10/29/13 1:15pm
10/29/2013 1:15 PM
KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTOS | The Suffolk Theater's grand ballroom during its grand re-opening gala in March.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTOS | The Suffolk Theater’s grand ballroom during its grand re-opening gala in March. Anna Maria Villa was hired as GM in July.

Roughly three months after Anna Maria Villa was hired as general manager of the Suffolk Theater, she and the theater have parted ways.

Anna Maria Villa

Anna Maria Villa

Bob Castaldi, who co-owns the theater with his wife, Dianne, said Ms. Villa, who was hired in July, no longer works at the theater as of today, Tuesday.

“We just have different visions of which direction this theater should move in,” Mr. Castaldi said of the split. “It was very amicable.”

Ms. Villa could not be immediately reached for comment.

When asked what direction the theater plans to move in, Mr. Castaldi said that was something he was evaluating “right now” and that theater officials are looking for a new general manager.

“We’ve got all our people and we’ve got a couple of meetings over the next few days,” Mr. Castaldi said. “We will find a new course if necessary.”

This is the second time in less than six months the Suffolk Theater has parted ways with a top executive. In August, after a year on the job, Bob Spiotto was released from his duties as the theater’s first executive director as part of a shift of focus from nightly events to larger, weekend events.

Prior to working at the theater, Ms. Villa was hired as the executive director of Riverhead’s Industrial Development Agency in August 2009, a position she held until September 2010, when the IDA board voted 4 — 1 to terminate her employment.

At the time, IDA chair Kathy Wojciechowski said the move was “not about Anna.”

“We decided to terminate the independent consultant agreement that we had with her and we’re going in another direction, which is to hire a full-time person,” Ms. Wojciechowski said in a 2010 interview.

The IDA offers a number of tax breaks and other incentives aimed at attracting businesses to the area. Its budget is entirely funded by feed paid by the businesses it assists.

Prior to working for the IDA, Ms. Villa, who was born in Italy and grew up in Rochester, N.Y., spent a few years running her own marketing and consulting firm, which developed marketing strategies and sales programs for small to mid-sized businesses and non-profit firms.

She has a degree in business and economics from Empire State College, and also worked as a disc jockey, a singer, a civil service investigator, as well as a television reporter in Italy.

ryoung@timesreview.com

08/05/13 5:05pm
08/05/2013 5:05 PM
Downtown Riverhead, Suffolk Theater, East End Arts

BARBARELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Former theater executive director Bob Spiotto inside the renovated downtown Riverhead theater, near the main stage, before the theater re-opened last year.

On the heels of what Suffolk Theater officials have described as a shift of focus from nightly events to larger, weekend events, the theater has parted ways with a top executive.

Executive Director Bob Spiotto was hired in July 2012 after a long tenure with Hofstra University, but was recently released, theater officials said Monday.

“As part of the re-organization and re-structuring efforts of the Suffolk Theater, it is unfortunate we had to let Mr. Spiotto go,” said the theater’s general manager, Anna Maria Villa, who was hired last month. “He is a fine professional and had contributed much of himself to the theater.”

Mr. Spiotto could not be immediately reached for comment.

A Holbrook resident and former executive producer and art director for Hofstra University’s Hofstra Entertainment program for nearly 22 years, Mr. Spiotto was hired by Suffolk Theater owners Bob and Dianne Castaldi to run the theater’s programming.

He came on board during the renovation phase of the historic theater, which re-opened in February.

Ms. Villa, who was hired July 22, said the theater is not hiring another executive director.

Ms. Villa was hired as the executive director of Riverhead’s Industrial Development Agency in August 2009, a position she held until September 2010, when the IDA board voted 4 — 1 to terminate her employment.

At the time, IDA chair Kathy Wojciechowski said the move was “not about Anna.”

“We decided to terminate the independent consultant agreement that we had with her and we’re going in another direction, which is to hire a full-time person,” Ms. Wojciechowski said in a 2010 interview.

The IDA offers a number of tax breaks and other incentives aimed at attracting businesses to the area. Its budget is entirely funded by feed paid by the businesses it assists.

