Vail-Leavitt Music Hall to host talent show this summer

An upcoming audition night at the Vail-Leavitt theater could prove whether Riverhead’s Got Talent.

East End residents of all ages with performance skills to showcase are being encouraged to audition at an amateur talent night competition on June 22 at Riverhead’s Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, complete with ‘America’s Got Talent’-style judges who will offer feedback and rate the participants in front of a live audience.

The winner of the event will receive a cash prize and be featured in a lineup of professional comedians and musicians a month later at the East End Standup Music and Comedy festival on July 22 at the non-profit music hall on Peconic Ave. Comedian Turner Sparks is the scheduled headliner.

The project is the brainchild of Riverhead’s Mark McLaughlin, who emcees the town’s Halloween parade and Cardboard Boat Race, and Downtown Business Improvement District executive director Kristy Verity.

Mr. McLaughlin, a veteran performer and entertainer who teaches blues and hip-hop classes at East End Arts, is spearheading the effort.

“As a local artist, people come up to me all the time and ask me, ‘can I help their brother who plays guitar or their cousin who sings,’” Mr. McLaughlin said. “I thought let me create something fun where they can compete and we can give them feedback.

“Whether it’s a comedian, a poet, a dancer, a juggler, any kind of talent from the East End, we want to shine a light on them,” he added. “One of our goals is to find the next Beyonce or the next Carrie Underwood or other superstar out of the East End.”

The event’s judges will include Mr. McLaughlin, Ms. Verity and WLIW radio host Gianna Volpe.

Riverhead artist Mark McLaughlin is spearheading a talent show this summer at the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall. (Courtesy photo)

Citing the ongoing “Save the Vail” fundraising and restoration efforts, Ms. Verity said the talent contest will “lend some much-needed soul and support to this gem” of a venue. “Mark and I are really excited to share this memorable event with our talented community members.”

The music hall is a former opera house founded in 1881 and is listed on the National & State Register of Historic Places. In May, 1914, the theater played host to Thomas Edison’s experiments with “talking motion pictures,” helping give rise to the modern movie industry.

Mr. McLaughlin said that while he anticipates that there will be some screening of the aspiring performers before the June 22 event, “we welcome walk-ins.”  

He said the feedback from judges could be valuable to the aspiring performers. “We look to help them,” he said. “And if they don’t make it, at least we give them some advice so that they can win the next time.”

Doors will open for the audition contest at the Vail-Leavitt at 6:30 pm on June 22. It’s free for performers who participate. The first 50 guests will pay a $10 admission fee at the door for a two-hour show that will include two-to-three minute performances plus feedback from the judges for each contestant. The $10 admission price includes a complimentary glass of wine.

Event sponsors include Peconic’s Raphael Winery and Schwertl’s Collision in Smithtown, Mr. McLaughlin said, adding that a portion of the proceeds will go to into a fund to save the Vail-Leavitt.