Afrikan Poetry Theatre plans gala fund-raiser

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For more than three decades, the Afrikan Poetry Theatre has been bringing the arts and culture of the continent to southeast Queens residents and vice versa through its programs.

To celebrate its longevity, the institution will be holding a gala Oct. 30 at the Harvest Room on 160th Street that will bring together different artists and styles associated with the theater. Byron Perry, an administrative assistant at the theater, said he and his fellow planners have put a lot of hard work into the 34th anniversary fund-raiser dinner because it is the one time of the year when people of all backgrounds can experience international art without leaving the borough.

“There will be food, music and a fashion show,” he said. “There are new designs on display and I look forward to seeing it.”

Among the programs set for the four-hour show are the Bill Jacobs Trio, who perform with African drums and feature tunes from all genres from classical to jazz, and a special reading from guest poet Blue. Aside from the traditional art performances, the fund-raiser will also include food from the Brothers Who Cook program, where more than 30 chefs will serve cuisines from the South and Caribbean and African countries.

Perry said he was most excited about the Elegant African Fashions show at the anniversary event because it will include dresses by Wasima, a famed designer who specializes in the continent’s garb.

“There aren’t that many African fashion shows in the borough of Queens,” he said.

Perry said the show is a culmination of all the years of hard work the theater has done to bring art to southeast Queens. Created in 1976 by John Watsui Branch and other artists, the theater started out in small locations during its early years including, one on Merrick Boulevard and another on Jamaica Avenue.

In 1980, the organization moved to its current space and has become popular among aspiring artists of all ages. The theater offers classes in dance, writing and musical instruments, such as African drums, and holds events to showcase its students’ talents.

“We provide a paydate´╗┐ for many local artists,” he said.´╗┐

The theater also holds educational programs that teach people the history of African art and culture. One of the most famous venues is the annual Kwanzaa celebration held at Rochdale Village that draws thousands of visitors.

“It brings the community together,” Perry said.

The theater not only brings the continent’s best works to southeast Queens residents, but also brings interested members to experience it firsthand. The theater holds several trips to African nations such as Senegal, Ghana and South Africa.

Perry said the trips have given many students an opportunity to travel that they may never have had on their own.

“They go around as tourists. They support different businesses [there]. They learn about their history and culture live,” he said.

The Harvest Room is at 90-40 160th St. in Jamaica. For more information on the Afrikan Poetry Theatre’s gala, call 718-523-3312 or visit

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

Updated 6:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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