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Maddie (dressed as a shark), Laura and Joseph Mastriano get ready for a night of social distancing bingo on Facebook Live. Photo from Laura Mastriano

A Stony Brook event planner and her family are using their downtime to channel their creative energy through a classic game — bingo.

As nonessential businesses were mandated to shut down via executive order by state Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) back in March, Laura Mastriano, founder of L.A. Productions Events, found herself with some extra time on her hands. Throughout the year, she plans weddings, birthday parties and other events for clients, including TBR News Media’s Cooks, Books & Corks and the Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand that was founded by her children Joseph and Maddie.

Mastriano said conversations about possible event postponements began early with clients when news of the coronavirus hitting the U.S. first spread. Even early in March, a venue owner told her they couldn’t go ahead with a communion she was planning in May.

“It’s a lot to swallow, but I’m trying to stay as positive as possible,” Mastriano said.

What helps her stay positive, she added, is holding on to knowing that one day everyone will want to celebrate outside of their homes again. 

The Facebook Live bingo came about when she wanted to think of something to keep busy for a while. She also realized that her parents, Rich and Terri Adell, wouldn’t be able to visit her family regularly, and she wanted to keep connected with them.

“Part of this bingo was for them to have something to do,” the event planner said, adding now that soon many others were tuning in to see what the Mastrianos had come up with as a theme and how the family decorated the bingo table and its surroundings.

Every night for more than 40 days, Mastriano, Maddie and Joseph have dressed up and led the bingo games, while the event planner’s husband, Joe, is behind the camera. Each night they chose a different theme. The event planner said she finds inspiration from her storage shed where she has items from past events tucked away. She said one piece of foam board has been used and repurposed to fit the many themes the family has used.

“I’m trying to be as resourceful as possible,” she said, adding that planning the live streaming events has also been therapeutic.

The family has included themes such as  Disney, circus, the 1980s, gaming and more. An April 26 football-themed bingo game attracted nearly 300 players, many who commented on their favorite past football games.

Mastriano said her daughter has been wearing a shark costume that incorporates the evening’s theme and has become known as Sharkie, while her son has been keeping track of the items called off the bingo card. Her husband will read off the names of those participating in the Facebook Live and their comments during the event. Sometimes, she said, the family’s English bulldog Phoebe will even make an appearance dressed up in the theme just like the rest of the family.

Mastriano said her parents have invited their friends to come play, and her mother and best friend in Georgia will spend the day planning out what to wear and taking selfies of themselves all dressed up. Many other family members and friends have also joined in the fun and are finding old photos of themselves that fit the theme and share to the event planner’s social media page.

To participate, game players visit Mastriano’s Facebook page earlier in the day to find out the theme and print out the game card. Participants have even been making their own game cards when they don’t have a printer.

The event planner said the family will continue to have the bingo games until the end of the mandatory closings. She has been pleased with everyone’s positive responses, but she knows it can’t compare to what others have been doing.

“Compared to the amount of work that everyone else is putting in out there, like all the first responders, this is nothing,” Mastriano said. “Our goal in this whole thing is to just provide a smile, a small distraction and hopefully provide a little fun.”