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Michele Rizzo-Berg made a name for herself locally by drawing some huge acts to the tiny, 260-seat YMCA Boulton Center in downtown Bay Shore.
Those names included Henry Rollins, Lisa Loeb, Colin Hay, Rufus Wainwright, Vanessa Carleton and the 10,000 Maniacs, to list just a few.
Now she’s bringing her rolodex and decades of booking prowess to the much-larger Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts as the new director.
She started the job in Patchogue last month.
The timing isn’t wonderful, she’ll admit, given the state’s ever-changing coronavirus containment measures. But the sheer size of the space makes it ideal to accommodate whatever restrictions might come from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.
“What’s really fantastic about Patchogue Theatre, is that when we are eventually given guidelines to open, even if we have to reduce our capacity to 300 seats that’s still a really great level of artist that can come and perform for us,” she told GreaterPatchogue on Thursday.
“We’d also really like to lean on our local artists from the area to come in and start presenting,” she added.
Among her goals for the theater’s programming is to start better targeting the 30- to 45-year-old demographic, while still retaining many mainstay acts of course.
“Patchogue is such an amazing community and we love the people who support that theater — and we will continue to also support them, too — but we’d like to draw in some younger audiences,” she said. “We want that 30-to-45 age bracket to see entertainment that they would normally have to go to Manhattan or points west to see.”
Prior to the Boulton Center, she previously worked at other local venues such as Nassau Coliseum, Jones Beach Theatre, and the Westbury Music Fair. (Click here for a podcast we did with her in 2018.)
She left the job as center director at the Boulton Center in November, after 15 years. Reflecting on the departure from Bay Shore she said:
“As much as you love it and it’s everything you could have imagined and more, you just want change. Your life changes and priorities change. So I made the decision to step away. Was it bitter sweet? Absolutely. I still have wonderful friends there.”
As for Patchogue, village officials previously told us they were hoping to get programming up and running again in September.
Rizzo-Berg says she’s up for the unusual challenge of reopening the theater, which closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the loading dock, the lobby and main stage, there’s three different places [in the building] where we can host artists,” she said. “All we really have to do is think about some creative ways to utilize all those spaces for I guess what we’ll be calling the new normal.”
She also said the theater will be participating in Patchogue’s first Virtual Alive After Five on Thursday, July 2, with staggered acts performing within the building that will be available to stream on computers and phones anywhere people are celebrating.
“This is one of the ways that we want to be able to support the community as well, and be here for the community,” she said.
Top: Michele Rizzo-Berg inside Patchogue Theatre. (courtesy)