The Suffolk Theater on July 16, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic shutdown. File photo: Denise Civiletti

The Suffolk Theater in downtown Riverhead has a new director.

Gary Hygom, former executive director at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts and 20-year producing director at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, will take the reins at the historic Riverhead theater on Oct. 15.

General and Artistic Director Daniel Binderman is stepping down after eight years in that role.

At the Patchogue Theatre, Hygom reshaped and expanded the theater’s programming to include more diversity and higher caliber performing artists as well as educational endeavors and community-based initiatives, the Suffolk Theater said in a press release Friday afternoon. He “significantly increased attendance, more than doubled grant income and created ‘The Loading Dock’ a new music venue within a venue,” the release said.

Gary Hygom will join the Suffolk Theater as its new director Oct. 15. Photo: Benny Migliorino/courtesy of Suffolk Theater

Hygom served as executive director at the Main Street, Patchogue theater from June 2017 to October 2020, according to his Linked-In profile.

Most recently he has been the producer of The Rock Project, a live stage musical show that combines “exceptional Broadway vocalists with the classic sounds of rock and roll,” in productions that have celebrated the music of The Who, Aretha Franklin and the Beatles.

As producing director at Bay Street, Hygom created and expanded off-season programming, cultivated local partnerships, launched educational program and restructured the theater’s main stage season, according to the Suffolk Theater’s press release.

Hygom’s previous professional experience over a 30-plus year career includes working as the production and tour manager for Phoebe Snow, founder of Oak Hill Theatre Company and technical director at Guild Hall, the press release said.

“I am happy to be at the helm of this wonderful and unique performance space, and to build upon the great successes and achievements of this historic theater,” Hygom said.

“Gary was a perfect choice — a visionary with a strong artistic background as well as the administrative and personal qualities that will help him take Tthe Suffolk Theater to the next level,” Binderman said. “With his knowledge of the Long Island market and his strength in producing and administration, he will really be perfect.”

Binderman, the theater’s third director since it opened in 2013 after a long, painstaking renovation and restoration by owners Bob and Dianne Castaldi of Cutchogue, said he is proud of his accomplishments. He elevated the theater to a regionally acclaimed venue, featuring legendary musical artists like Art Garfunkel, Arlo Guthrie, Mavis Staples, Judy Collins, and many others – as well as comedians such as Rob Schneider, Marlon Wayons, Gilbert Gottfried, and Bob Saget.

“From our first show with blues legend Johnny Winter, throughout my tenure, we were able to create a really special environment and a unique place in the tri-state region’s artistic landscape,” Binderman said. “I love this theater and am so glad I am handing it to a friend and colleague whose work I genuinely admire.”

Castladi said he appreciates the work Dan put into the theater and what he accomplished. With the new director and new caterer, the Greenport-based Ellen’s on Front, as well as the new town square coming opposite the theater and the planned expansion of our facilities, “this remarkable venue has a very bright future,” Castaldi said.

The art deco 800-seat movie theater originally opened to great fanfare in 1933. The nationally landmarked building has been given highest honors by The New York State Department of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation as well as the Art Deco Society of New York.

In 2005, the Castaldis bought the theater, shuttered since 1987, from the Town of Riverhead for $707,000. Their multimillion renovation effort got jammed up in town politics and eventually litigation, but the lawsuit was settled in 2010 and work got underway in earnest. The theater reopened on March 2, 2013 with a 1930s-themed celebration.

Plans for the future move forward

The theater’s current proposed expansion includes the construction of a larger stage, a back stage area, dressing rooms and green rooms, offices and new bathrooms. It also includes a five-story, mixed-use addition offering ground-floor commercial space and 28 rental apartments on the upper floors. Plans for the proposal, initially filed in early 2018, are moving forward in the review process.

The town board on Tuesday began coordinated review of the proposal under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, classifying the plan as a Type I action for purposes of review — an action expected to have significant impacts — and requested lead agency status for purposes of review.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who has been an opponent of five-story buildings on Main Street, which have been allowed by the zoning code for more than a decade, cast the lone vote in opposition. She argued commencement of review should wait until the applicant submits the parking analysis required by the town’s planning department and has “a final site plan.” Planner Jefferson Murphree said the parking analysis would not change the classification or request for lead agency and the final site plan will evolve during the course of the review.

Other board members said the theater is a lynchpin in downtown revitalization efforts.

“This is part of what puts Riverhead on the map,” said Councilman Tim Hubbard. “All these things coming to fruition is what’s going to make Riverhead a much better place to live.”

Supervisor Yvette Agiuar said she wanted to personally thank Castaldi.

“Years ago when you decided o take on the big challenge of resurrecting the Suffolk Theater that sat there dormant for so many years and you brought it back to its — to better shine, you gentrified that block it is one of the best locations to visit here and now we’re going to move it to the next step,” Aguiar said. “It’s the beginning of a new era.”

The theater was closed by the COVID-19 pandemic last year and reopened after nearly 18 months on Aug. 27. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test taken within 72 hours of an event is required to enter the venue. 

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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.