The Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) is an award-winning theater that strives to bring high-quality theater to Astoria while supporting local youth and senior citizens. APAC has already been in existence for a decade and a half, and each season introduces new successes, fresh faces and innovative, high-quality theater. One of the greatest joys of witnessing the development of this excellent center of the arts has been admiring the direction and guidance of the leadership throughout the years.
We sat down with the newest member of the APAC team, Executive Director Jessica Bathurst, to discuss her journey and discover exactly what she thinks makes APAC so unique.
BORO: What is your earliest memory of live theater?
Jessica Bathurst: When I was 8, I loved to create “live theatrical experiences” for my parents and their friends, based largely on a Cabbage Patch Kids album. The first professional theatrical production I can remember seeing was “Into The Woods” when I was 11—it came on tour through my hometown. It was magical. I wore that cast album out!
BORO: When did you realize you had a gift for helping encourage and create theater?
JB: When I was in college, I had the opportunity to work with a student-run theater company called Mask & Bauble. We did everything: acting, directing, design, producing. I produced the fall musical and a festival of student-written one-acts, and I loved it. Producing in college was the first time I had taken a written work from inception to full production, and from then on, I was hooked.
BORO: What drew you to the APAC?
JB: I was drawn to APAC for the fact that it was a community-based organization that both produced professional artistic work of the highest caliber and had long-standing community programs serving both students and seniors. You don’t often find that combination in one organization. Also, I was blown away by “In the Bones” and “Merrily We Roll Along,” two very different productions that stayed with me long after I had left the theater.
BORO: What are some of your fingerprints people might expect under your direction?
JB: As the executive director, I consider myself to be the “host” for all APAC events—whether you’ve come to see a show, participate in Senior Stars, or have your child in our Summer Stars program, I hope that you feel welcome and at home in our space. I want to meet everyone who walks through our doors, and I want those who attend our programming to feel that they can talk to me about what they’ve seen, and the work that APAC does.
BORO: Theater is such a collaboration … what are some of the best things about working with the artistic director, Dev Bondarin?
JB: Dev is an incredible artist, first and foremost. Her unflagging enthusiasm and dedication to her work make her an excellent partner. We’ve worked together before, so we have a good sense of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. (One of those weaknesses is a shared love of giant banana splits.)
BORO: Why is APAC so important in a community like Astoria?
JB: I think it’s vital that every community have art that is made by and for that community. APAC would not exist without the hard work and support of Astoria-based artists, and it also wouldn’t exist without the audiences who return again and again to see our latest production. We play a vital role in Astoria by providing innovative programming to a community that wants this kind of work in their neighborhood.
BORO: What does Astoria offer that an audience may miss in a Manhattan theater?
JB: Intimacy. A sense of connection with the staff and the artists. The chance to see us continue to develop right in your backyard.
BORO: Tell us a little about your professional background.
JB: For most of my career, I’ve been working in arts administration at various organizations in Brooklyn, where I live. I’ve worked at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), St. Ann’s Warehouse and the Brooklyn Center for the Performing at Brooklyn College. I have also worked in academia; I’ve just spent the last year as the acting head of the MFA in performing arts management at Brooklyn College, and I’m the co-author of a textbook, “Performing Arts Management: A Handbook of Professional Practices.”
BORO: APAC has been nurturing new works. Can you tell us a little about the new series?
JB: Both Dev and I are particularly interested in new works; in fact, APAC’s last two fall plays have both been world premieres. Our next production will be a series of short plays and musicals called Astoria Stories, performing in February 2016. Writers will apply for the program, and those chosen will be paired with a location in Astoria and will write a 10-minute piece about that location. Those pieces will be combined into a full evening of short performances.
Kaufman Astoria Studios
3412 36th St., Ste. 1/232, MB 40
Astoria, NY 11106
Good Shepherd United Methodist Church
30-44 Crescent St. (at 30th Road)
Astoria, NY 11102