The Staller Center for the Arts advertising upcoming performances. After a year and a half of no performances, the Staller Center is planning to welcome back performers and audiences.  KATHERINE PROCACCI/THE STATESMAN

The Staller Center can finally welcome both performers and audiences back to the theater.

A year and a half have passed since Broadway legends Kelli O’Hara and Sutton Foster performed at the last Staller Center Gala since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020. After months of virtual performances and viewings, the Staller Center is now opening its doors to patrons starting on September 25 with a musical performance by Grammy-winning trumpet player Chris Botti.

When the entertainment venue initially closed, the Staller Center staff worked quickly to ensure that their patrons could still enjoy the arts. 

“We did already have a plan for who was coming [to perform in the Spring 2020 semester], but that majorly changed,” Marketing Director Samantha Clink said. “It was a combination of us not wanting to offer as many shows because we didn’t know where we would be this fall, and because of the Delta variant, we didn’t know how comfortable our audience would feel coming back in full force.”

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To keep audiences engaged, the Staller Center partnered with iNDIEFLIX, to make the 25th Annual Stony Brook Film Festival available for streaming for the first time. Almost 2,000 movie lovers used the program to watch independent films featured during the festival through the streaming service in the past year. 

Digital art galleries and concerts were also crucial in keeping students, alumni and patrons engaged during a time when live performances were inaccessible.  

“It’s not the same,” Staller Center Director Alan Inkles said. “And there is nothing like being there live. That’s one of the things I’m talking about with all the things we’re doing this fall.”

Clink expressed how expected the re-opening was for the new semester as well, “While we all loved binge-watching Netflix over the last two years, I think as soon as you come back into the theater and see all that energy and watch as the performers feed off of the audience and vice versa, I think that’s something that is impossible to recreate in any other way regardless of how many virtual options you give.”

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This season, the theater will present 10 shows including acts from comedian Wayne Brady, R&B singer Sheléa and the Emerson String Quartet. 

Only vaccinated patrons, who will be required to wear masks, will be admitted to these performances. Children under the age of 12, who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, will be allowed in the theater when accompanied by an adult who meets the aforementioned requirements. 

In addition to these changes, the Staller Center has introduced tiered seating, a system used by entertainment venues in which the price of an audience member’s seat is determined by the patron’s proximity to the stage. 

“Most other thousand seat venues have a tiered seating system because it should cost more for seats that are up close,” Clink said. “Most people are accustomed to that now … We were a little worried thinking that our devout audience might be upset with the change.”

Clink also said that so far there have been no complaints from patrons about the changes in ticket prices due to the new tiered seating system. 

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Stony Brook students will be able to see any show for a discounted ticket price of 10 dollars. Freshmen, sophomores and first-year transfer students will be able to see their first show at The Staller Center at no cost through the “First on Us” program.

“We want our students here,” Inkles said. “There’s something for everyone. You have my commitment going forward, you’re going to see more and more things at the Staller Center that students are interested in. That’s the way we have to go.”

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