Imagine reciting your wedding vows at the same venue where Janis Joplin debuted the song “Mercedes Benz” and where the Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and BB King all performed.
At Port Chester’s iconic Capitol Theatre, Emily Schmalholz can make that happen, with a fabulous party to boot. Currently the director of special events at the legendary rock palace, she followed a logical path, which took her from a career in music and event planning to the role she now plays.
Growing up on Long Island, Schmalholz attended a private Jewish school, followed by a public high school en route to her education about the working world, which came from her mother, who was in the theater business, and her father, a lawyer. After earning a degree in radio-and-television from Emerson College in 1990 (where her mother attended and her son is now a student), she set out to break into the music industry.
“I was obsessed with music: I would sit at home and watch MTV and write down everything, and I loved the idea of working in the music industry, but through television,” Schmalholz shares. “My first job out of college was at a show called Instant Recall, where we went behind the news headlines and researched what people were listening to at a given time. I also met my husband there.”
After various TV jobs, she landed at the music network VH1, where she produced documentaries and music-countdown shows for many years.
With a move from New York City to a converted 1850s barn in Armonk, Schmalholz and her husband, Jay, welcomed a second son. She eventually transitioned from being a stay-at-home mom to owning an event-planning company with a friend. Life of the Party Productions is where, for a decade, she and her business partner coordinated creative and unique celebrations across the Tristate area.
Schmalholz went on to do special-events work at Grand Prix in Mount Kisco and arranged winter events at New York Botanical Garden, ultimately bringing her production skills to the Cap, as the Port Chester music venue is known. For Schmalholz, the Cap represents the perfect intersection of her expertise and passion, designing and executing tailor-made events for clients of various stripes.
“The Cap is where my worlds come together,” she declares. “This is where my music world and my events world all of sudden combine.”
The Schmalholz family is a creative and artistic one: as a senior vice president of live event television at Nickelodeon, Jay is responsible for shows like The Kids’ Choice Awards, while their older son, Justin, already has his own videography-and-photography company as younger son Jesse prepares to ship out to college next fall to study sports media. As Schmalholz explains, life as empty nesters “comes with mixed emotions, but we are excited for the future of our careers and new life experiences.”
Schmalholz willingly admits that being an executive at The Capitol Theatre hasn’t diluted her fandom whatsoever. “I also love to go to the Cap as a fan when I’m not working,” she says, “to experience the venue from a fan’s point of view — to make sure we are doing everything we can to make it the best concert experience possible.” She adds that her dream concert at the Cap would feature Eddie Vedder and/or Pearl Jam.
According to Peter Shapiro, the NYC-based club owner, concert promoter, filmmaker, publisher, and entrepreneur who purchased the Capitol Theatre in 2012 and restored it to its former glory, Schmalholz brings the right energy and enthusiasm to the venue.
“A rock palace like the Capitol needs a rock star to represent it, and we are fortunate to have Emily Schmalholz play that role for us,” Shapiro says. “Emily has an elegant touch, and she can pull off magic. She makes everyone around her play better, in a way that lifts the events we host, just as a great rock star lifts everyone around them.”
She recently arranged a 50th birthday party for a local resident that featured several musical bands, representing various decades, which was celebrated with 300 guests at the theater. The party was “unusual and amazing,” Schmalholz says. “You have the same production crew that produces a Bob Dylan show working the light and sound for your party.”
Like nearly everyone else, her work has been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with many artists postponing and some canceling their tours.
“This is going to be a very difficult time for our industry — both the events and live-music industries, but we are a strong bunch and will absolutely be back better than ever,” she says. “Once everyone feels comfortable going back out to celebrate and enjoy their favorite bands live, we will be there with open arms to welcome them back.”
Indeed, Schmalholz’s desire to spread the word about the theater she proudly represents hasn’t abated one bit. “I love the fact that I have a place to work that I can call home that combines my two passions — music and events,” says Schmalholz. “I am constantly challenged to work creatively and think differently.”
Jessie Jafet has written for www.theatlantic.com, contributes feature stories to several weekly newspapers, and loves to learn about the many dynamic people who live in the county.