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The Play’s The Thing: United Queens theater cos. could stand taller than ever

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In my most recent column, a month ago, I suggested that Queens needs a year-round venue where our audiences could see theater of all kinds, including contemporary plays, mysteries and comedies, musicals and children’s theater, original and seldom performed works, Shakespeare, classics and staged readings. Nothing like that exists now in our vast borough, and I’m sure the public would welcome and support it.

In fact, somebody did write a letter, and on behalf of all my journalistic colleagues, thanks for writing. It’s nice to know that we’re getting attention. That letter [“Only back institutions people want,” Jerry Schreibersdorf, July 22-28 editions] expressed concern that taxpayer money might be used to fund this proposed year-round theater venture. Although I’m all in favor of government support of the arts, I’m envisioning a self-sustaining, privately funded operation, much like The Rockaway Theatre Company’s takeover of the post movie theater at Fort Tilden that I wrote about last month. So, rest easy, Jerry, and since I can now count on you, send me your contact information so I can sign you up when the time comes.

The quest is to first find a suitable building in which to establish a theater, perhaps as small as 99 seats, before we raise the money and find the people willing to donate time and labor to make this idea a reality. Queens, younger than the rest of New York City, mainly lacks such buildings, which is why Fort Totten and its crumbling structures seem such a good possibility. Located in the northeast part of the borough, overlooking Long Island Sound near population and transportation, it could be a happening place. Again I ask, what’s happening with that property?

Something else that our local theater could use is some kind of combined publicity to raise our visibility, along with a joint project or two to showcase our talent. I recently saw a play at the Beckett Theatre on West 42nd Street — featuring rising star Catherine LeFrere, fresh from The Outrageous Fortune Company’s “The Blue Room” — one of 30 or so productions that made up the 11th annual Midtown International Theatre Festival. This month there’s New York’s Fringe Festival. Both these events take place at many different locations, offering lots of original works, with the participation of many theater companies and talented performers. How about something like this in Queens?

Congratulations to two local groups celebrating major anniversaries. Created back in 1970, the Black Spectrum Theatre Company — now located in Roy Wilkins Park at 177th Street and Baisley Boulevard in Jamaica — has a 325-seat venue where it presents theater, films and videos, examining issues of concern to the African-American community, particularly its youth. Carl Clay, a playwright, director and filmmaker, founded the company and remains its executive producer. BSTC attracts and serves an audience of more than 20,000 annually. Check them out at www.blackspectrum.com.

The Parkside Players — 103-15 Union Turnpike in Forest Hills — is about to kick off its 30th season. Headed by the dynamic Kevin Schwab, it has plans underway for a retrospective show that will highlight scenes and songs from its history. If you’re an alumnus of one of Parkside’s 89 shows and want to be involved, send an e-mail to theparksideplayers@yahoo.com.

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.

Updated 6:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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