Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC), an East End staple for 20 years, is under new leadership, with industry veteran Gram Slaton taking the reins from former Executive Director Clare Bisceglia. Slaton talks about where WHBPAC’s been, where it’s going and his plans for the beloved venue.
Tell us about your background in arts management.
I’ve been running performing arts centers for 27 years. I started with what’s now known as The Egg in Albany; it was known as the Empire State Performing Arts Center. I was there for two-and-a-half years, before moving to Pennsylvania to run a newly revived 2,100-seat performing arts center called the Community Arts Center and I was there for 12 years before moving to Colorado to run the Wheeler Opera House, which is 500 seats, a lot smaller.
But much like out here, it was a high-profile audience and, because of the allure of the town, we were able to get great talent that really shouldn’t have been playing a 500-seat theater…then I worked at the Grand Opera House in Macon, Georgia, helping to lead it through some important renovations, and then came up here.
What’s your vision for WHBPAC?
I think Clare did an outstanding job getting it through its first 20 years. It’s really hard to make a little facility like this work, no matter how wealthy your clientele is during the summer. The approach was similar to what a venue should be like in its first 10 years when you’re in survival mode, so we’re a little behind in moving into our mature phase, where we recognize where our successful assets are, like our arts education program, that still have the potential to grow.
As we move into a mature phase we’re always going to need fundraising, but we should be doing all we can to maximize the assets we’ve got, like the bar, and rentals during the off-season, and coordinating with other arts groups on the island. We were up at Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island and they’ve got a lot of potential for us to work together. So really just being really more of a regional asset and being an important asset for the East End of Long Island. That’s my initial thoughts after two months on the job.
How will you work with other East End arts outlets?
We’re already working with some of them. We’re doing cross-promotions with Patchogue Theatre. So they’ve got a show, and if I look and see it’s not compromising anything we’re doing here, I’m like ‘of course, let’s be a good neighbor,’ and to your patrons, let them know something they want to see is worth driving over. We’re also working with Guild Hall in East Hampton where we’ll do block bookings and split a weekend with them. The old rules about not having anyone within 75 miles of you doing the same show, that doesn’t really apply.
We can both have the same thing and that’s better for both of us. And there’s a group called the Hamptons Arts Network that’s just forming now that we haven’t participated in before but it’s everything from Bay Street to Guild Hall to Parrish Art Museum. There’s about 20 of us really working together to see if we can get a really coordinated arts scene out here that’s a better attraction for people in western Long Island and New York City if they just want to come out for a weekend. Especially in the winter.
Who wants to be in New York City in the winter? It’s a little gray out here, but it’s not as Midnight Cowboy as in the city! To me it’s low hanging fruit for us, that we can be a good neighbor. That’s part of my emphasis right now, is opening the doors and making sure we stay busy because a dark night at the theater is a missed opportunity.
What are some of your own outside artistic interests?
That’s like asking a shoe salesman, ‘what’s your favorite pair of shoes!’ It’s kind of a rule in this business that if you book what you like it’s going to lose money, so I really look at it as a numbers game. All talent is great. You just create a great experience. I’ve got a lot of friends in the business who would like to come out here.
What are some upcoming performances you’re excited about?
I haven’t really gotten into my stretch yet. But I have booked a couple things for the end of the year, as low-priced attractions for people who are permanent residents this end of the island looking for something to do in the dead of winter. We’ve got The Weight Band performing after Thanksgiving, and then between Christmas and New Year’s, we have an Eagles tribute band. I figure, let’s blow out of 2018 and have a great time and listen to music and forget it’s winter for a few hours. We’re trying to fill out the spring program and I’m already booking for next summer.
Upcoming WHBPAC Performances
Meat Loaf’s Neverland Band feat. Caleb Johnson – October 21
The Lone Bellow – November 2
Howie Mandel – November 10
The Weight – November 23
Best of the Eagles – December 29
For more information on Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, visit whbpac.org.