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Community theater earns our Kudos

By Ron Hellman

Today we celebrate community theater.

In Queens.

There are, or have been, dozens of such theaters in our borough, some old, some new and some gone. Charlene Greenberg’s Spotlight on Stage website lists a lot of them, and once in a while a group may get a blurb in a local newspaper or on LocalTheatreNY.com, but otherwise they may be hard to find.

What exactly is community theater? It’s not Broadway or Off-Broadway – that’s the top of the line run by professionals who seek (and need) commercial success. And it’s not Off-Off-Broadway, which usually features Equity actors who aspire to bigger and better things.

The word “amateur” derives from the French for “lover of” and is defined as a person who pursues an activity for pleasure, not as a job. These are the people who are the heart and soul of community theater, who devote lots of time and effort, all unpaid, to entertain us. And although the results of these “non-professionals” can vary, on the whole they can be quite good.

Community theater has a lot going for it. Their venues are small, often no more than 99 seats, so the audience has an intimate close-to-the-action experience. The ticket prices are low and affordable. They’re easy to get to, and free parking is generally available. Above all, the shows they do are familiar comedies, mysteries and musicals – a strong comfort factor for the average audience.

What community theater lacks, and definitely needs, is recognition. Coverage in the local weeklies, or elsewhere, is scant, and shows are seldom reviewed. Performance space is limited to houses of worship, which the groups are thankful for, but these spaces do not allow for state-of-the-art productions.

Sad to say, Queens, with its official 2.3 million inhabitants, has almost no real theaters, even though it’s a proven fact that culture generates business.

Spread out in our borough, one-third of the land area of New York City, are a number of struggling theater companies. Too bad that there’s no central organization to promote and publicize their efforts. Many years ago there was the Queens Theater Network, with such a unifying goal in mind, but it didn’t last too long.

Anyone ready to step up?

I have also urged the groups to consider more contemporary and cutting edge work, shows that will have greater appeal to a younger and more diverse audience. Gone but not forgotten (by me, anyway) are the Little Theater of Forest Hills and the Queens Community Theater that set the pace way back when.

The prize for longevity in community theater goes to the Douglaston Community Theater, now eligible for Medicare in its 65th season. The Parkside Players in Forest Hills have logged in about 35 years.

Awards are always appreciated, even if subjective and sometimes questionable. Film and TV have the Oscars and the Emmys, among other occasions for celebrities to show off. Broadway has the Tonys, Off-Broadway has the Obies, and Off Off has the New York Innovative Theater awards.

Now here at the TimesLedger we have Queens Kudos, certainly a step in the right direction.

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners.

Contact Ron Hellman at rbhofc.com

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