Co-founded by Sheila Lewandowski and Brian Rogers, who have lived in Long Island City for more than 20 years, the organization provides salaried residences and access to space and equipment to performance artists. Currently, it operates out of a building at 5-49 49th Ave.
Lewandowski and Rogers performed a feasibility study in 2009 and found that by May 2019, when their lease expires, they would no longer be able to afford the current space and would have to shut down.
The duo took steps to garner government and community support so that the organization could thrive beyond 2019. With the help of Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Former Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Economic Development Corporation, The Chocolate Factory secured a $3.8 million grant to move into a one-story building at 38-29 24th St.
The founders looked at six different buildings, including their current one, before deciding on the 24th Street location. The building will be renovated to include necessary building code improvements; electrical, plumbing, fire safety and HVAC upgrades; restrooms; and the installation of a performance floor. These improvements will cost $1.2 million and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan has pledged $350,000 toward the upgrades.
“As co-founders of The Chocolate Factory Theater, and longtime residents of Western Queens, we are grateful for the strong relationships we have forged here over many years,” said Lewandowski and Rogers in a joint statement. “Were it not for the grassroots support of this community – artists, audiences, small business owners, neighbors, friends and elected officials – The Chocolate Factory would not be what it is today. The opportunity to create a permanent home in this very challenging city, in the neighborhood we love, and to support the work of groundbreaking artists for years to come, is the fulfillment of a dream.”
When completed, the space will include a 99- to 120-seat flexible performance space with a sprung-wood dance floor, a 2,000-square-foot rehearsal space and office space. The building is three times the size of The Chocolate Factory’s old space and will officially house the theater’s performances in 2019.
This is the first project of its kind in western Queens and will allow the organization to grow its audience capacity by 100 percent. About nine to 10 artists per year receive more than $50,000 in support from The Chocolate Factory Theater to work on new projects and pieces in theater, dance, music, multimedia and the visual arts.
“By providing a rehearsal and performance space, monetary support, and a community that encourages collaboration, the Chocolate Factory Theater supports the entire artistic process, not just a single piece or performance,” Van Bramer said. “A pillar in our community, the contributions of the Chocolate Factory Theater go beyond the walls of their space, not only serving the people of Western Queens, but the entire city of New York.”
Watch performances hosted at The Chocolate Factory Theater on their Vimeo page.