By Ronald Hellman
Every now and then, the time comes for me to re-introduce myself to the readers of this column. Many of you, I’d like to believe, have enjoyed my well-chosen words since my June 2007 debut in these pages, about 150 columns ago, and maybe you even learned something.
The motive for “The Play’s The Thing” is to publicize and promote theater in Queens, where there is a lot of, but precious little publicity and coverage. Most local groups come under the description of “community theater”, meaning that they are non-professional, filled with people who make their living elsewhere. They are amateurs in the best sense—they love what they do and many are very good at it. Lots of time and effort go into putting on a show, while attracting an audience is always a challenge.
I first got involved in local theater in the 1970s when I met a couple of young women—hey, it happens—at Crocheron Park in Bayside, my tennis hangout, when they were producing an outdoor play called “Park.” The two, Norma Grossman and Laura Wallace, were mainstays of the Fresh Meadows Community Theatre, and they were looking for help. How could I turn them down!
For the next 20 years I acted in many plays and musicals with a number of different companies. A particularly upbeat one was the Gibson Theatre Workshop, headed by Ken and Audrey Jensen, which performed in different venues and raised money for several children’s charities. That group, like several others, now exists only in memory, but new ones emerge all the time. One of the great pleasures in participating in local theater is getting to meet lots of outgoing and outstanding people, forming friendships and enjoying communal experiences that remain with you long after the final curtain.
In 1993 I launched The Outrageous Fortune Company in the 99-seat space at Queens Theatre in the Park. Over 17 years, I produced 50 contemporary plays that drew many superb actors and great audience acclaim. For six years that company has been wandering in the wilderness, seeking another suitable venue in Northeast Queens to present more work of high quality. Check out our website to see our listing of cutting-edge plays, some of which you may have seen.
In the meantime, I stick with the practice of law in Douglaston, read lots of plays and reviews, and get to see many shows, here in Queens, on the Island, and by bridge-and-tunnel in Manhattan. Recently, my first wife and I saw “Hamilton,” courtesy of our daughter as an anniversary present. Yes, it’s real good, unique, and good history, but not quite up to the hype and the stratospheric ticket price. But I also saw my 6-year-old granddaughter Addison in a musical revue with kids of all ages – that of course is priceless. Note to producers: if you want to attract standing-room-only audiences, do a children’s show.
I’ve written much about local theater in the last nine years, and I’ve profiled a number of local celebrities. As always, I welcome feedback from my readers, criticisms and suggestions, praise and disagreements. So let me hear from you.
Contact Ron Hellman at RBHOF