It was a dark day last October, when the Paramount Center for the Arts—the Peekskill performing arts venue that was built in the 1930s as a movie palace by a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures—closed its doors and suspended operations. Thankfully, the shutdown was only temporary. After sifting through proposals, the Peekskill Common Council chose Red House Entertainment—a group run by Kurt Heitmann, a Peekskill native and veteran sound engineer, and Abigail Adams, recently managing director of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, along with licensing specialist Jonathan Close and music producer Ray Wilson—to reopen the venue as the Paramount Hudson Valley. A 17-year lease was ceremoniously signed in May, and, after hosting a smattering of events this summer, the group plans to ramp up its offerings throughout the fall. We asked Heitmann and Adams about what’s on the horizon.
Peekskill fielded strong proposals, including one from the Tarrytown Music Hall and another from a group that included the director of programming at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Why do you think yours was chosen?
KH: I think we had the strongest background. I’m an entrepreneur, technician, and an engineer. I know how to deal with business, engineering, and technical problems. I can solve them. Abigail has the marketing background and the event background. Ray Wilson is in management and artist booking, and he’s been doing that for a long time. And Jonathan [Close], who’s our general manager, has the business background and he’s going to keep the office running. I think the four of us represented the strongest group and, coupled with our vision of what we want to do here, that’s why we won the proposal.
AA: I think what Kurt said is absolutely right. When we’re talking about the team, collectively we have more than 100 years of experience.
What kinds of events are you looking to bring to the new Paramount Hudson Valley?
KH: What kind of events won’t we do? This is a theater that has a long history of cultural and performing arts. We’re going to continue that, but we’re going to develop new genres: Latin, jazz, blues, country, rock and roll, simulcast of opera and theater from around the world on the big screen, corporate events, plays, school events—you name it. This is going to be the community center. Once we get up and running, you’ll always know that something will be at the Paramount Tuesday through Sunday.
How are you going to tailor the events to the community?
KH: This is a retail business, and you need to listen to what people are asking for. There’s a big Latin community here in Peekskill, for example, so we’re going to look at Latin festivals and Latin music. And it’s going to be an experience. You’re not going to come here and just get the same old popcorn and soda, hamburgers, and hot dogs. The Hudson Valley is rich with farmers and organic growers and restaurants—it’s tremendous. We’re going to tap into that. For instance, when we have a Latin festival here, you can rest assured that you can come here early, and you’re going to get a taste of not just the Latin music, but food and maybe the drinks, too. Maybe the décor will be different—who knows? We’re defining that now.
AA: We aim to hit every layer of the community. One of the things in our proposal—if I stick with Kurt’s example of the Latin music—is that If we have a Latin festival, we’re going to have master classes in Latin music. If we have country music, maybe we’ll have a line-dancing class. People will really be immersed in the genre that we’re presenting.
The Paramount closed shortly after The Capitol Theatre opened in Port Chester. Are you worried about competition from other local theaters?
KH: Competition breeds success. Without competition, people get stagnant and stale, and businesses fail. I’ve never been afraid of competition. We welcome it as an organization. It keeps us on our toes.
What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing?
KH: Booking acts as soon as possible. Acts are booked a year in advance. There’s a season, there’s a schedule. You can’t just contact an agent and say, ‘Hey, I need someone to play next weekend.’ That doesn’t work. That’s going to be our biggest challenge for the next six to eight months, maybe even a year.
AA: People need to be a little patient with us, because it is going to take a little time. The amazing thing is how everybody is passionate about the Paramount—as passionate as we are. And we want to get it up and running as soon as possible, but we need to do it right.
For more information on the Paramount Hudson Valley, visit playingattheparamount.com.