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The Play’s The Thing

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Now into my second year of writing this column, number 29 if you're counting — the only column about local theater in all of Queens, perhaps even in the entire City of New York — this may be a good time to ask who is reading it and what has it covered. Since there's not much competition, I expect that circulation of the TimesLedger has risen dramatically and that lots of devoted theater fans are checking it out.

Well, I know of one woman who has been stealing the paper from her neighbor's front yard to read the column, and I did get an e-mail from a reader in Studio City, Calif. And several of the tennis players at Bayside's Crocheron Park have told me that they saw my picture in the paper, although unfortunately they didn't get any further. Not to mention a number of literate and enlightened people who have told me that they have enjoyed the column and look forward to it.

The newspaper business, I am told, is not what it used to be — revenue is down and the Internet is a challenging alternative source. Of course, if you're not a subscriber of this paper, if you're short 50 cents or if the distributors are missing your block, you can go online at www.YourNabe.com to find The Play's The Thing.

So here's some of what you may have missed in a year's worth of every-other-week columns — each only 600 words or so — in my efforts to promote local theater and to encourage you to be part of it. I've written a lot about Queens theater companies (and some Nassau ones) and all the plays they produce, as many as 100 every year. That's a lot to choose from and they can be found in every part of the borough or just beyond the county line. With low ticket prices, great variety and a friendly atmosphere, how can you pass it up?

Most of these companies operate on a meager budget and rely on volunteers. Although many get a tax break if they have nonprofit status, it's love, not money, that keeps them going.

I've had a chance to explore some interesting subjects, such as what it takes to get the rights to do a play; non-traditional casting — roles played by actors of different races and ethnicities than what the playwright may have had in mind; and what audiences like and what it takes to get them into the seats. And I've given you some idea of what's involved in producing a play from start to finish, using The Outrageous Fortune Company's production in December of "Shining City" as an example.

Then there were lengthy musings about some of our fine theater companies: Astoria Performing Arts Center, Thalia Spanish Theatre, Douglaston Community Theatre, The Phoenix Players, Broadhollow Theatre (Elmont) and Queens Shakespeare; and profiles of some exceptional people: actors Don Curran and Frank DiSpigno, director Laura Wallace-Rhodes, playwright Fred Rohan Vargas and ultimate playgoers Richard & Millie Gudonsky.

As we travel on, if you have a subject you'd like me to write about, if you have some stories you'd like to share, or if you feel that you have been overlooked, let me know so that we can get you into print. And watch this space for future developments.

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu

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