Queens theater scene keeps columnist rolling

By Ron Hellman

I get out of the house once in a while, and here are some of the places I’ve been and the people I’ve seen in the last few weeks:

Most recently I was at the Forest Hills home of Joe Tiraco, one of the leading writers and thinkers in the borough, where I met up with Ina Jay Hayle to tape an interview for her Queens Public Television show, called simply “The Show.” Ina Jay has been producing for public access for many years, and I guarantee that you have never met anyone like her. Our main topic that afternoon was, of course, theater in Queens — you can catch it this month on Sundays at 11:30 a.m. on Channel 79, or Mondays at 10 p.m. on Channel 34.

Roxanne Alese has been pretty much confined to her apartment in Ridgewood due to a malady or two, but she still maintains a positive outlook and plans for another birthday celebration June 8. Some of you may recall her Vision Repertory Co. that presented some compelling and in-your-face theater.

Over at the TimesLedger’s Queens Impact Awards at Douglaston Manor I ran into Malini Singh McDonald, the vivacious and dynamic head of Black Henna Productions and the author of the online newsletter Theatre Beyond Broadway and a blog at www.malinism.com. She thought it would be great if the various theater companies in Queens would join forces to promote and publicize their work, instead of going their separate ways. Malini’s right about that, and perhaps she’s the one who could get them all to cooperate. Perhaps this is the time for a revival of the Queens Theater Network, a short-lived organization of many years ago that tried to unify all our independents.

For all you local producers out there who are wondering how to attract an audience, you should check out Roger Gonzalez’s website LocalTheatreNY.com, not only to find out what’s happening, but to see what he has to say about “Theatre Marketing Insights.”

My first wife and I spent a week in late April in Charleston, S. C. Among other attractions in this booming town are more than a dozen theater groups. I stopped by one in the historic downtown section called the Footlight Players. They have been around since 1931 and now perform in a comfortable theater in their own building, a former cotton factory. A block or so away is the Dock Street Theatre, which claims to be America’s oldest, having opened its doors in February 1736. It has been recently renovated, and its resident company, the Charleston Stage, had a major success with “Gershwin at Folly,” an original musical about the writing of “Porgy and Bess,” along with George and Ira Gershwin, by Charleston native DuBose Heyward and his wife Dorothy.

Frank DiSpigno and I go back a long way to the days of the Little Theater of Forest Hills and the Queens Community Theater, both just pleasant memories. When I did a profile of Frank a mere six years ago, we had lunched at Scobee’s, another closed-down institution. This time we met at the Bayside Diner where Frank told me that he is now the go-to guy in the over-50 range, so much so that he’s booked up a year in advance. His latest is “Young Frankenstein,” which will tour for Plaza Theatrical Productions.

At Queens Theatre I saw a performance of the dance company Momix, part of the Bank of America Student Matinee Series. And at the Kupferberg Center at Queens College, I had a chance to again see the ageless Barbara Cook perform. Over at the Producer’s Club on West 44th Street, a rundown but available venue for small productions, I took in an original play, “The Head Hunter,” produced and directed by former Queens resident Richard Hymes-Esposito.

And that’s just some of what I’ve been up to theater-wise.

Contact Ron Hellman at [email protected].

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