Astoria Performing Arts Center takes a look into its backyard

By Merle Exit

Northwest Queens takes center stage this week as the Astoria Performing Arts Center celebrates its 15th season with a slate of new works focused on its neighborhood.

“Astoria Stories” consists of a series of original plays and musicals that pay tribute to such landmarks as Astoria Park, the Bohemain Beer Garden and Socrates Sculpture Park.

About a dozen Queens-based writers have collaborated on the nine pieces.

“It is the first time that APAC has done a project of multi-artists all working towards one evening’s show,” APAC’s Artistic Director Dev Bondarin said. “The excitement for these writers is that each of these pieces is brand new.”

“Astoria Stories” celebrates the different places and how they transform, affect and engage visitors.

Nine short plays and musicals bridge the past with the present.

“Writers were asked to take a familiar Astoria location and to write a 10-minute piece centered around that place,” Bondarin said. “This workshop production will run the gamut from public spaces, stores, to cultural sites unlocking the unique landscape of the neighborhood.”

Writers selected were Kari Bentley-Quinn (Museum of the Moving Image), Nathan Brisby and Lizzie Hagstedt (Titan Foods), Ty Defoe and Tidtaya Sinutoke (Socrates Sculpture Park), Dyan Flores (Omonia Bakery and Café), Ben Gassman (Astoria Park), Holly Hepp-Galván (The Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall), Christopher Torres (Astoria Boulevard subway station), Kathleen Warnock (Sohmer Piano Factory) and Alexander Sage Oyen (Broadway Silk Store).

Oyen actually lived above the store for a time.

“My story centers around the oldest daughter who decided to move out,” he said. “This is a musical.”

“I was excited about getting the Bohemian Beer Garden,” Hepp-Galvan said. “Having spent an afternoon with the general manager, Andrew Walters, I learned about the history and the great stories. My piece is a large comedy using the entire cast that include the cultures and languages that make up Astoria.”

Torres’ story about the train stop being the backdrop for a lot of people’s day-to-day activities focuses on two of those individuals.

“It is about a father and son on their way somewhere and they miss their train,” Torres said. “The father, a first generation Latin immigrant, has a memory of being there years ago.”

In addition to shows at its usual venue of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, APAC plans to perform for the first time at the Museum of the Moving Image in the Kaufman Arts District this Sunday.

“This is what being part of a creative community is all about,” Tracy Capune, vice president of Kaufman Astoria Studios, said. “We founded the Kaufman Arts District to celebrate all the different arts organizations that have come together in this neighborhood. To have the Astoria Performing Arts Center, one of those organizations that makes its home here, present a work that in turn celebrates Astoria is a great treat.”

If you Go

“Astoria Stories”

When: Feb. 19 to Feb. 27

Where: Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, 30-44 Crescent St., Astoria and Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35th Ave., Astoria for Feb. 21 performance only.

Cost: $10

Contact: (718) 706-5750

Website: www.apacny.org