Reporting good theater in Queens, one show at a time

If you pay attention to the news of the day, especially the politics of it, you have to believe that the crazies have taken over. And many of those who are sane may be well-meaning, but they sure don’t have a clue. (Thanks to the recent elimination of Bin Laden, we’ve had a few days of responsible unity, but how long will that last?)

So as I approach the fourth anniversary of writing this theater column, I’m trying hard to summon up my usual optimism and positive attitude. Which is what you have to have if you’re a theater person, because as Tom Stoppard pointed out in “Shakespeare in Love”: “The natural condition (of the theater ) is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.”

In looking back over my previous 84 columns, originally appearing every two weeks but now once a month, my goal has been to support and promote the vibrant theater community of Queens. On occasion I’ve looked east to Nassau, south to Brooklyn and west to Manhattan, but the emphasis is always right here in our borough of more than 2.2 million inhabitants. Our theater companies may differ in size and shape, quality and aspirations, but they all strive to put on good show.

The major thrust of my writing has been to make you aware of all the theater events that are available, and why you should show up. The columns are not meant to be calendar listings or reviews of what each group is doing, although from time to time I focus on a particular production, but a telling of what it takes to put on a show, the ones involved in getting it done, and how much you’ll enjoy seeing it.

Truth be told, the majority of our vast population seldom if ever goes to the theater. Movies and television are the popular entertainment of our time, and theater remains a tough sell – its average audience is of AARP age, 50 and up. The cost of tickets can be a major obstacle if you’re going to see the pros on Broadway or Off Broadway, even if you’re savvy enough to get some of the offered discounts.

But that’s not the case locally. A ticket to a show in Queens is usually well under $20. Okay, you’re not going to see a celebrity name, and the production values — sets, costumes, lighting and sound— may not compare, but you will get a good seat for a good play or musical that you probably have heard of, and you’ll see a quality of performance that will surprise you, all in a venue close to home.

Another and related theme explored in my columns has been on what it takes to attract an audience. There’s no easy answer to that question, especially since here in New York City so much is available to compete for our time and dollars. What I do know, however, is that the older theatergoers, who most of the groups depend on, are not enough to fill the seats. I have strongly suggested that more contemporary, challenging and ethnically diverse works will appeal to a younger and different audience, people who you almost never see at your venue. And best of all, we seniors will continue to show up.

If you have something to say about local theater, or would like some coverage in my column, I’d be happy to hear from you.

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.

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