Previous to working for the IDA, Ms. Villa, who was born in Italy and grew up in Rochester, N.Y., spent a few years running her own marketing and consulting firm, which developed marketing strategies and sales programs for small to mid-sized businesses and non-profit firms.

She has a degree in business and economics from Empire State College, and also worked as a disc jockey, a singer, a civil service investigator, a television reporter in Italy and a behind-the-scenes worker in Italy’s National Theatre Company.

mwhite@timesreview.com

07/02/13 10:00am
07/02/2013 10:00 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | The theater marquis and the sky above downtown Riverhead.

It’s been nearly four months since the Suffolk Theater reopened in downtown Riverhead after a 26-year absence. In the weeks since, new wall coverings have been hung, the menu has been redesigned and plenty of actors have already graced the theater’s stage. A wedding was even held there last month. 

The theater itself, executive director Bob Spiotto says, is still enjoying its honeymoon phase, but it’s also constantly looking for ways to evolve.

“I don’t know if one can put a definite start and end time to the creative honeymoon period,” Mr. Spiotto said. “The goal in March was to really come out swinging. The transition now is we’re looking to be very careful about what we schedule and how we schedule it.”

What does that mean for theatergoers, who have attended comedy nights, classic film screenings, live musical performances and Broadway-style revues at the restored art deco theater most days of the week for the past few months?

Well, those acts are here to stay — but they’ll mostly be rescheduled as weekend-only events.

“March had a unique menu of offerings,” Mr. Spiotto said. “Like anything else, in that first month it was a lot of — I don’t know if I want to say trial and error, but trial and learn.

“It would appear that audiences are most interested in being entertained and having a unique experience on the weekends,” he said. “That’s not to say we wouldn’t still be open to the occasional weeknight event if it were very unique, very special or celebratory in some way.”

The theater’s new focus Monday through Thursday, Mr. Spiotto said, will be on hosting special benefits, corporate events and meetings.

Other, more subtle changes have also been made since the theater’s return. Healthier offerings have been added to its menu and an unpopular mushroom pizza was nixed altogether. A country music night that did unexpectedly poorly will be reworked. Advance tickets are now available to theatergoers at a $5 discount from the door price.

“People are still learning we’re here,” Mr. Spiotto said. “There wasn’t a great deal of traffic in general [downtown] to begin with. We’re starting to see not only changes around us in terms of businesses but we are, of course, seeing our own business here. We are seeing and have been getting audiences coming to us from as far as Brooklyn.”

Downtown restaurant owners said they’ve noticed a modest increase in business from theatergoers.

“We actually see a little uptick if [the theater] does something Thursdays or Sundays,” said Dennis McDermott, who owns The Riverhead Project on East Main Street.

“It’s kind of trailed off from what it was, but they’re not having as many shows now,” said Ed Tuccio, owner of Tweeds Restaurant and Buffalo Bar, also on East Main Street.

“It’s not easy being everything to everybody,” Mr. Spiotto said of the theater’s initial packed and varied schedule. “We’ve been trying to do that, and there are two schools of thought with regard to that: Is it something we should be doing? Or is it something we shouldn’t be doing? And we are still trying to figure that out.

“What we do know is we want to provide this ongoing sense of diversity and high quality, and a very unique combined experience. There aren’t many locations where you can go and not only sit in a beautifully restored … “ Mr. Spiotto said, his voice trailing off.

He thought for a few seconds before continuing.

“You can’t have this experience [anywhere else] on Long Island,” he said.

ryoung@timesreview.com

03/01/13 12:48pm
03/01/2013 12:48 PM
Newsies at Suffolk Theater

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Newsies Nicholas Inzerillo and Shane Westphelan, both of Manorville, hand out theater programs at Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

More than 100 people turned out Friday morning for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at downtown Riverhead’s newly renovated Suffolk Theater.

The area of East Main Street outside the theater had been shut to traffic for most of the morning, as crowds gathered to listen to period music from Bob Barta and the Sunnyland Jazz Band, which performed on a red carpet under the theater’s digital marquis — as bubbles rained from the sky.

