The Play’s The Thing: Promoting local theater is a tough job in Queens

By Ronald B. Hellman

Words, words. They’re all we have to go on. (Tom Stoppard, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”)

I’ve been writing this column every other week for the last 2 1/2 years, 500-600 words per column, or about 35,000 words to date. (As a true baseball fan, brought up with the Brooklyn Dodgers — don’t mention the Yankees — I have a fondness for statistics.) Since I’m mainly limited to writing about local theater, trying not to repeat myself and not wandering too far astray, it’s often a challenge to come up with something new or different to write about.

My goal is to promote, publicize and encourage theater in Queens, with an occasional look outside its borders. I used to hope that the local theater community would provide me with lots of material to write about, bringing me news of their adventures and misadventures, their ups and downs, their problems and how they resolve them, and what it takes to put on a show. Well, I’m still hoping.

I’ve been involved with the local theater scene for some 40 years — as an actor, a director, an adviser and for the last 17 years as the producer of The Outrageous Fortune Company. But there are a lot of things that I’m not aware of in our borough — Queens being nearly one-third of New York City with an official population of 2.2 million. So I’m eager to hear from those groups and personalities that I have yet to meet, as well as those that I know, to get their thoughts and ideas as to how we can improve our work and get the audiences that we deserve.

I’ve written a number of times about what it takes to fill the seats. There’s no easy answer, but more publicity certainly can help. That’s why I renew my plea for more theater coverage in our local newspapers. Right now it’s minimal, unless you can pay for an ad, and that’s a shame, because I’m sure that there exists a substantial readership that would welcome such coverage.

If you can afford five bucks, the New York Times on Sundays has a Metropolitan section with listings of theater productions — but only those on Long Island. Newsday also writes about Long Island shows. However, Queens theater is left out of the dailies, as well as magazines such as Time Out, so it would seem a natural for our local weeklies to fill that void. Get after them.

The public, unfortunately, is given a lot to divert its attention from things that really matter. I mean, how many reality shows can you watch on TV, and how many celebrity and political escapades can you handle? I do like to know about the weather, but only here in New York, not a snow storm in the Midwest or a hurricane in the Caribbean.

Live theater, on the other hand, is right here and all around us. It’s fun and can bring value and pleasure to our lives. And when it’s done well %u2013 the words of a good playwright brought to life by good actors under the guidance of a good director %u2013 it can enlighten, enchant and entertain us.

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.

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