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.”