CURTAINS UP AMERICA! Northport’s Engeman Theater Looks To Post-Pandemic Future

By Kimberly Dijkstra

April 21, 2021 — The opening of the John W. Engeman Theater in 2007 was the major driving force in the revitalization of Northport Village’s iconic Main Street. The Engeman puts on an exciting array of plays and musicals year-round and those shows bring much needed foot traffic to the area.

The COVID-19 pandemic struck as production of “Sister Act” was in the late stages of rehearsal. Producing Artistic Director Richard Dolce and his team decided to pause operations and push the season out one year. It’s now a year later, and barring some divine intervention, the pandemic will not allow “Sister Act” to be resurrected.

For the past year, many theatres across America experimented with online entertainment to generate revenue and to keep their audiences engaged. But instead of thrusting themselves into the unfamiliar territory of virtual performances, the Engeman team decided that it was more cost effective to remain dark and wait out the COVID pandemic.

It seems that the wait is almost over. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that as of April 2nd, entertainment venues can open at 33 percent capacity, but the Engeman Theater will need more time to reopen.

“I think every theater owner is going to tell you it’s impossible to run with any significant capacity restriction,” said Dolce. “We probably won’t be able to open until the restrictions are such that we can have at least 75 to 80 percent capacity.”

Once the decision is made to reopen, it may take up to eight weeks to be able to put on a full show, which includes casting, building sets, rehearsals, and promotion. The Engeman may start with smaller shows that require less prep time, such as Broadway cabarets, in order to get audiences engaged, said Dolce.

It is unknown how long it will take for audiences to return, but the appetite for live theater is big. As soon as audiences feel safe, they will be out and about enjoying the full dinner-and-a-show experience.

“I never thought we would be shut down so long and I never thought I would miss being in the theater so much,” said Dolce. 

The pandemic also derailed a related local development project — The Northport Hotel. A boutique hotel across the street which is spearheaded by John W. Engeman Theater owners Kevin O’Neill and Richard Dolce. This 24-room hotel promises to create dozens of jobs and generate an annual payroll of over $1.4 million. The project is back on track and is now anticipated to open Thanksgiving 2021, just in time for an influx of visitors. 

The John W. Engeman Theater boldly opened in the middle of the great recession and helped improve the fortunes of many businesses in Northport Village. Now with the economy once again devastated by the COVID crisis, O’Neill, Dolce, and their creative team are ready for their encore.

For more on the John W. Engeman Theater, visit engemantheater.com.

Additional reporting by Waldo Cabrera.

 

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