LIC’s The Secret Theatre in danger of closing, director says

The Secret Theatre in Long Island City is asking the community to help keep its doors open.

Artistic director Richard Mazda said the theater has “gone long past a deadline” set by the landlord to raise money for rent and is hoping to collect $15,000 through an Indiegogo campaign to keep operating the space.

Opened in 2007, The Secret Theatre is a custom-built theater and rehearsal rooms facility that has put on a number of productions and festivals including the Queensboro Dance Festival, a weeklong festival showcasing Queens-based dancers and choreographers. Mazda is also the founder of  LIC Arts Open, a five-day festival highlighting dozens of shows, events, exhibits and open studios across Long Island City.

Mazda hopes to raise the money by the end of January to pay rent and utility bills ― the theater receives no major grants and relies on donations, fundraising and ticket money. Additionally, he hopes that the money raised will allow the theater to purchase sets, costumes and props. The funds would also help to pay increased stipends to the actors, directors and other “creatives” who help with production.

The theater, located at 44-02 23rd St., was built in a warehouse within the LIC Arts Center and also added several other structures to its space in 2009, 2010 and 2012. Mazda does not think he could repeat the process of building another space from the ground up and is nervous that the festivals he helped create might cease to exist with the space’s closure.

“It’s really hard to say what I would do because I think the emotional shock of losing the theater after so many years is something that I’m trying to prepare myself for the possibility of,” Mazda said.

The Chain Theatre, another independent venue in Long Island City, will close its doors in February after its landlord sold the building to developers looking to build condos on the site. Mazda said this story is a familiar one in Long Island City, a neighborhood that in recent years has seen massive development.

“I [know] many people who had their rents raised on them by commercial landlords in spaces where they have artists studios,” Mazda said. “We’re in the middle of a Klondike Gold Rush in terms of property, so if there’s a building that’s attractive to the developer there’s now money to borrow.”

The space, which has hosted 3,000 artists and was named one of the top 50 theaters in New York City by Time Out, was responsible for putting Queens and Long Island City on the map.

“[We] help[ed] to focus on the idea that Long Island City was way more than just a place where derelict warehouses were available for conversion,” Mazda said. “It would be a real shame if these cultural institutions disappear from Queens at this time. We are just beginning to win the battle with the rest of the city who thinks that Queens has nothing to offer.”

There are two productions in place for next year, including a version of “A Chorus Line” and “City Girls and Desperados,” a play set in ’70s Manhattan. Written by Pamela Enz and directed by Mazda, the play follows “a ragtag band of accidental outlaws at war with their pasts,”  according to a press release.

Mazda is hopeful that the theater will raise enough money to stay open but he would also like to see a more concrete plan from elected officials as to how they will preserve cultural institutions and advocate for the arts.

“Areas are like organisms. They can grow and they can die. The only way this area will maintain these institutions is if people, people decide what they want in their area,” Mazda said. “They need to demand their representatives in city government that more is done to help.”

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