CURTAINS UP AMERICA! The Gateway Playhouse Forges Creative Path Through Pandemic

By Kimberly Dijkstra

April 30, 2021 — Established in 1949 in bucolic Bellport, The Gateway Performing Arts Center of Suffolk County celebrated its 71st anniversary amid a global pandemic. With such a long history of bringing live entertainment to Long Island, The Gateway has seen its share of highs and lows and COVID is another challenge it is prepared to work through.

Under the leadership of Executive Artistic Director Paul Allan, the theater has been creative about weathering this storm.

“We started a drive-in movie series by constructing a 40-foot-tall by 20-foot-wide outdoor movie screen and we started screening movies six days a week,” Allan said.

The summer movie series was a hit with audiences and culminated in the first-ever Drive-In Movie Gala in September, a two-night fundraiser hosted by Hollywood icon Isabella Rossellini. The exciting event also featured virtual appearances and performances by Gateway alumni Sally Struthers, Julia Macchio with her father “The Karate Kid” Ralph Macchio, and Renee Taylor, known best for The Nanny.

The Gateway School for the Performing Arts remained open, holding many of its classes outdoors. The students were able to put on a virtual performance of “The Addams Family.”

“They did the presentation on the main stage, but there was noon in the audience,” Allan explained. “We filmed it and Zoomed it to the parents.”

By fall, The Gateway had to start rethinking their wildly popular Haunted Playhouse attraction. The challenge was to provide scares in a COVID-safe environment.

“We wound up coming up with an outdoor drive-through haunted trail experience that was unique to the area and fairly unique in the country” said Allan.

“The Gateway’s Forgotten Road” was a hit. It provided families with fun and safe scares during actual scary times. The drive-through haunt even drew national attention, appearing on CBS Sunday Morning.

An announcement by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo allows for entertainment venues to open at 33 percent capacity with a maximum of 100 people indoors beginning April 2. The Gateway seats 500.

“We’re not sure how quickly the audience is going to feel comfortable being in a theater with 100 people, but times are changing really fast,” said Allan, who hopes to put on a smaller-than-usual-scale professional show to test the waters. “To fulfill the expectations of our subscribers…it might mean pushing a show to the fall, maybe a shorter run. I think everyone is going to be very understanding of how we’ll need to shift around the schedule to accommodate the times.”

When the professional actors return depends on state guidelines, as well as Actors Equity union rules regarding actor safety.

Though many factors are up in the air, Allan maintains a positive outlook for the future.

“My gut tells me there’s going to be an explosive interest in seeing live events,” Allan said. “And we want to be ready to give them a show when they’re ready to come out and see it.”

For more on The Gateway, Long Island’s oldest professional theater, visit thegateway.org.

 

Additional reporting by Waldo Cabrera.

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