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Plenty of stories left to tell as 50th milestone arrives

Fifty is a nice round number, and this is my 50th column about local theater for the TimesLedger Newspapers. The first one was published on June 14, 2007, and it has appeared biweekly (with a couple of exceptions) ever since. Each one is only 500−600 words, but it takes some time and effort to get it right — to create something worthwhile, informative and entertaining.

I am a life−long resident of Queens, and I have been involved with local theater for nearly 40 years. For a good part of that time I acted in many community theater plays and musicals, and since 1993 I have produced three plays a year for my own company, The Outrageous Fortune Company. It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of work. Perhaps the best part of it has been meeting so many talented and dedicated people. There’s no money in it, but the reward for putting on and being in a show is a great experience with some wonderful memories.

What prompted me to write this column, The Play’s The Thing, was (and unfortunately still is) the scarcity of local theater coverage in our newspapers. We don’t rate with the dailies, although at one time Newsday did throw us a bone or two — it still does a lot for Long Island groups — until it pulled back behind the Nassau County line. And the weeklies for the most part seem to prefer other things to fill their pages than writing about local theater.

I had lobbied some of the weeklies, trying to convince them that covering our neighborhood theater world would generate readership, with little or no success until Steve Blank, former publisher of this paper, gave me the go−ahead for this column. If that’s what it takes, I said, to promote our efforts, okay.

So, if you have not been a regular reader of this column — and why not? — here are some of the things you’ve missed since last summer. There have been profiles of such interesting people as Martin Alvin, an actor⁄playwright who keeps reworking and rewriting his pet project of “Uncle Nicky”; John Ferry, a colorful character who shines as an actor and a director; and Malini Singh McDonald, the dynamic force behind Black Henna Productions.

Lots of local theater companies have gotten into print here. Among them the risk−taking Parkside Players, around for almost 30 years at the Grace Lutheran Church in Forest Hills, now producing Stephen Sondheim’s ground−breaking musical “Company.”

Always out of the ordinary, The Phoenix Players, tucked away in College Point, has another weekend to go with the timely comedy “Getting and Spending.”

Then there’s the professional Thalia Spanish Theater in Sunnyside that surmounts language barriers with their bilingual productions. And the award−winning Astoria Performing Arts Center, which recently presented a wonderful “Ragtime,” tomorrow opens the provocative drama “The Children’s Hour” at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church on Crescent Street.

Other columns have touched on the various levels of theater available to us in New York, from Broadway to Off Broadway to Off Off; the merit of awards (here in Queens our shows may be eligible for the New York Innovative Theater Awards), smoking on stage and the use of off−color language; the growth of web sites promoting and reviewing theater; and a tribute to my late parents, who were avid theatergoers.

Watch this space for more of the same, all dedicated to our theater community. And if you have any suggestions or want to see your name in print, let me hear from you.

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.

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