Theater ownes Bob and Dianne Castaldi and theater executive director Bob Spiotto were joined by town officials, county lawmakers and representatives of county Executive Steve Bellone and New York Governor Andew Cuomo.

Officials agreed the theater will help in the continued revival of downtown and act as a magnet to attract new business.

08/01/12 10:06am
08/01/2012 10:06 AM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | New Suffolk Theater executive director Bob Spiotto in front of the theater.

Bob Spiotto gestures wildly around the dusty floors and construction rigging as he describes film festivals and off-Broadway plays, jazz music and benefit events, and dreams of a packed house.

It’s no far-fetched plan, says the Suffolk Theater’s new executive director. It’s a real possibility, he says, full of potential for East Main Street’s looming, long overdue landmark.

“To come into a space like this and just see it is amazing,” Mr. Spiotto said in an interview Tuesday. “I don’t even know where to start, because there is so much I want to do that can be done, that should be done. There are an amazing amount of artists and talented people who will want to be here.”

Mr. Spiotto, a Holbrook resident and former executive producer and art director for Hofstra University’s Hofstra Entertainment program for nearly 22 years, was hired in early July by Suffolk Theater owners Bob and Dianne Castaldi to run the theater’s programming.

While he has spent the past month finishing up his work at Hofstra and beginning to work at the theater, Mr. Spiotto said he is already drawing inspiration from the old moviehouse’s storied history.

He pointed to a poster of Footlight Parade – a 1933 musical starring James Cagney – hanging in the theater’s lobby. On Dec. 30, 1933, it became the first film screened at the Suffolk Theater. Records show thousands attended the grand premiere.

Mr. Spiotto said he wants to kick off the relaunching of the theater by going back to its roots, and show the film again as a VIP event to test the theater’s staff. The next night, he said, the theater will host a New Year’s Eve celebration for the public, complete with live music, a simulcast of the ball dropping in New York City, food and drinks.

The theater, he said, will not just bring in outside, big-name talent, but will also hold events for local artists at East End Arts or other groups across the East End.

“I’m going to be looking to welcome the community in here, not just to sit in the seats but to support other artists in the community,” Mr. Spiotto said.

But he doesn’t want to “steal” already successful ideas, he added, citing the Blues Festival as an example. Instead, Mr. Spiotto said he plans to talk to event organizers and see if the Suffolk Theatre can work together to supplement their event, and vice versa.

“I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes, I’d much prefer to dance with them,” he said.

The inside of the theater has been reworked to accommodate the former movie palace’s new plans. The gentle sloping seating will be replaced by tiers, which can be set up with table and chairs for people to eat while they watch the show – the theater’s capacity will vary for each event.

The stage will be extended out to provide more space for performers and the floor will be leveled to make room for dancing, he said. The back of the theater will have a bar and staging area for food.

Yet the surviving touches from an earlier age are being kept safe. The walls will be redecorated with the same original pattern used in the theater, and vintage, original “Exit” and “Bathroom” signs hang from the walls. Mr. Spiotto even hopes to see the mosaic fish water fountain on the west wall restored.

Mr. Spiotto’s biggest mission now is what he says will be a project to showcase the theater’s history in Riverhead.

When he first got the job, Mr. Spiotto was handed a binder that contained newspaper clippings detailing the setbacks and drama surrounding the theater’s renovations.

“Where’s the history?” he said, adding that he’s not interested in the drama, but in what the theater meant to the community. He hopes to collect artifacts, like photos and postcards, from local residents to display in an exhibit next to the theater.

Mr. Spiotto already has a pile of items, like original sinks and old posters, in the theater’s basement that he plans to use.

He said it’s part of his plan to bring the theater back to its former glory, and then some, while giving others the same experience he had when he first walked through the theater’s doors.

“For me it was kind of like seeing Disneyworld for the first time,” he said with an infectious grin. “It’s that kind of experience you don’t forget.”

psquire@timesreview.com