Musings on Queens theater mark 103 iterations

By Ron Hellman

Hard to believe that a numbers-and-dates guy like me would fail to take notice of my hundredth Play’s the Thing column in August, but miss it I did. Blame it on election stress. Now recovered and optimistic, I write my 103rd, not counting the special Leap Year piece in February.

So what of it, you say? Well, I know I have some devoted readers — at least some people tell me that they have seen my picture in the paper — and they may want to be reminded of some of the people and things I’ve written about since that first column in June 2007.

The paper has a new-and-improved website, and it’s easy to follow. So go to www.TimesLedger.com, click on my column, and you’ll see all of them going back to October 2011. As to the prior ones, here’s some idea of what you may have missed:

Lots of boldface names have made their appearance here, some with a line or two and some in a full-column profile. Among the latter is a roster of actors and/or directors with Queens connections. One such is Don Curran — I just saw him and his wife Joan working the box office at the Douglaston Community Theatre’s production of “The Dixie Swim Club.” Then there’s John Ferry and Monte Sternfeld, both of whom have migrated to Florida. Still here and thriving are Bob Combé and Annie Wolf of the Phoenix Players — if you have enough gas in the car you can still catch their production of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” this weekend.

Other notables include Frank DiSpigno, Laura Wallace-Rhodes, Kevin Schwab, Martin Alvin, Malini Singh McDonald, Nan Asher, Michael Wolf, Maryellen Pierce and Carol Carota. Playwright Fred Rohan Vargas, lighting designer Rob Cangemi, Astoria Performing Arts Center’s Executive Director Taryn Sacramone, Thalia Spanish Theater’s leader Angel Gil Orrios and perennial audience members Richard & Millie Gudonsky are also on the list.

If you’re thinking why don’t you see your name in my column, and why am I not writing about your theater company, send me an email and let’s talk about it. Truth be told, my constant goal is the promotion of local theater and the great pleasure of theatergoing. So once again I make my plea for your input. I’ve been involved in Queens theater for more than 40 years, but there’s much that I don’t know about.

Attracting an audience has been another major theme. The conventional wisdom is that not as many people show up as they used to, even with the advantage of a low-price ticket and a convenient neighborhood venue.

I have suggested a few potential remedies. One would be reviving the Queens Theater Network, an umbrella organization that would unite the various groups in mutual publicity, scheduling and resource sharing. Another is the choice of material.

Instead of sticking with the same old-same old, select contemporary and relevant plays and musicals to bring in a younger and more diverse audience. Still another is non-traditional casting — putting a non-white or minority person in a role that perhaps the playwright did not have in mind.

I have written about the audition process and what it takes to get up on stage. I have followed a production from start to finish, being partial to my own Outrageous Fortune Company — hey, it’s my column. And I’ve discussed the necessity of getting the “rights” to a play, securing funding not just out of your own pocket, the hazards of smoking and other fire on stage, and the Astor Place riots of 1849 ignited by the dueling Macbeths.

When my editor wasn’t looking, I would slip in some political and non-theater comments. So I leave you with this from the 1960s civil rights movement, following the recent voting by 120 million Americans: “We ain’t where we’re going, but we sure ain’t where we were.”

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.

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