The Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center has been a hub of the Hamptons since 1998, with the building dating back even further. The building has been part of Westhampton Beach for over three generations, first opening as a movie theater before the building was later purchased by United Artists and changed to a single-theater movie house. Then, in the mid-1990s, a group of village residents and business owners purchased the theater and started the movement to create a performing arts space.
Ever since Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center opened its doors to the public, they have booked outstanding performances where locals and visitors can see some of the best talent in the world. From comedians to singers to musicians, actors, and more, WHBPAC has brought the Hamptons community unmatched talent for 25 years. They will be celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2023 and have many exciting happenings planned in honor of it.
Executive Director Julienne Penza-Boone spoke more about the Performing Arts Center, their programs and shows, and what they are looking forward to for the 2023 season. She encourages the community to stay tuned for all that will be taking place in honor of WHBPAC’s 25th year!
First, can you tell us a little bit about your role, responsibilities, and background with WHBPAC and otherwise?
JPB: I’ve served as Executive Director since Fall of 2019, but prior to that I was the Center’s Education Director. I joined WHBPAC in 2008, fresh out of graduate school, and I’ve been in love with it ever since! As Executive Director of an organization with a small staff (just nine full-time employees!), I wear many hats – I program the Mainstage performances, fundraise, manage a collaborative staff, oversee the facility, and act as a steward for the theatre in every public-facing way. Most importantly, along with our dynamic Board of Directors, I create the vision for the theatre – coming up with ways to fulfill our mission in new and exciting ways.
Can you talk about the mission of WHBPAC?
JPB: The mission of WHBPAC is to provide a greater understanding and appreciation of the arts and meeting the cultural aspiration of the area by presenting world-class performing arts, providing premier arts education programs to the widest and most diverse audiences, and contributing positively to the local economy and enriching the community’s quality of life.
Our mission guides everything we do, from programming to community engagement to education.
What sets the WHBPAC apart from other performing arts centers and venues in the area?
JPB: I think what sets us apart from other performing arts centers is two-fold. First there’s the talent we bring in – where else locally can you see artists like Lyle Lovett, Chris Isaak, Kenny G, Tom Segura, Whitney Cummings, and Jay Leno all in one summer season in an auditorium where the very last row would be considered center orchestra at Carnegie Hall?
The second thing that sets us apart is the fact that we don’t consider ourselves a venue. When you walk into WHBPAC to see a show, you’re going to be greeted by our staff members (usually me!) in the lobby, then you’re shown to your seat or made a drink by our warm and welcoming volunteers, you’ll learn about who we are as a community-based theatre before the artist takes the stage, and then after, you can give feedback on the show in real time as our staff members (usually me!) say goodbye as you exit. Our offices are always open, we love engaging with our patrons and students, and we’re inclusive. I like to say that we’re world-class, but we’re not pretentious.
What makes WHBPAC so successful?
JPB: Our success is a direct result of our patrons’ and students’ generosity, our board’s vision and support, our volunteers’ enthusiasm, and our staff’s tireless efforts toward achieving excellence. Beyond that, I believe meaningful, authentic relationships are key to a presenting theatre’s success – whether it’s the relationships we have with donors, the agents who represent the artists we book, our beloved students and patrons – when you make people feel like they have stake in our special theatre, they go above and beyond to help the theatre achieve its goals.
Can you talk a bit about what you have going on in the fall at WHBPAC, and beyond to the 2023 season?
JPB: We kicked off fall with comedian Craig Ferguson and being part of OLA’s Latino Film Festival –we had best-selling humor icon David Sedaris, Niccolo Ronchi and Anastasiia, guitar prodigy Taz Neurauer with Friends of the Brothers. We have begun an Opera program called Opera and Bubbly which meets on Sunday afternoons and has generated a LOT of excitement.
And of course all of our Arts Academy programs are underway, with about 150 students participating in after-school theatre, music, and dance classes, daytime programs for special needs students and seniors, and adult evening classes in songwriting and tap. We’re also getting ready for our second annual Holiday Stroll on December 2, which acts as both fundraiser for the theatre and an economic catalyst for downtown Westhampton Beach.
Are you planning anything exciting for the 25th anniversary? How can the community celebrate with WHBPAC?
JPB: We are! Stay tuned…we’re looking toward a year of celebration with community concerts, parties, unique off-campus events, and we’ll be honoring the people who have made this last 25 years such a success!
As you reflect on 25 years of WHBPAC, have there been any standout experiences that come to mind?
JPB: We have been lucky to have so many world-class singers, actors, and musicians on our stage. We had Lamar Odom Jr., fresh off his Hamilton run. We had Cynthia Erivo and she was divine. We’ve had Cyndi Lauper and Donna Summer and Kenny G. It is impossible to pick just one.
What are you most excited about in terms of events and/or programs coming up?
JPB: 2023 is our 25th anniversary – so stay tuned and get ready for a season that will be reflective of our past, and where we’re headed in the next twenty-five years.
Can you talk about the history of WHBPAC?
JPB: Our building has been part of Westhampton Beach for over three generations. In June of 1933, former Governor Alfred E. Smith was on hand for the opening of Prudential’s Westhampton Theatre as a movie theater. The building was later purchased by United Artists and was changed to a single-theater movie house. However, by the mid-1990’s, it was determined that the theater was “not financially viable,” which prompted a group of concerned village residents and business owners to purchase the theatre from United Artists. The movement to create a performing arts space out of a shuttered movie theater has been a labor of love. The theatre was officially purchased in 1997.Throughout the process, the community was the backbone of the fund-raising effort. More than half the cost of the entire renovation project came from residents and business owners. And on July 4, 1998, the new Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center reopened its doors to the public
Can you tell us about the arts education programs and how important they are for the community?
JPB: WHBPAC began offering youth-centered performances when it first opened its doors, and the continued growth of this program has transformed WHBPAC into one of the premier performing arts education providers in the region serving thousands of students each year. Today, in addition to thriving School Day Bus-in performances, the WHBPAC provides a wide variety of year-round performing arts opportunities. We are a thriving year round academy for the arts academy with a focus on empowering, engaging, and educating students of all ages with high-quality, transformative performing arts and storytelling experiences. It is our goal to cultivate creative expression, empathy, and confidence in all students – regardless of socioeconomic background, race, gender, or sexual identity.
How do you encourage the community to get involved with the arts, and do you have any recommendations for how the community can get involved?
JPB: Just stop on by and say hello! We are welcoming of everyone in the community and beyond to just pick up the phone and call us to speak to our Arts Education Manager about After School Musical Theatre or scholarships…come by the box office and speak with our friendly and passionate staff – we’re a community resource for all. From our youth education to senior classes, tap dance to opera classes, world cinema series, or by joining our volunteer corps – there is something for everyone to engage with.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about WHBPAC, events, programs, or otherwise?
JPB: Coming up next we have our 2nd Annual Holiday Stroll on Main Street on December 2nd from 5-8pm. Shop at participating retailers on Main Street and enter to win raffles, enjoy delicious bites from local restaurants, and support Main Street businesses while you kick off your holiday season of giving. Plus 10% of the evenings sales will be donated back to WHBPAC, so you can feel good about shopping local and supporting a local charity. It will be the perfect opportunity to meet with our staff and see what we are all about!
To learn more about the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, their upcoming shows, and programs, visit https://whbpac.org.