His Dream Carries On

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What attracted Carl Clay to the theater world was not the lights and fanfare of the stage, but the creative energy that he felt when he wrote, directed and acted, the founder and executive director of the Black Spectrum Theatre Co. said.

With the artistic group celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Clay said his artistic passion has not only helped to inspire a new generation of actors, but shined a new light on the southeast Queens community’s talent and hard work.

“The reality is that Queens has created a test tube for new ideas,” the 58−year−old man said.

For years, the theater group, housed at Roy Wilkins Park, has showcased hundreds of plays, movies and exhibitions that were created by southeast Queens artists of all ages. Many of the shows are original pieces that focus on social issues that affect neighborhood residents, such as teen angst, community ties and family, according to Clay.

The executive director said one of the favorite works he helped produce was a movie called “Let’s Get Bizzee,” which starred rapper and beatbox pioneer Doug E. Fresh and told the story of a group of black young adults who organized to help get their peers to vote in an upcoming election. Although the movie was released in 1993, Clay said it really motivated audiences and remained relevant during the 2008 presidential election.

“These were all films about youth and issues that affected them,” he said.

The movie’s plot was not dissimilar to Clay’s career in the theater world.

The southeast Queens native caught the acting bug in high school and kept acting in plays in churches, schools and other venues.

“It was the writing, it was the ideas,” Clay said of what attracted him to get on stage. “The fact that you could take the concept, the idea and mend it into a mosaic of experiences.”

He honed his skills through various institutions, including the Clark Center for Performing Arts in Manhattan and Brooklyn College, but never forgot his borough roots. Clay said southeast Queens residents enjoyed live theater, but always had to venture to the other boroughs to experience it.

In 1970, at the age of 18, Clay decided to change that when he created Black Spectrum. Originally operating out of basements and any space they could find in Jamaica, the theater group became an instant sensation and eventually was able to perform out of its own space on 205th Street in Springfield Gardens.

The move was a big morale booster for Clay and his artists.

“It became the first place where we jumped off the proverbial cliff,” he said.

The theater found its permanent home in 1985 when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offered community groups grants to renovated abandoned properties. Clay said he was looking to use the space at Roy Wilkins Park and he met with a developer, Solomon Goodridge, who also saw potential for the land.

“Those conversations turned into serious discussion ... and [we] created this building,” he said.

Five years later, the new theater space opened with a street parade that started at the 205th Street location and ended at the park. Clay, who just had his first book,Ôªø “Poor−duc­ing Theatre and Film at Black Spectrum,” published this month, said he still continues to improve his craft though his company and at the same time spread the artistic creativity to other groups in the area.

“It’s grown from a run−down theater production to housing a cultural program,” he said. “I think it has spurred the growth of other organizations ... here in southeast Queens.”

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e−mail at or by phone at 718−260−4546.

Updated 5:48 pm, October 10, 2011
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