Jean Shafiroff, philanthropist, interviews Patty Baker, philanthropist and donor to Bay Street Theater and other projects.
How did your relationship with Bay Street Theater come to be?
My husband Jay and I have known Tracy Mitchell, the executive director, for many years, and we love the work that Bay Street presents. They did a wonderful production of Sherlock Holmes one season, and My Fair Lady, Grey Gardens and Evita that were all Broadway-worthy. Of course with COVID, Broadway went dark last March, and we hope it fully reopens by September, as the State has announced. I imagine shows will be backed up for some time, until theaters figure out how to guarantee the safety of everyone involved—from those backstage and onstage, to house and audience members—and whether they can satisfy all the requirements from the State and Actors’ Equity Association.
How did Bay Street Theater manage during its shutdown?
As all the Broadway productions I was personally involved in closed, I along with thousands of others felt the shock and pain of the actors, crew, costume makers, set designers, wig makers, makeup staff, choreographers, directors, musicians, stage managers, lighting crews, sound designers—and, yes, dry cleaners and restaurant workers, and a myriad of others who serve the industry. We saw the fear and distress ramp up; 87,000 performers were out of business overnight. My established shows, To Kill a Mockingbird; Hamilton; Moulin Rouge; Tina, the Tina Turner Musical; Ain’t Too Proud—the Life and Times of the Temptations all shuttered. Mrs. Doubtfire and Diana, the Musical—about Princess Diana and the royal love triangle—were in previews and they shut down. They will all be coming back, I’m thrilled to say, and Diana is going to premiere on Netflix on October 1, which is the first time a film of a play will precede its on-stage opening. It will start previews on December 1, with a planned opening of December 16. I’m told the actors may not be allowed to attend the opening night party, if there is one. Opening nights will be different, that’s for sure—at least for the foreseeable future.
Have you ever won a Tony for any of your work?
Joe DiPietro wrote the script for Diana
and David Bryan wrote the music, and they were collaborators on Toxic Avenger andMEMPHIS, the Musical, starring Chad Kimball and Montego Glover—for which I won my first Tony in 2010. That was followed by my second Tony for the revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf starring Laurie Metcalf and Rupert Everett.
I’m currently on the board of the Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples, Florida, where we’re planning to break ground this fall on a state-of-the-art theater. It’s been a long time coming—about seven years of planning and fundraising, and permitting and meetings with our city council, and working on changes to comply with building codes—but we’re thrilled to be adding a new cultural venue to our ever-growing community. It will be an Equity theater, and we will bring in talent from New York and other prestigious theaters to provide Broadway-quality performances in all genres. In many ways, this reminds me of the new theater that Bay Street Theater is working to build. At Bay Street, we’re performing in a space we don’t own, which presents a myriad of issues in terms of upkeep and building repair, and we’ve outgrown it. The community seems to be behind us, and I think it’s a wonderful way to solidify our brand while continuing to bring dollars to other businesses in the Village of Sag Harbor. The location is terrific and the building will beautifully reflect the feeling and sense of place of Sag Harbor.
Are there other theaters or nonprofits you assist?
I also serve as an advisor to The Naples Players, a non-Equity community theater that produces delightful performances, which showcase the talents of the adults and children in our community.
Additionally, I serve on the board of myalmamater, Hunter College, and chair its theater advisory board, which comprises esteemed members who have been involved in theater in many areas, in addition to Hunter staff such as department chair GregMosher and college President Dr. Jennifer Raab.
Why is theater so important to you?
Theater is important. Is it a hospital? No, but it helps people feel better, promotes thinking, can help change attitudes or perspectives, can teach a different philosophy or challenge conventional ideas. It can instigate conversations and bring people together.
For kids, it’s a way to gain confidence in speaking up and speaking out, and to create, and to learn how costumes work, what blocking and timing are. It provides an introduction to singing, dancing, history, teaches them how to work with others, how to socialize, how to solve problems, to listen and to hear. There’s learning how to take direction, how to become responsible and reliable, how to respect others and themselves, how to push to find meaning, how to memorize, how to become someone different, how to reach others, and often, how to find themselves, and importantly—at the end of the play—how to take a well-earned bow, graciously!
Are there any other projects you’re passionate about?
Other passions of mine are our two “fur kids”—as I like to call them—our dogs, Princess Diana Claire and Teeny Weeny Tiny Terror Tina, named after two of my Broadway shows that closed due to the pandemic. Unlike the pandemic, they have brought us joy, laughter and great respect for parenting. But yes, we are working on three other projects in Naples right now, one of which is a senior center for people over 60 to be able to get together to socialize, take an art class, practice chair yoga, read, watch movies, discuss current events and make friendships. We hope to break ground on that within the year and are thrilled, as it will help so many people in our community who are lonely, whose families are out of state, and for those who don’t have the financial wherewithal to spend on entertainment, or aren’t able to get out often. It will be free to all seniors. We are fundraising for this now to meet a $4 million match. The other two projects are in the quiet stage now, but if you’re interested, contact me in six months!
I want to end by saying, please support Bay Street’s new theater project. To do so, call Tracy Mitchell or Kim Fink at 631-725-0818. Get into the act!