Owner Frederic De Feis is selling the Farmingdale theatre the company performs in, but he has no intention of stepping off stage just yet.
“I’m selling the building because I’ve decided that I wanted to do other things. But I’ll still work as an actor,” said De Feis, who has been busy in the theatre industry for 61 years.
De Feis grew up in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. An avid reader, De Feis would take out ten books a week. “My first exposure to any kind of literature was in the public libraries,” he said. “During the depression that’s all that you could do.”
De Feis attended Brooklyn College, where he majored in theatre and was first exposed to plays. He landed his first job as the theatre director at Iona College in Theatre Education.
“I was hired to become a teacher of drama and put on plays, which I did there for two years,” he said. “After that, I went to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh where I became the head of the department and taught there for two years and started the company now known as Arena Players."
De Feis left Pittsburgh to return to New York, but continued his work with the Arena Players Theatre company. He still felt called to teaching and he taught at Seaford High School for the next 20 years.
After returning to Long Island, De Feis put on dinner theatre plays for about three years and both directed and acted in library plays in towns throughout Long Island.
“As a director, I can do my own shows that I would never get a chance to do,” he said. “I chose to do my own shows. I’ve done Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello all the great parts. You learn about theatre, about characterization and acting yourself." De Feis even once donned a black face for Othello and has been involved with Shakespeare productions at the Vanderbilt Museum for the last 14 years.
De Feis has enjoyed living and working in Farmingdale. “The people are wonderful and are very susceptible to talent and culture,” he said. "We had the main theatre next door and a big coffee factory that I made that into a second stage theatre."
De Feis finally bought the building in 1993 and has remained there as owner ever since.
“Fred is doing a great job in selecting plays that suit all tastes,” said stage manager John Wolf. “Those who want to laugh like Run For Your Wife, serious dramas like A View From The Bridge, and original plays like Lovers and Liars.”
While De Feis mainly acts and directs today, he originally wanted to be much further away from the curtain.
“I wanted to be a writer,” he said. “My degree is actually in playwriting, and that is why I do a lot of original plays.” De Feis has written several plays of his own which have been produced.
“The craziest thing about playwriting is that it’s so hard for a play to get produced, that’s why they send plays to regional theatres, like the Arena Players, to see if it has the potential to get to Broadway,” he said.
De Feis said he thinks that talk in the community about opening a performing arts center to anchor future Farmingdale Village redevelopment is a wonderful idea.
“Of course it helps tourism and the traffic flow of people coming to the town," he said. “It gives recognition to the town of Farmingdale as being up and coming and rewarding."