to close, American Idiot was selected as the mainstage’s first post-lockdown production because of that fact. “We wanted to honor the ticket holders who have supported us during the pandemic,” Mucciolo said. Although the cast and crew are largely different from the planned 2020 production, most have had previous connections with the Smithtown theater.
“The talented cast has made it very easy to put together this really exciting show. It’s been a fun challenge to present this mostly sung-through show and pull out different story elements within the score and script,” said director Ronald Green III, who has acted in other plays at the theater and has been it’s resident costumer since 2011.
Although not yet fully published, the new mainstage season strives to be a mix of the missed lost potential of 2020 and the hopeful possibility of 2021. In addition to American Idiot, the theater will offer I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change from Aug. 21 to Sept. 19, with the cast of 2012 largely reprising their roles. And Menopause the Musical touring group returns from Oct. 1 to Nov. 14.
For the second summer in a row, children’s theater will be held on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society beginning with Moana Jr. from July 15 to Aug. 14, followed by Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus from Aug. 28 to Sept. 17; and Spookley the Square Pumpkin: The Musical from Sept. 25 to Oct. 31. Kids shows then move home to the Smithtown Performing Arts Center, with Frozen Jr. from Nov. 20 to Jan. 17.
Moana Jr. was chosen to launch the children’s theater’s new season because it was so well-received in 2020. When surveyed, children’s theater patrons indicated that the show was one that they would most like to see again.
Jordan Hue and Courtney Braun co-directed both the upcoming production and last year’s run of Moana Jr., a 60-minute adaptation of the Disney film. The coming-of-age tale follows the adventures of Moana and her quest to return the heart of Te Fiti and save the world.
“I think Moana brought us together during a difficult time and gave us a sense of community. We are looking forward to bringing it back to show we made it through the storm and further celebrate,” said Hue. “It’s a fun, dynamic, energetic piece of theater that engages young people and celebrates a culture different from our own, which has great value.”
Similarly, Braun was drawn to the project because of its spirit of inclusivity and message of self-discovery. Additionally, she found solace in being with familiar faces when so much of life was uncertain and so many individuals felt isolated.
“[It] was an experience that I will never forget — from the community support, actors, family and theater support we have really pushed through some of the most unimaginable times. Moana really provides a lesson for each individual audience member. A journey of self-love and passion for some, the importance of family for others, and most importantly — a strong message of perseverance and overcoming fears,” Braun said.
Smithtown Performing Arts Center’s arrangement with the historical society permitted children’s theater performances to proceed last summer and run through fall, which in turn fostered an ongoing rapport with actors and audiences, according to Mucciolo. “We were extraordinarily lucky to be able to partner with the Smithtown Historical Society last summer to bring live theater to Smithtown in an outdoor setting with our Kids Performing For Kids productions. Being able to get back with our student performers and connect with our audiences again in an exciting new setting was very emotional,” she said.
These performances, which fully adhered to social-distancing and mask mandates, enabled a feeling of relative familiarity for audience, actors, and staff.
“At least once per show a patron would come up to us in tears because they were able to give their children a normal, fun experience in the middle of a scary, uncertain time, and that was a feeling we could all connect to. It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences,” Mucciolo added.
A step towards relative normalcy is a relief for patrons, students, and staff. The theater’s summer intensive theater education camp continues this trajectory, offering two sessions: “Historical Musicals” from July 5 to 23, and “Jukebox Musical” from July 26 to Aug. 14. The former addresses musicals that took place or were influenced by significant historical events, while the latter focuses on musicals that create stories around the songs of popular artists.
Camp is a facet of the theater’s education program, which also has theater arts classes for children. They resumed this past September, with all participants adhering to the appropriate health guidelines.
“The students were thrilled to return to the theater, and we were ecstatic to see each other again. We offered dance technique classes and musical theater performance classes,” Coyle said. “Despite the restricting CDC guidelines which were adhered to, where the students had to stay physically distant and masked at all times, they were still able to see their friends, work together on and off the stage, and find joy together during this very difficult period.”
Sharing a purpose with the public was reportedly a primary motivation of Washington’s when he established the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts with his wife, Laura, in 2002. The historic building, which was built in the early 1930s, was originally a single screen cinema house before being purchased by United Artists and transformed into a discount movie theater. By 1999, it was set for demolition. A petition to save it garnered more than 8,000 signatures.
“We bought and renovated the theater to fulfill the lifelong dream of offering theater arts and entertainment to the community of Smithtown and the surrounding communities,” Washington said.
“This building has always held a lot of memories for the citizens of Smithtown, both for the people who knew it as a movie theatre and for the people who have loved it for eighteen years as a performing arts center,” said Mucciolo. “Bringing patrons back into this building is emotional and special.”
Tickets to mainstage productions are $45 for adults, $40 for seniors. Tickets to Menopause the Musical are $55, $50 seniors. Tickets for children’s theater is $18 per person. Visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700 to order. Box office phone hours are Tuesday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 3 to 8 p.m.