Secret Theatre fighting to keep its doors open

By Bill Parry

The man behind the popular LIC Arts Open may see his theater shuttered unless the community rallies behind him.

Richard Mazda’s Secret Theatre, an intimate off-Broadway house, at 44-02 23rd St. in Long Island City, is in a financial hole brought on by unforeseen expenses.

“On the surface we are very successful because of our great shows,” Mazda said. “‘Oliver’ sold out almost every night and ‘Richard III’ had tremendous reviews, but ‘Oliver’ cost $18,000 to produce and with all the sell-outs we only broke even.”

Founded by Mazda in 2007, Secret Theatre has become part of the fabric of the culture scene in western Queens, hosting plays, musicals, opera and dance. In addition to two performance theaters, the venue offers other spaces that are rented out for rehearsals, parties, art exhibits and film screenings.

“Even though most of our staff is volunteers and interns, our margins are always slim and we can’t budget for the future,” Mazda said. “This past year we ran into a lot of expenses that we never budgeted for and if we can’t raise enough funds we’ll have to shrink or go out of business.”

Mazda’s troubles began in late 2012, when the city Department of Buildings found that the landlord’s certificate of occupancy was out of date.

“That led to further routine inspections that found not everything was up to code,” Mazda said. “The amount of money required to bring the building up to code was in the hundreds of thousands. The burden fell heavily on the landlord, who’s been very nice and supportive, but the fines and fees that we accrued got expensive quickly for a theater like this.”

DOB confirms the fines have been paid and there are no current complaints or violations against Secret Theatre.

Now Mazda is hoping to raise $10,000 by the first week of September with his “Can You Keep the Secret” fund-raising campaign on the crowdfunding website Indiegogo.

“Now we are fully compliant and up to code, but our finances have been wrecked,” Mazda said. “This is the first time we’ve turned to the community to help us with this financial hurdle. 10K is a huge nut for us, it really broke our back.”

He further explained that grants generally do not apply to mainstream theaters like his unless performances are tied to a larger program like at the project-led Chocolate Factory and Thalia Theatre.

“We just don’t fit into that model,” Mazda said. “We are in the process of changing our business model so we can apply for grants, but that takes time,. There’s no magic bullet here.”

The future of Secret Theatre will have no bearing on the future of LIC Arts Open, the annual five-day festival which will celebrate its fifth anniversary in May.

It may, however, affect the Queens World Film Festival.

“I hope everything works out because we have the Secret Theatre booked in March,” QWFF co-founder Katha Cato said. “The filmmakers and may staff really love that space, it’s a wonderful asset to Queens, a real legit theater experience. This is an anchor for Long Island City and I hope all of Queens steps up to the plate for Richard.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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