Ready, SET, Rent!

by Lisa Mulcahy

The Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, NY has a long, rich history of producing artistically and technically excellent theater. Dating back to 1950, it all started when Harry C. Pomeran bought a 70-acre farm in Bellport, NY to open a hotel in 1941. His children subsequently started to entertain the hotel’s guests by performing skits, music and puppet shows. Due to popular demand, in 1950, the Pomerans used their barn to stage a production of The Taming Of The Shrew; local audiences flocked to the production, and the playhouse was officially open for business. Over the decades The Gateway grew into a well-respected non-profit regional theater and today, the Gateway Playhouse and its acting school form the core of the Performing Arts Center of Suffolk County in Bellport, NY. 

In addition to its peerless reputation for producing great shows, The Gateway Playhouse is now also known for offering high-quality, complete sets for rental to theaters all across the continental US. At Stage Directions, we thought we would delve further into how your theater can utilize the Gateway’s set inventory for your space, and learn more details about the features and advantages these set packages provide. 

A Vast and Varied Selection of Scenic Solutions
The Gateway’s current set package inventory encompasses 52 complete set rental packages, all of which are professionally designed and constructed from the best materials available. Where do these pre-made sets come from? Previous professional productions, in which the sets were carefully maintained. “Our set for A Christmas Story came from the show’s first national tour,” says Tony Tambasco, manager of Gateway Set Rentals. “Also, we offer sets that we build for productions here at Gateway, such as Memphis and Flashdance.” 

The sets can be easily adapted for use in a range of venues, from a large regional theater stage to a high school auditorium. “We do have a pretty broad range of sets,” says Tambasco. He notes the sets range from simple to complex technically, “Two of our very popular options show this, if you choose a package like Man of La Mancha, that’s less technologically sophisticated—there’s no automation, or motorized components. Beauty and The Beast’s set package, on the other hand, is more complicated technically, but you’re investing 5-10% of the rental fee against actually building the set—and you’re getting a strong design and a high quality set.” 

Each set Gateway rents has individualized specs, of course, but include all the essential elements of the show’s set, including movable pieces/furniture, flats, and walls. Also a Gateway technician travels with each set to its rental location, and will be present for both the entire load-in and load-out. This technician works with the production’s technical director in advance of arriving to best plan and figure out how to custom-fit the set into the space, according to the theater’s desired configuration.

“We handle all logistics,” Tambasco continues. “The technician who comes to your theater will be someone who has worked at Gateway and knows how the set will work. Most of our sets load-in in one day—that’s when our technicians really shine. You’ve got a boots-on-the-ground guidance that makes the process easier. Someone who will say, ‘This is how you bolt that piece in.’” There’s no guesswork to be concerned about. 

In terms of transport, Gateway will generally provide round-trip trucking for all rentals—”we offer one-truck shows as much as we possibly can,” says Tambasco. Still, a theater can alternately arrange for their own hired trucker to pick up and return the equipment to Gateway’s storage yard in Manorville, NY. 

Quality Control Is Key
The commitment to keeping each square inch of a set looking and operating at its best is continual. Its checks process is extensive; during and after load-out, the Gateway team carefully looks over each package piece-by-piece for nicks, scratches and additional damage. The idea behind fixing any issues to is ensure no additional quality concerns arise during travel. When that set goes out again, “it’s often easier to wait until it gets on site to make repairs,” Tambasco explains. “If you try to take it off the truck, it could get damaged, so it’s better to wait. Customization is also OK—you can paint the set’s walls whatever color you like, for example. The set wall can be repainted again later.” 

Gateway is also very conscious of the importance recycling a set has, “Regarding environmental impact, I’ll see three or four full dumpsters at load-out of a production that’s been built—that’s not the case if you rent one of our set packages,” says Tambasco. “By using a set package, you save all of that waste.” 

Essential Extras 
Gateway also rents drops, drapes, scrims and soft goods to go with its set packages, or for other production uses. Backdrops are available for a wide variety of shows, as well as unique specialty props. Looking for Cinderella’s carriage? They’ve got you covered. In need of Rocky Horror’s motorcycle or Frank N. Furter’s throne? You’re set. Individual drops ship via UPS ground, but Gateway can also arrange for freight shipments for packages of soft goods, or for some heavy pieces such as full-stage, red velour tab curtains. Images available include cityscapes, clouds, buildings, skies, foliage, geometrics, mountains, seascapes—whatever makes your production look best, Gateway can provide. 

Which is the entire reason Gateway personnel do their job so well.  “There’s a joy in helping people do a phenomenal show, usually for a tenth of the cost of building a similar set,” sums up Tambasco. So if you are doing 1776 or 42nd Street; Avenue Q or Dreamgirls; Legally Blonde or Tommy, or any of the 52 sets available, Gateway Set Rentals offers an economical, eye-catching stage picture for your production—it’s a win-win. 

Get to Know: Tony Tambasco
Tony Tambasco, manager of Gateway Set RentalsTambasco’s extensive experience as a theater professional certainly informs his work as manager of Gateway Set Rentals. Tambasco holds a master of fine arts in directing from Mary Baldwin University, Staunton, VA. He also earned a master of letters in Shakespeare and performance from Mary Baldwin, and a bachelor of arts in theatre and English from State University of New York College at Potsdam. A highly seasoned set, sound and projection designer, Tambasco’s work has graced productions of Sweet Charity, Blondes Have More Fun, A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, Shrek, and Annie Get Your Gun. As production manager at the Gateway, Tambasco has supervised shows for multiple seasons. He’s also taught at distinguished institutions like the American Shakespeare Center and the University of Fayetteville in Fayetteville, NC.

What sparked his interest in drama? “The way I got started in theater was to follow a girl into a theater class in high school!” Tambasco remembers with a laugh. At SUNY Potsdam, Tambasco also studied computer science, but found upon graduation, “it was easier to get paid work in the theater as a director and designer,” he recalls. “I got a job right out of college at Clarkson University, and it was one of my best professional experiences.”

An accomplished stage director, Tambasco mounted many of his own shows, taking care of the technical elements of production scrupulously. “I had experience as a production manager, and I found I was good at scheduling, things like that,” he says. “I saw that Gateway was hiring, and of course, I knew of the theater’s great history. I interviewed here, and I just immediately knew that this was a supportive environment. It all boils down to the staff—-the management here actually cares about its workers.”

Tambasco’s professionalism and know-how will no doubt continue to inspire those longtime colleagues, as well as new theater technicians he meets and works with.  What advice can he offer to someone at the start of his/her career? “There’s no such thing as a useless skill, or useless knowledge,” Tambasco stresses. “Take ownership of your own education. Do honest-to-goodness soul searching—when you identify a weakness you have, address that. Read a book about that skill you need to learn, watch a YouTube video. If you know, this is something I want to learn, then take the time to learn it. All the best technicians are curious—remember, learning should never stop!”