Gateway shows at Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts ended this year after blockbuster productions like “The Cher Show,” and “A Christmas Carol.” Their “Legends of Rock—Tributes to Freddie Mercury, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner and Pat Benatar,” from Dec. 30 to Jan. 1, 2023, included a Times Square simulcast on New Year’s Eve.
Contract renewal negotiations that would have greatly increased The Gateway’s costs for the theatre’s rentals were the cause of the split.
The Gateway’s shows will continue to be launched in Bellport, but now, for the entire year.
“I love Patchogue Theatre,” said Paul Allan, The Gateway’s executive artistic director. “For 25 years, we’ve been doing really good shows there. Being instrumental in their restoration and reopening in 1998 with ‘Nutcracker on Ice’ was a huge milestone in my life as well as a huge accomplishment for The Gateway.”
Allan and his staff aided then-mayor Steve Keegan with lighting and sound equipment as well as technical assistance, advice, crews, and many shows. It was a heady time in the village, with Keegan, village staffers and volunteers, as well as businessmen pitching in, working non-stop to open the old vaudeville venue, often lending a hand on their own time, with residents like Christopher Capobianco pitching in on weekends and more.
Allan discussed the early days. “The first year we didn’t even have a contract, just a handshake, he said. “Gateway’s first contract was in 1999. In 2000, they reneged on an original contract and at the end of a six-month lawsuit, we agreed to leave them with all the equipment we gave them—sound, lighting, office, and lobby equipment—it was over $400,000-worth of equipment and an understanding that Gateway would have a special rent going forward in a new lease agreement. It was part of a lawsuit settlement. We were always considered a special renter.”
“In 2001, we started with a five-year contract. We did two summer shows at Patchogue and booked in 75 other shows, including Bernadette Peters, Chuck Mangione, Mickey Rooney, and Sandra Bernhardt.” Other contracts continued. “Each year was higher,” he said.
“We were hoping to continue doing shows at Patchogue for another 25 years,” Allan said. “I understand they were looking at their bottom line, but from our standpoint we were looking at a 6 to 7 percent increase every year that went to 100 percent, and it seemed unreasonable, especially during a time theatres are trying to woo people back.”
Allan said new negotiations began in August 2022.
PTPA board president Ryan Murphy said the contract spike was caused by cost increases.
“The previous contract predated COVID. So, it would have been the first increase in two years, and before that it was based on a pricing structure where the cost of the rental never kept up with the cost of the theater. So, the proposal for 2023 and beyond would just cover our operating expenses. We went back to the numbers of the basic operating—heating, lighting, staff—and that adds up.”
Allan said the theatre was rented for four weeks per show; plus, PTPA got a per-ticket fee that included their biggest productions in August and their holiday shows in December. “It’s higher rent on when we were doing shows, lower rents for rehearsal, and then lower for it standing still,” he said. “So, if you split up our rent into a daily rate, yes, it was substantially less than for one night, but we were guaranteeing four weeks of income; plus, the reason we were doing this was so both theaters would benefit.”
PTPA also wanted funds for security in the new contract; The Gateway utilizes staff.
“Costs have gone up on a lot of acts,” Murphy elaborated. “An act you could have gotten for $25,000 before COVID is now $35 to $45,000. The whole entertainment business has changed in ticket buying and pricing. It’s a big theatre to fill and there are pluses or minuses to that. (PTPA has 1,200 seats; The Gateway has 500 in its theatre). And we can’t bring another act in when they’re occupying that space. Our costs for staffing and lighting, the values have gone up, residents know the oil prices have risen, along with utility costs. Those values weren’t represented to the cost of the theatre. And if we open the doors, it costs us to turn on the lights and heat.”
Allan said his last proposal was Oct. 18. “Their board came back two days later with another counter-proposal, it was basically the same they’d been offering, just divvying up less rent and then more dollars per ticket,” he said.
“Our final counter was under the cost of operating value with a certain price to ticket, so at a certain benchmark, we could hit the operating costs and then the rest was his,” Murphy said. “Was it still an increase? Yes. But it was the cost of doing business.”
And COVID didn’t help.
PTPA is holding the door open, but The Gateway says no
Both Murphy and Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri said they were hoping to continue the relationship. Pontieri acknowledged how important The Gateway was to the theatre and Main Street.
“Short of begging, we didn’t want them to leave the house,” Murphy said. “I really prefer to see this as a hiatus and to keep the door open. When it was The Gateway’s ‘Stomp’ in 2019, we did two shows a day and every one of them was a sellout. If he has an idea for a show he wants to partner with, or if he has people banging down the door and has 800 people clamoring for it and needs a bigger space, we’re open to listening.”
Allan was more circumspect. “We rehearse and produce all our large-scale Broadway musicals in Bellport, and over the years have carefully selected the best venue for each—some in Bellport and others in Patchogue—but since the rent has increased exponentially, it is unlikely that Patchogue Theatre will ever be part of our production schedule in the future,” he said.
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