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Ambassador Report: Queens, NY
  • Natasha Hakata and Kelechi Ezie in the APAC production of Charly Evon-Simpson’s Jump. Photo by Michael Dekker.
    Natasha Hakata and Kelechi Ezie in the APAC production of Charly Evon-Simpson’s Jump. Photo by Michael Dekker.
  • Tony-winner Cady Huffman in the solo musical Marguerite, by Michael Cooper and Anton Dudley. Photo by Michael Dekker.
    Tony-winner Cady Huffman in the solo musical Marguerite, by Michael Cooper and Anton Dudley. Photo by Michael Dekker.

Queens is New York City’s largest borough and its most diverse (some 167 languages and counting are spoken here). It’s home to many playwrights, theatres, and developmental opportunities for dramatists.

     The pandemic brought the 2019-20 season to a screeching halt and during the pause, some theatres found ways to continue their programming.

     Long Island City’s Secret Theatre closed its doors for good, ending a run which saw hundreds of new plays produced: from shorts to festivals to full runs. Their 99-seat space and 40-seat black box gave hundreds of playwrights opportunities for development and production.

     Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) staged two plays before the quarantine: the New York premiere of Marguerite with music by Guild member MICHAEL COOPER and book and lyrics by Anton Dudley. APAC used a vacant storefront on Steinway St. to produce the New York premiere of Jump by Guild Member CHARLY EVON SIMPSON.

     APAC then “pivoted,” according to Artistic Director Devs Bondarin, and presented an online musical series called The Insiders: Musicals from the Quarantine. Produced with APAC alum and Guild member TERESA LOTZ, The Insiders is a series of six short musical pieces written, rehearsed, and put together in quarantine. The creative team included sixteen writers, six directors, 22 actors, and five production team members.

     “We ended up with a wonderfully diverse set of pieces ranging from real life, to satire, to surreality,” Bondarin added. “It was inspiring to see how creative each team was while collaborating remotely and sometimes even on separate coasts!” Guild members in the series included: BRIANA WHYTE HARRIS, DEREK P. HASSLER, KRISTA KNIGHT, ANNETTE STORCKMAN, CLAIRE TRAN, and TERESA LOTZ.

     The series can be viewed on APAC’s YouTube page.

     The Rough Draft Festival at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center postponed its 2020 fest which, since 2013, has focused on “development of new work from fresh voices in the theatre community.”

     For Mission to (dit)Mars, the playwrights lab founded by Guild member KARI BENTLEY-QUINN with Don Nguyen, Meredith Packer, and Laura Pestron, the pandemic “sort of crashed down on us when we were wrapping up our season,” Bentley-Quinn said, “So we moved the lab online.” MtD was not able to do “All Systems Go,” their yearly presentation of new play scenes, but is working on doing an online artists’ Q&A.

     Queens Theatre, the iconic edifice in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (next to the “Men in Black” towers), commissions new work, and presents a wide range of programs and productions year-round that reflect the Queens community and its many voices. They took their programs, including the New American Voices reading series, online and presented staged readings and talkbacks, featuring EUGENE LEE’s Lyin’ Ass, NOVID PARSI’s The Innkeepers, and JELISA JAY ROBINSON’s Delivery.

     In Jamaica, Black Spectrum Theatre Company, which has been creating and presenting work “examining issues of social significance to the African American community,” since 1970, organized a series of online Town Halls, with the Coalition of Theatres of Color, to bring artists and community leaders together to discuss “What Do We Want a 21st Century Police Force to Look Like?” and creating public service announcements about COVID-19 and the 2020 Census.

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