The Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center hosts big-name acts and community theatre. (Photo by Allison Frost)

Recently celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center has grown from a forgotten theater to a premiere destination.

Big names such as Vanessa Williams and Rufus Wainwright grace the stage this summer. This fall the center is excited to host three comedic idols: Eddie Izzard, Tom Papa, and Howie Mandel. But beyond its slew of headliners, the theater also boasts a softer side, offering programs and shows for the whole family. Recent family friendly performances included Pinkalicious and The Peking Acrobats.

“A group of concerned citizens saw this place as a demolished cinema and didn’t see an albatross,” said Julienne Penza-Boone, director of the theater’s esteemed Arts Academy. “Instead, they saw an opportunity.”

While the main stage concerts are incredible, the true crowning jewel of the center is its year-round Arts Academy. From theater troupes to master classes, it is no wonder that the Academy attracts 10,000 students annually.

“We’ve done The Sound of Music with our 7-to-11-year-olds, Bye Bye Birdie with our teen company, Nutcracker with 85 kids in the fall, and we sell out four of those performances,” she says. “So we have the family friendly performances that we are bringing in and the family friendly performances that we are producing with kids.”

Beyond a commitment to instill a greater appreciation of the arts, the theater aims to serve the community. Offering a school-day performance program, the theater presents 24 curriculum-based performances a year for schools from Montauk to Nassau County.

“We offer scholarships in our school-day performances program,” she says. “We never turn away a child based on financial need. We will always make scholarship tickets available.”

After 20 successful years, attracting performers from across the world, visitors from across the country, and students from across New York, things are looking very bright for the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.

“Really, the goal for the future is, we don’t want people to come based on a show,” she says. “We want people to come because they want to be at the performing arts center because it’s a great place to be, that they trust we are going to pick something really fantastic to put on our stage.”

The Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center is located at 76 Main St. Westhampton Beach. They can be reached at whbpac.org or 631-288-1500

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