Two Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts staffers who were let go in early April, were rehired over this past week. Box office manager Justin Pandolfi and marketing and public relations director …
Two Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts staffers who were let go in early April, were rehired over this past week. Box office manager Justin Pandolfi and marketing and public relations director Jodi Giambrone will be back at their old jobs.
PTPA had announced that eight full-time staffers and 6 part-timers were let go on April 4, and that the 1,100 seat theatre was closing its doors until September 1 due to the corona virus pandemic and would restructure. Staffers were to be paid through April 10; full-time health insurance was guaranteed to May 31.
PTPA board member and deputy mayor Jack Krieger said Pandolfi will help to field calls and help with refunds. With Giambrone, “We need to bring in our marketing program for the launch,” he said. “I spoke to Jodi yesterday and will be working with her. Justin started last week.”
PTPA was still looking at a Sept. 1 re-open date, “but not with a show,” he said. “The Gateway shows will remain part of the equation. There may be more positions open in the future and we’ll address that as it happens.”
Krieger said they would hire at least one more person, a new executive director.
Executive director Gary Hygom, hired in 2017, introduced an array of high profile stars and inclusive shows including jazz great Bradford Marsalis, the South African choral icons Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Cherish the Ladies, and plays like “Vincent,” based on letters between Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo, that had an educational aspect and was coordinated with the Patchogue Arts Council. “The Diary of Ann Frank,” was its last performance.
The theatre had also started getting significant grants; staffers were always present at performances performing several roles.
“The shows were fabulous but they overwhelmed our budget and there is a lot of unraveling like ticket sales, deposits and show booking that has to be put back together again,” Krieger said. “A lot of those shows will continue.”
When contacted, Hygom said, “One of the things I loved most was the amount of Patchogue people re-discovering the theatre for the first time, who would come up to me after a performance or film. And we tracked our audience’s zip code. Not only were we expanding our base in Patchogue but across Long Island. We did 52 main stage shows as opposed to 31 a year. So we almost doubled our shows and increased our audience base.”
Hygom said the amount of nights the theatre was open tripled with The Loading Dock, classic film offerings and theatre events. “Part of the theatre’s responsibility is that it’s an economic driver for Main Street and that was to be considered, so that’s why my main focus was to bring as many performances as I could,” he said.
As for his future in other arenas, “there are opportunities out there, but everything now is on hold,” he said.
Grants writer and marketing coordinator Meg Sexton said that being completely blindsided by the decision was unclear. “I can speak to the immense disappointment in having given so much of myself to this organization and frankly made sacrifices to the betterment of what we were all trying to do together working towards this shared goal and I thought the board had as well,” Sexton said. “I didn’t understand we weren’t brought into the decision. I didn’t understand why we weren’t furloughed. Nobody goes into the arts for the money and the hot shot benefits. You get into the arts for the passion for it and what it does for people, educate them, enrich them. We didn’t even get the chance to come together one last time as a group in the theatre.”
Sexton said part of the problem was the board’s unwillingness to help fundraise. “They cancelled fundraisers of ours.”
“There were fundraisers that were considered,” responded board co-chair Mary Pontieri. “But the cost and evaluation to have some of them and stage them was prohibitive and when it came to asking friends of the board to come, they weren’t interested.”
Tickets would have cost on average $250 for a couple, she said.
“Gary definitely wanted more fundraisers,” she added. “When he was hired we gave him a marketing person, a grants person, and a fundraiser. Our payroll was $480,000 a year. He’s a great producer, the theatre looked beautiful and he put on really good shows. But some of the shows only had 500 people in attendance and overall they were expensive.”
Patchogue Village residents provided the fundraising to the theatre, said Mayor Paul Pontieri.
“When (former executive director) John Ashline left, there was an endowment of $1.1 million raised by the theatre board,” Pontieri said. “He also left a surplus with a minimum of $250,000.”
Pontieri said when the theatre board came to him about their concerns, the entire funds were down to $400,000. “I recommended they lay people off, close it down,” Pontieri explained of the early April edict. “There were a lot of expenses to be paid, National Grid, PSEG and my position if this theatre is going to reopen it would need $250-$300,000 to do that.” Pontieri pointed out that the village paid all maintenance costs including funds to fix the roof. “No one wants to consider the village’s contributions. The residents supported that theatre when we put a new $300,000 roof. That’s residents’ contributions and fundraising.”
The theatre’s April 6 announcement raised a groundswell reaction. Krieger said the decision wasn’t made lightly.
A letter writing campaign emerged a couple of weeks ago asking people to write letters to the mayor and village board and voice their concerns about the PTPA; Krieger called many of them, he said.
He also participated in a zoom meeting with the Riverfront Civic Association this weekend, as did Mayor Paul Pontieri, about local theatre concerns.
The theatre had been successful before, bringing in Broadway stars like Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Chazz Palminteri, and Tony Danza, rock and doo-wop shows, he said, and would be again.
Patchogue Chamber executive director Dave Kennedy said the chamber recognized that PTPA was a major reason for Patchogue’s success over the last 15 years.
“We need the theatre to be running well so we can re-open our businesses,” he said.
The closing and letting go of employees were a surprise, he said, admitting the
pandemic was surely a factor. “A lot of the angst over the theatre was also fallout from the pandemic,” he said. “From the chamber perspective, it appeared the activity was as good as it could be. As to any financial issues, we weren’t aware.”
Kennedy said the re-hirings were good news.
“Jodi is wonderful and is an active liaison to the board and we always had a great relationship with her. And the box office is probably one of the most important elements and (Justin) ran a good operation,” he added.
Kennedy said the chamber would set up a meeting with the PTPA board.
“The chamber does want a dialogue with the theatre and village board on what we can do to help,” he said. “We’ve always had a good engagement with good cooperation. We just want to have a conversation with them to insure that continues. We hope they will be as active as before the pandemic.”