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Astoria theater sets sights on new home

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Launched three years ago in the auditorium of a 33rd Street church, the civic theater has become a recognized training ground for burgeoning actors and technicians and a respected venue for...

By Matthew Monks

The Astoria Performing Arts Center is ready for the big time.

Launched three years ago in the auditorium of a 33rd Street church, the civic theater has become a recognized training ground for burgeoning actors and technicians and a respected venue for quality shows.

Its founder now wants to take the company to another level and is looking for funds to buy the center a permanent home.

“I call it a mini Lincoln Center — that’s our goal. And I really think it’s going to happen,” said Sue Scannell, executive producer of the theater.

The former television actress is vying for grants from the City Council and the borough president’s office, hoping to eventually garner $5 million for a property.

“It’s being realistically discussed,” Scannell said. “We’re looking for space.”

And if they find it, it will be the total fruition of a dream Scannell began pursuing a half decade ago: to establish a full-scale cultural and performing arts center in the neighborhood.

Thanks to a passionate group of volunteers and overwhelming support from the community, she said the dream has been coming along nicely.

“We do really, really quality stuff and that’s because we’ve had so much support from the community,” Scannell said.

Relying on city grants and discounts from local supply companies, the theater stages five productions a season, a summer children’s theater and an annual play-writing competition.

Recent shows have included “Is There Life After High School?” based on the book by Jeffrey Kindley; “As you Like It,” by William Shakespeare; and “Love Jokes,” a one-woman musical starring Scannell.

Scannell, who appeared on television shows “Dynasty” and the “A-Team” in the 1980s, said she started the center as a place to give new actors and technicians a place to hone their skills and build a resume while bringing quality theater to the neighborhood.

As the center has grown, Scannell said it has become cramped in the auditorium of the Presbyterian Church of Astoria, which it occupies rent free. It shares the space with the church day care, meaning the crew has to move baby furniture for rehearsals.

“They definitely need their own space or some space because in terms of their sets and props it’s very difficult to store them,” said Church Pastor Don Olinger.

The center is gearing up for its annual Summer Stars Program, a seven-week music theater for 13- to 18-year-olds. Auditions will be held June 26 from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the center, located at 31-30 33rd St.

For more information, call 917-701-8670.

Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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