The Suffolk Theater shifts focus to weekend acts

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.

[email protected]