HT Interview: Production Manager Jon Dindas Tells The Inside Story of The Capitol Theatre’s Return To Glory
On September 4th Bob Dylan will take the stage at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York kicking off a new era for the famed 86-year-old venue and bringing to a close the years of planning that went into its rebirth. The historic building originally came to life as a movie theater in 1926, but music fans are most familiar with the two eras in which The Cap hosted rock concerts. From 1970 through 1971 famed promoter Howard Stein brought acts such as Traffic, the Grateful Dead, James Taylor, The Faces, Santana and Derek and the Dominos to the Capitol Theatre, while local developer Marvin Ravikoff redeveloped the venue in the ’80s bringing about a new era of rock shows at The Cap featuring jam acts such as Phish, Blues Traveler, MMW, moe., Strangefolk and God Street Wine.
[First Look at the Capitol Theatre's Arena-Sized Light Rig]
The next era of the Capitol Theatre’s history promises to be a long and fruitful thanks to the efforts of Peter Shapiro who quickly made Brooklyn Bowl into our favorite venue in NYC. As with Brooklyn Bowl, Shapiro will partner with promoter Bowery Presents to book the Capitol Theatre. The initial lineup is impressive with Trey Anastasio, Bob Dylan, My Morning Jacket, The Roots, Umphrey’s McGee and Fiona Apple among the acts set to play The Cap in its first few months. Shapiro has put together a team of seasoned live music industry vets to run his venue including production manager Jon Dindas. We spoke with Dindas about the long and winding road that led to the re-opening of The Cap as well as what patrons can expect.
Hidden Track: I can imagine you’re a busy man these days.
Jon Dindas: Yeah, I have just a couple minutes before we start to focus lights. Our sound system came in today so we now have lights, sound and video all in the house each in different states of readiness. We’re getting close to gametime.
HT: That must be pretty exciting for you!
JD: Yeah, between the announcement and the ad and all the stuff out there, it’s starting to feel real. It’s been a long haul. There was a year and a half in the furious planning stage, then six months in the “We’re in the building but we can’t really do anything” stage, and now it’s the “Oh shit, we have to put on concerts in a month” stage.
HT: When did you start getting involved with this whole project?
JD: It’s funny, I went back to look at my receipts when I started doing my expenses and I think my first official business year on behalf of [venue owner] Peter [Shapiro] was October of 2010. But that was to come check out the room. That was October 2010 and pretty much he had already been working on it close to a year before that making inroads with the previous owner. So it’s been a while. By the time we get it up and running, it will be two years [since the project started].
HT: I know there’s a lot to go through, but briefly can you take us through the process of what that two years of planning entailed to get us where we are now?
JD: We went through a year or so of planning, of working on budgets, working on what we could do with this space if this deal would happen. Much of that time consisted of myself and Tom Bailey, who’s the General Manager, doing what if’s and what can we do and what will we have to do, while Peter worked his magic with [former owner] Marvin Ravikoff. And then at the end of 2011, it started to look like it was real. There were so many stops and starts that every time Pete said “We’re almost there,” I kind of laughed.
The deal finally happened and then we got into the space in January. We spent three months here, where we had an office upstairs, but didn’t really have access to the theater – we had to come in and be chaperoned. It wasn’t until early April that we had free reign. So it was a year and a half of planning and strategizing. And everything else came down to: Ok, well now we’re in April, we want to open in the fall – so let’s do a year and a half of work in six months.
We hired a guy named Scott Raved, who is actually a childhood friend of mine, and also had done some work with Bowery Presents – he helped open Union Transfer, their place down in Philly. So he came on as a 3rd manager, he’s our Director of Operations and basically the guy who’s been in charge of the restorations and renovations. When Scott came on board, it was, “Ok, let’s start trying to make this happen.” And from the get go the mantra that we repeated with Peter has been “Bringing The Old To The New.” It was our goal to do everything we could to respect the history of this room and bring that back to life and have that meet somewhere in the time-space continuum with tomorrow’s technology.
If we went into a black box theater somewhere, putting in the sound and lights and video and all the crazy stuff we have, it would be cool, but it would just be another place that has a lot of technology. But doing this in a space that is historic both in the building itself and obviously the history and lineage of who’s played here… Look, I’ve been around a long time. I’ve been on the road. You’ve been around, Peter’s been around…I can honestly can’t that I’ve never experienced what we’re doing here. And I’ve had a lot of vendors and musicians and others that I’ve talked to say the same thing. How often do you get the chance to do something like we’re doing in a building like this? There aren’t that many.
So given the opportunity to take this historic room and update it, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime and something we take really seriously. We’re going to extremes at the same time to make sure the molding is the same, make sure it’s restored to the way it was. On one hand having to make it modern and then also putting in a ridiculous amount of technology, it’s been an interesting tightrope.
HT: What has the reaction been from the locals thus far?
JD: There’s the politics of the local scene – the mayor and the local politicians are happy for the business. It’s funny, when we started doing Facebook and social media, I would say probably 75% of our first 400-500 Facebook friends were all locals. They would say “Hey, drove by the theater today, saw the lights on, got excited!” And those people, if you look at our Facebook page in the last couple of days, after the announcement, my dentist wrote, “I can finally throw away my EZ Pass, No more trips to the city.” We’ve had other locals write, “I can’t believe the lineup you’re going to have and it’s walking distance from my house!” The amount of people we’ve heard from looking for jobs, “I don’t care what I do, I’ll serve beer, I’ll sell merch I just want to be part of The Cap again!”
Apparently for the people of Port Chester, this has kind of been a crown jewel that has endured, and now that it’s going to be back and open to the public, I think it’s something that’s instilling a little bit of civic pride in this area and in this downtown. The community seems to be thrilled about it.
[Balcony View via Capitol Theatre Facebook Page]
HT: Excellent. I noticed in the initial show announcement that there’s an age limit for the shows. What’s the reasoning behind having them be 21+?
JD: There are a couple of things. That is something that we’re trying, Peter Shapiro is a big fan of trying things, he likes to process and see how it works. I think that comes from his experience with Brooklyn Bowl with a certain age crowd. There are certain pros and cons to that. Part of it is we want to make sure that it starts smoothly. We want to be good neighbors. We want to be safe and welcoming and not have the issues that are associated with a live music venue.
While it’s ultimately Pete’s decision, my feeling is that a more mature audience will tend to be less problematic, at least to start. And a lot of the shows are skewed more towards the Baby Boomer crowd. Now there are certain acts that are 18+, there are certain acts that will draw all ages at some point, depending on the act, the time of the show and other things. So I don’t think it’s a hard and fast rule. But I think it’s just kind of wanting to start out in a mature, hopefully maintenance-free fashion and then see where we go. [Note: Since our interview, the Cap has made a number of shows either all ages or 18+ including opening night with Bob Dylan]
HT: Is there a curfew for The Cap?
JD: There is a village of Port Chester ordinance for a 1 o’clock curfew for live music that was put in place back in the early ’70s when Howard Stein ran the venue. So as of right now, that’s what’s on the books, 1am for live music.
Check back tomorrow for the rest of our chat with Mr. Dindas about the futuristic technology employed at the Capitol Theatre and more.