The South Shore Theatre Experience has something for everyone. From one-act play festivals to full length shows in a range of genres, the theatre company is dedicated to bringing the performing arts to Long Island via staged productions and a wealth of acting classes that are befitting of people of all ages. Highlighting an astounding wealth of Long Island-based talent, the Lindenhurst-based black box theater gives its sizable troupe of performers the opportunity to engage with classic works, original works, numerous genres, shows geared towards children, and performances that are laden with heavy adult-themes.
Founder Deborah “Debbie” Cascio Plezia owns and operates the theater. Debbie is a skilled actress and teacher who readily admits that the road to finding the theater’s current permanent home in Lindenhurst—which they have now held for two years—was anything but easy to come by. In fact, the company has had a long hard journey to success and only survived due to tenacious efforts of its founder.
“I started this company ten years ago with a friend of mine,” Debbie explained via a recent phone interview. “Back in 2009 we did a children’s show during the summer with another theater. Even though the show was really popular, they stopped it after two years. We decided to branch out on our own and found a local church that was willing to let us use their stage to put on the show. We rehearsed it on my front yard. Then, the second time we did a show with kids we decided to give some of the proceeds to the March of Dimes.”
After successfully performing the show on the church stage, Debbie moved from venue to venue performing in restaurants, libraries, and community centers. She produced both children’s shows and adult theater, including Neil Simon’s “Rumors.” During this time, she also taught acting classes for adults and children at the BACCA arts center. Debbie then moved her theater into a dance studio in West Islip followed by a residency at Bower Elementary School in Lindenhurst. Finally, after seven years in existence, the company found a permanent home in Lindenhurst in 2017. Debbie and her husband, Ted, renovated the space to form a black box theater that now offers a dizzying array of classes and programs.
“We have something for everyone,” Debbie explained. “We have classes for all age levels and are welcoming to seniors. My philosophy is that everyone should have the opportunity to act if they want to. We even have improv classes a la the Bad Apples Improv Troupe!”
Over the years, the theater has gained a reputation for being inclusive to all kinds of theater: well-known revivals, classic Shakespeare, and original pieces have all graced their stage.
“Every year we present one full-length original play,” Debbie explained. “We have a playwright in residence named Christopher Hackert and he writes a new play every year including The Scarecrow and Ms. Gale which was a parody of The Wizard of Oz. Sometimes after we debut them, the local high schools license them and perform them too. We are actually planning to have a rendition of RENT performed here soon starring high school kids. Some of the kids who are seniors came up through the ranks; I remember teaching them when they were little seven-year-olds!”
The South Shore Theater Experience is also known for their annual one-act play festival that calls for original scripts. It typically occurs at Summer’s end and centers on a specific theme. This year, the theme was “South Shore Theatre Goes to the Movies” which contained seven short plays that spoofed everything from “The Shining,” to “Jaws,” to “E. T.,” the politics of the movie industry, the experience of sitting in a movie theater (and eating popcorn), and critic’s commentary. Well (sometimes brilliantly) written and flawlessly acted (especially by actor Greg Halvorsen who appeared in four of the sets), the festival was a superb example of the joys and impact of short theatrical pieces with get too-little attention in most legitimate theaters. The final play, which featured character’s communicating via a mish-mosh of movie quotes, written by Brian Schwimmer was Tony-worthy.
“The 2019 theme was movies but previous themes have included family issues, comedy, the supernatural…it’s different every time we call for scripts,” Debbie stated. “We also have a really popular Murder Mystery series where we serve hors d’oeuvres and dessert to guests. Those are different every time too and they are all original pieces. Sometimes we also have Surprise Theater Nights where you buy a ticket and have no idea what you’re going to see. It could be a famous classic or the debut of an original piece—we’ll surprise you!”
The South Shore Theater Experience prides itself on being a place that fosters a love for performance. It is estimated that 90% of the people who enroll in one of their acting classes ends up performing on their stage.
“Anyone who can sing will enjoy our cabaret nights,” Debbie said. “We have adult cabaret and kid’s cabaret. This year we are planning a Halloween cabaret featuring songs from all the Disney villains and, because it will be performed near Halloween, we are also going to have a costume contest!”
Perhaps the theater’s most unusual series is also one of its longest running: the “Parlor of Mystery” that is a magic show for adults.
“My husband is a magician and he and 4 other magicians started this five years ago,” Debbie declared. “Every month we have a show featuring a headliner magician or a mentalist with a few other guests performing during the evening. We even have someone doing magic tricks in the lobby during intermission! These shows involve a lot of audience participation and they are really mesmerizing—this isn’t little kids party magic, some of these performers have been performed into the Magic Castle in California which is really top-level.”
To celebrate the company’s tenth year, Debbie decided to do something truly innovative. This year, for the second year, she arranged outdoor performances. These “park plays” were performed at the Argyle Park Gazebo and the Lindenhurst Gazebo and featured a full cast performing Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Nights’ Dream” in 2018 and “The Taming of the Shrew,” in 2019 the latter of which were updated to appear as if the events were taking place in the 1920s.
“The experience of performing in the parks was a lot of fun,” Debbie stated. “People were coming up to me and explaining that they totally got what was going on even though they normally had trouble understanding Shakespeare. That meant a lot.”
A decade since its establishment, Debbie’s theater certainly seems to have a bright future. The annual one-act play festival was a success, their full – length rendition of the Broadway smash-hit “Next to Normal” garnered rave reviews, acting classes are full and the Fall roster of shows is packed with rehearsals currently underway. Moreover, in November, Debbie and playwright Chris Hackert (who is also a talented actor) will be performing in “How I Learned to Drive.”
“I absolutely love my job and have been so fortunate to be in business this long,” Debbie said. “I plan to be here long into the future and keep finding new ways to engage audiences and help people discover the magic of live theater.”