Before the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center was able to boast an intimate auditorium with state-of-the-art equipment and prominent artists, the building itself housed a movie theater. Once a private cinema, it later became a United Artists movie cinema. When the building was set for demolition, community leaders Len Conway and Lon Sabella protested.
And then, the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center was born.
From when the theater first opened its doors in the Hamptons as a performing arts center in 1998 to May of 2013, WHBPAC has seen world-renowned talent take its stages, a renovation to the the interior of the theater and paid off its loans. To celebrate their 15 years, the theater has an entire slew of special events planned.
“We really started out as this grassroots community effort to save this movie theater, said Jodi Giambrone, the manager of public relations and artist relations. “Over the year’s we’ve brought this to a premiere destination with world class entertainment.”
In the past, WHBPAC’s 425-seat auditorium has featured Bill Cosby, the New York City Opera, Buddy Guy and various best guitar players from all over the world. (They are still waiting for Eric Clapton.) This year, WHBPAC has booked Bruce Hornsby, Kathy Griffin, Tracy Morgan, Garrison Keillor and more.
Giambrone attributed a large portion of WHBPAC’s growth to the leadership of executive director Clare Bisceglia who works closely with major agencies in New York City and Manhattan. Once an artist performs at WHBPAC, other artists hear about how well the theater treats its performers.
“We’ve had some national treasures,” Bisceglia said. “They play to thousands of people every night and we bring them to 425 seats.”
In addition, to their talent history the WHBPAC refurbished their auditorium for their 15th anniversary.
According to Bisceglia, the farthest seat from the stage in the last row still has the quality of a center orchestra seat in Carnegie Hall.
“After 14 years and 600,000 people, it was time to get a new rug,” Bisceglia said.
When the WHBPAC first opened in 1997, they took out a 1.6 million dollar loan to purchase the space from United Artists. In 2005, the theater officially paid off its mortgage, long before its due date.
While half of the theater’s revenue comes from ticket sales, the rest comes entirely from donations. Bisceglia said that the only reason that the theater was able to pay off its loans to quickly was because of the Hamptons community.
“The community wants arts to be a part of their lives and a part of their culture,” Bisceglia said.
To celebrate the past 15 years, the theater has prepared special events throughout the summer.
“We’re getting our driver’s license,” Bisceglia joked.
WHBPAC put on a “Senior Follies” show, in which a group of senior citizens performed in a theatrical review. They plan to celebrate their volunteers by throwing a beach party. On July 6th, Liza Minnelli will be hosting the main reception celebrating WHPACs 15th year.
On Mondays through Thursdays, the theater will continue its “Finest in World Cinema” program. They plan on bringing in first releases, foreign and independent films. Andrew Botsford, a visiting professor and communication consultant at Stony Brook University at Southampton, will discuss movies again at weekly “Movie Nights with Andrew.” The WHBPAC also has some surprise guests that they are not quite ready to reveal.
“We really have been in such a significant growth curve,” Bisceglia said. “It’s like the growth of a perpendicular line. People forget that we’re only turning 15-years-old.”
WHBPAC is located at 76 Main Street in Westhampton Beach. For more information call 631-288-1500 or visit http://whbpac.org.