File photo: Peter Blasl

The Suffolk Theater is aiming for an early September reopening.

The governor announced on Monday that most COVID-19 occupancy restrictions will be lifted on May 19.

Theaters, like the performing arts venue on Riverhead’s Main Street, were permitted to reopen in March, but with attendance limited to 33% of their rated occupancy or a maximum of 100 people indoors (150 with testing or proof of vaccination.)

That didn’t allow the Suffolk Theater to open its doors, owner Bob Castaldi told RiverheadLOCAL in March. He said only being allowed to open at 100% capacity would make it feasible.

This week, with COVID infection numbers falling back to where they were before the fall-winter surge and New Yorkers clamoring to resume commercial and social activities, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said theaters can operate at 100% capacity again beginning May 19.

That was good news, Castaldi said in an interview today. But if the state maintains the six-foot social distancing requirement, it reduces the capacity well below 100% occupancy. He said he hopes the state will lift the six-foot social distancing requirement.

“To a certain extent, you have to rebuild the vehicle. You can’t just turn a key and run,” Castaldi said.

In other words, it’s not like the theater can just pick up where it left off when the governor shut everything down last month in the hope of slowing the spread of the coronavirus in New York.

“You have to start from scratch, trying to book acts,” he said. The bands and performers all have tour schedules and the theater has to book bands that are in its geographic area. It has to make its availability work with the touring schedules of all the different acts, he said.

“There’s so many moving parts. Coordinating the dates has been like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube, trying to figure it all out,” Castaldi said. The theater’s executive director Dan Binderman “has been pulling his hair out trying to reschedule and rebook,” he said. “And you’ve got to get your staff back together.”

The theater had to push its schedule back several times since the initial shut-down last March. At first, Castaldi said, they thought they’d be able to reopen in April. Then they thought it would be summer, he said. Then, when the virus started to surge again, it became clear the stage would be dark indefinitely.

“There’s a good chance we can open around Sept. 1,” Castaldi said.

“We know people want to go out and do stuff — whatever it is. They want to start living their lives again,” he said.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.