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Meagan J. Meehan

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Theatre Three Keeps Arts Alive With Off-Stage/On-Line Series

Nothing Lasts is one of the twice-weekly Zoom-based plays that Theatre Three in Port Jefferson is posting online this summer to keep the venue active through the pandemic.

Theatre Three in Port Jefferson is keeping the arts alive despite being closed due to COVID-19 with a series of virtually presented plays entitled Off-Stage/On-Line.

Each play is 15 minutes or fewer, garnered from writers across the world, and are posted to Theatre Three’s YouTube channel. They are free to view. 

Presenting plays in such an original way can prove challenging, so playwrights were asked to create work that was specifically intended to take place via Zoom, which is the system of communication and recording that the actors and directors use to bring the plays to life.

The genres presented have run the gauntlet from dark comedies to serious drama, and characters have ranged from fireflies, to vampires, to players in a noir-themed audiobook. By using the constraints of the internet platform to find a way to tell a story, the writers have essentially created a new genre of theater: remote, accessible to everyone who has an internet connection, and extremely creative and entertaining. 

Off-Stage/On-Line debuted on May 3 with a comedy entitled Taking Sum Lumps, by Ken Preuss, starring Michelle LaBozzetta and Brian Smith. Since then, a new play has premiered every Sunday and Wednesday night at 7 p.m. on YouTube, Facebook, and Theatre Three’s website. As of this post, additional plays are officially scheduled into August. To date, Theatre Three has received more than 400 script submissions and the call is still open.

The series is directed by Theatre Three’s Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel. Technical production is by Tim Haggerty and Eric J. Hughes. They are very proud of this ongoing online festival which is made possible by a generous sponsorship from Alan Schelp and features plays from writers as local as Setauket and as far as New Zealand.

Sanzel spoke with the Press about this series, his experiences working as an artistic director during a global pandemic, and more. 

What was it like to be at the helm of a theater when the pandemic hit? It was strange and a bit disorienting. We were towards the end of our Joseph run; Steel Magnolias was two weeks to tech; this year’s One-Act Festival was three weeks to tech. There was a children’s show running and another going into rehearsal. And then, in just a few days, we had to stop everything. I don’t think we fully understood what was to come. At first, we all assumed we’d be shut down for a month, six weeks at most. As those first few weeks played out, we realized the severity of the situation.

Who came up with the idea to put a series of plays online and how tough has it been to record them, edit them, and get the costuming and props for them? At first, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do to keep our presence out there. I saw that theatres were doing interview shows and mini-concerts and many of them were doing those things very well. I also went to a number of virtual readings — some worked, some didn’t. I know that when I get a video link and I see that it runs 40 minutes or longer, I am very unlikely to watch it. If I see that it runs ten to 15 minutes, I’ll find the time. We’ve had a great success with our annual Festival of One-Act Plays so I thought that would work best for us. I put out a call and got a huge response right away. We’ve done all of the rehearsing on Zoom as well as the taping. The theatre’s sound designer, Tim Haggerty, has been doing all of the editing. He spends hours after we tape working on the pieces, sometimes doing up to five drafts. He’s done incredible work. We’ve only had a few specialty prop and costume pieces so it hasn’t been much of an issue. They’re predominantly realistic plays done in real time.

You received a huge number of submissions. How do you decide on the ones you will feature? That’s a hard question. It’s like with the One-Act Festival. I read them and go for a visceral reaction. If I think they have a possibility, I pass them on to my co-producers, Douglas Quattrock and Melissa Troxler, to read. Then we meet online and discuss them. There have been some we immediately agreed upon and others that we put in the “maybe” folder and come back to later. Many of the submissions have been good plays but ones that don’t translate to the medium. Zoom requires a very specific kind of piece and I think some of the authors didn’t take into account the limitations, especially when people cannot be in the same room. 

You have such a diverse range of themes here. Have any of the plays stood out to you personally? It’s not nice for a parent to favor one child over another!

This series is popular and brilliant. Might you keep it going even after COVID is over? I don’t think we could do two a week but it’s something we would consider. It’s been a good challenge and a way to connect with our actors. What’s been nice is that there are actors who haven’t been able to work for us for a while because of schedules or distance so there are some faces who haven’t appeared at Theatre Three in years. Two of the actors who are doing this aren’t even in-state. Ed Breese, who will be appearing in Funeral Arrangements, lives in Tennessee; he actually appeared in this piece when we did it as part of our Festival in 2001. Sarah Markowitz, who hasn’t worked for the theatre in over ten years, is appearing in Lifestyle Content; Sarah currently lives in Israel. 

How do you think a global platform like YouTube can help raise awareness of the theater across the globe? Absolutely. There is so much online work being done. Large theatres like The National Theatre are releasing plays weekly. There are groups all across the country doing a range of productions — from full Zoom plays to short pieces for children.

