By Arlene McKanic
The Queens Theatre in the Park in Flushing Meadows Corona Park will rename it’s 464-seat main auditorium the “Claire Shulman Playhouse” after the former Borough President in a commemorative event to be held April 24.
In conjunction with this, the theater, under the direction of Chairman Jeffrey Rosenstock, is launching a commemorative seat plaque campaign where donors can buy seats in the playhouse. The theater hopes to sell 25 percent of the seats by the time of the gala.
The theater was constructed for the 1964 World’s Fair. It was a 360-degree movie theater that had no seats — the viewer stood in the middle of the floor and watched the show. In the early 1970’s it was converted into a modest theater and then was thoroughly renovated in 1993. The renovation was spearheaded by then-Borough President Shulman.
“We’ve seen a lot of changes, all positive,” said Rosenstock. “The borough president was correct that if there was a theater, then the people would use it.” The theater has hosted more than 2,800 performance since its renovation, including those by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane dance Co., Pilobolus, Ballet Hispanico and others, and it has a very vibrant and diverse constituency.
The seat plaque campaign was Rosenstock’s idea, and he wanted to name the main auditorium — there’s also a 99-seat theater that hasn’t been named yet — in honor of Shulman because of her role in the theater’s renovation. The campaign not only raises funds for the not-for-profit theater, but allows the donor to know that they’re a permanent part of its history; the donor’s name will also displayed in the lobby.
“We're getting a good response,” Rosenstock said. “We want to sell 100 seats by April 24. The seats cost from $750 [for a single side seat] to $1,000 [for a center seat], and we need to raise close to $500,000.” The theater has an annual budget of $2 million and hosts about 425 events a year. By the way, if you buy a seat that doesn’t guarantee that you always get to sit in it, Rosenstock warned.
Current Borough President Helen Marshall will officiate at the April 24 event. Marshall, according to Rosenstock, also gave the theater a great deal of support when she was on the city council and continues to do so. “We anticipate a strong relationship,” said Rosenstock.
“This is a fitting and well-deserved honor for Claire, who richly deserves it,” said Marshall. “I am really looking forward to attending the ceremony.”
“I’m very flattered, very honored,” said Shulman. “What can I say? It’s very kind of them.” She added, “The theater provides theater for people in this borough who can’t afford Broadway, brings professional revues to the theater and provides for people and their children to enjoy the cultural expression of this borough. It’s been done beautifully by Jeff and his staff.”
The rest of QTIP’s season will feature Spalding Gray, the Trinity Irish Dance Company, George Benson and lots of children’s shows and community usage, including graduations and recitals. “I think of this as the community coming together,” said Rosenstock. “Let’s recognize what Claire did and recognize Helen.”
Seats may be purchased individually, or in packages. The costs are as follows: $750 for a side seat; $1,000 for a center seat; $3,500 for four center seats; $5,500 for a seven-seat half center row; $7,500 for 10 center seats; and $10,000 for an entire center row.
All purchases made by April 10 will be recognized in the program for the April 24 gala, which will feature a performance by Donna McKechnie (A Chorus Line). Those interested in making a donation can call Debra Cerbini at 760-0686, Ext. 215.