The transformation of the old cinema in the heart of Babylon Village into a performing arts center is underway.
“Now we can see some tangible momentum, which is really excited,” said Mark Perlman, who owns and will operate the West Main Street theater with his son, Dylan.
The men, both of Seaford, closed on the purchase of the former Bow Tie Cinema in February.
“This entire first phase [of construction] is basically removing walls and certain things to open the building from the three-screen movie theater back to its original, single-theater use with an orchestra and balcony,” said Dylan, also a working actor.
Combined, the theater will seat upward of 500 people comfortably, using the same chairs from NYC’s Beacon Theatre that were installed not long before the Bow Tie in Babylon closed in September of 2014.
“The three movie screens have all been taking down,” said Mark. “And the seats that were in the front of the theater have been removed, because that’s where the stage is going to be built out. So we’re kind of carving out the design of the theater space.
Aside from the theater room itself, there will be three levels of space for performers behind the stage, which will include dressing rooms, green rooms, and bathrooms with showers, as well as an area for washing, drying and repairing costumes.
Much of those amenities are required when working with union actors, Dylan explained.
A pit for the orchestra is also going to be dug out in front of the stage.
The crews recently removed the drop ceiling that was over what were the two lower theaters — the third movie theater was on the second floor.
“Now you can see the full height of the floor to the ceiling, all 35 feet,” Dylan said.
The stage will rise about five feet from the floor and stretch across the entire length of the building, with nine-foot wings on either side.
“We’ll also be pursuing a liquor license,” to feature two bars, upstairs and downstairs, in addition to the first floor concession area and lounge, Mark said.
Once complete, it will be called the Argyle Theater at Babylon Village.
The Perlmans are looking to start booking shows by midsummer, possibly as soon as July 1, and open toward the end of 2017 as Long Island’s second year-round professional theater, with the other being the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.
The Gateway in Bellport, which for a while was the only theater in Nassau or Suffolk to use professional actors, closes for much of the winter.
The Babylon theater first opened in 1922, showing silent movies. Prior to being owned by Bow Tie, it had operated as a tri-screen Clearview theater.
The Perlmans said it was divided up into three screens sometime in the 1980s.
Babylon Mayor Scordino said a performing arts space is only going to make Babylon Village that much more of a desirable place to live and visit.
“It’s going to be a tremendous advantage for our business district to have a cultural arts center here,” Scordino said. “I’m sure visitors will take advantage of walking through our beautiful village and visiting our restaurants and stores.”
Addressing concerns over parking, Scordino said the Village of Babylon is ready and willing to work with the Perlmans to utilize commuter parking north of the LIRR station.
The father and son hope to attract some 80,000 to 100,000 people annually to Babylon, not only for professional plays but educational programs, film festivals and what Dylan described as “a diversity of programming” that would appeal across demographics.
So they’re not only building out the structure, but putting a team of professionals together to bring the stage to life.
“We have highly experienced Broadway veterans coming on board to produce and direct,” Dylan said. “We want to be a convenient alternative for people from having to take a train, or pay for parking and pay for tolls” going to New York City.
They say their spirits have been buoyed by the positive feedback they’ve received from people throughout the village as they embark on the $2.5 million project.
“The reactions we’ve gotten have been tremendous; it feeds us. “Whether it’s from Village Hall, or the shopkeepers, or their patrons,” said Mark, a longtime public school psychologist who also runs a private practice in Wantagh.
“We’ve been grateful for the support and it keeps us going and optimistic.”
Top: Dylan and Mark Perlman in the theater’s future balcony, as seen from what will become the lighting and control room for Argyle Theater shows. (Michael White)