What are your plans for the theater upon reopening? Right now, we’re in a holding pattern and waiting to see when we get to phase four. We are planning on a Recapturing the 50th Season with Steel Magnolias opening in March 2021, followed by Grease. If we can get going before then, we will. It might mean intimate productions that are presented to small audiences that are social distanced. We just have to wait and see what the guidelines handed down from both New York State and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Plays in the Off-Stage/On-Line series can be viewed on the Theatre Three’s YouTube channel. To submit a play for consideration, find guidelines on the Theatre Three website.

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Industry Makers in Huntington Hosting Online Art Auction Fundraiser

Industry Makers, a labyrinthine art gallery in downtown Huntington, will hold a live virtual benefit for musicians and artists auctioning their works off to the public from the safety of their own homes.

Part art gallery, part antique store, and part music venue, Industry Makers hosts poetry slams and art classes as well as live musical performances. Unfortunately, the venue is currently experiencing hard times due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have monthly operating expenses, and we also have loans to pay off,” said Mano, who curates the business. “We decided to launch this auction to help raise funds for our space and our artists. It will be conducted entirely online so everyone is staying safe and not violating the emergency health codes.”

The auction will include work from various artists — more than 70 are currently associated with Industry Makers  in an array of styles. Proceeds will go to the artists and Industry.

“I see this as an opportunity for community members to help each other,” Mano said. “The fastest way for local economies to get back on their feet is to have people spend money locally to support small businesses like ours. In the long run, that kind of community support is much more helpful and effective than relying solely on the state.”

Industry has faced unique challenges. It has largely fallen through the cracks when it comes to attaining federal aid. Many small businesses around Huntington — and on Long Island in general — are facing similar challenges and are turning to crowdsourcing websites.

Industry recently started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise awareness of their plight. It raised more than $14,000 of its $35,000 goal as of Wednesday. Industry’s musicians and artists put together the live event to do something unique to advance efforts to raise funds.

“I’ve seen crowdsourcing be very effective but given that we are an art gallery I think an auction will interest our typical patrons more,” Mano said. “I’m hoping that this is a virtual event that will be beneficial to artists, buyers, and our guild.”

The auction will be live streamed from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, May. 7. It is free to enter. The link can be found here.

Industry Makers is located at 344 New York Ave. in Huntington. It can be reached at 631-697-9676 or industrymakers.art

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For more arts and entertainment coverage, visit longislandpress.com/entertainment

Sign up for Long Island Press’ email newsletters here. Sign up for home delivery of Long Island Press here. Sign up for discounts by becoming a Long Island Press community partner here.

Long Island St. Nicks Talk Up Local Appearances

Santa Claus meets a child at Hicks Nurseries.

Santa Claus is coming to town! 

From the Old Bethpage Village’s Candlelight Evenings holiday festivities to the Jones Beach Magic of Lights show, Long Islanders seemingly have as many options to visit Santa as his list of naughty and nice children is long. 

“Interacting with the children and spreading joy wherever I go is the best part of the season,” says the Santa Claus at Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, arguably one of the busiest Santas on Long Island. “Unconditional giving to those in need makes this season magical.” 

As Long Island’s biggest mall, Roosevelt Field boasts a beautiful Winter Wonderland display featuring a rideable train, glitzy trees, elf helpers, a Toys-For-Tots collection, and a chance for St. Nick to play his guitar. Santa stays to hear from boys and girls through Christmas Eve, even taking photos with pets and Disney characters on select dates and times. 

One of Santa’s most luxurious local stops is Old Westbury Gardens, which was built in 1906 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Vintage ornaments adorn every room and cookies and cider are offered to celebrate Santa’s arrival. Kris Kringle sits in a large golden chair near a cozy fireplace befitting the opulent abode. 

A similarly historic atmosphere fills the air at St. James’ General Store, which also hosts an annual meet-and-greet with Santa. Countless Christmas gifts have been purchased at the shop, which has been in operation since 1857. 

Another popular stop for jolly old St. Nick is Hicks Nurseries in Westbury, which offers a wealth of seasonal decorations and immersive displays. Although Hicks is known for presenting family friendly events all year long, December is a special month since Santa arrives to take pictures and sample the delicious cookies, fudge, and other pasties that are available at Hicks’ Gardener’s Cafe. 

“I love going to Hicks and making all types of people feel special and loved,” Hicks’ Santa says. “The most memorable moments are when they ask me to bring something to the less fortunate. Sometimes children even ask for younger siblings and pets. I tell them that’s not my department. I’ve also had three different couples get engaged while sitting on my lap!”

Bayville’s Winter Wonderland, another frequent Santa stop, has in recent years added a haunted Christmas house to its usual holiday offerings. Among the haunted Christmas stars is Krampus, who punishes the children on Santa’s naughty list.

Possibly the most sensational and memorable Santa Claus appearance is Fire Island’s Flying Santa. Taking a break from his sled, Santa flies via plane — not reindeer — above the Fire Island Lighthouse just east of Robert Moses State Park.

When asked what he would like to relay to readers, the Fire Island Santa proclaimed: “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!”