BY CLIFF KASDEN
Dozens of community troupes throughout the borough are preparing for the new theater season. Their varied venues include church basements, synagogue multi-purpose rooms, school auditoriums and vacant warehouses. Performers dutifully depart their day jobs despite the weather. They rally their strength to rehearse for hours every night and weekend.
The payoff? Just a limited run with a handful of performances. Why?
No one can explain it better than the participants themselves.
Susan Jasper, the executive producer for the Rockaway Theatre Company (RTC), acknowledges that it isn’t always easy.
“Our present location was an abandoned movie house used by soldiers in WWII. Now, some of the youngsters who began working with us as teenagers grew and matured in our theater and are our directors, choreographers, stage managers and scenic designers,” she said. “We are a family!”
“In 2012 Hurricane Sandy devastated our theater…the losses seemed insurmountable,” Jasper added. “We put the word out to all of the members of our company — plumbers, carpenters, mold remediation experts and seamstresses joined actors, singers and musicians — without this help, the RTC would have had to close our doors.”
In northern Queens, Douglaston Community Theatre — with Michael Wolf at the helm — has provided seven decades of entertainment. Theatre by the Bay boasts talented, tight-knit family connections.
Currently retired, Larry Bloom has worn every conceivable theatrical hat since the 1980s. He has launched and sustained several Queens troupes.
“What I love is the camaraderie amongst the cast and crew — everyone working toward the same goal,” Bloom remembers. “I’ve seen snowstorms, falling stage sets, missed lines aplenty, and it’s (still) all part of the fun.”
Many community theatre veterans, including Jenifer Badamo, have multiple skill sets (playwright, actor and choreographer). She said her passion is what drives her.
“My plays are always passionate, Willy Loman ‘everyman’ characters based on people who have touched my life in some way,” Badamo said. “My choreography comes from a different place where the music and the people I’m working with inspire me. I take their personalities, their body shapes, their faces and I create dances that suit my cast.”
Married couples and their children are unshakeable pillars of every production. Michael Chimenti and wife Cathy are energetic examples of community commitment.
“Years ago, I swore I would never perform again. Then Larry Bloom asked me to sing a song in a musical revue. That was all it took to realize once an actor always an actor,” Michael said. “Thanks to Queens (stages), I will always have a place to live my dream.” Eli and Barbara Koenig also share many years of solid local theater performances.
In Middle Village, Maggie’s Little Theater and the JC Players offer musicals for appreciative neighborhood audiences. Among the many talented families, Frank and Barbara Auriemma provide musical and creative direction. They often showcase their son and daughter in the successful presentations.
Heading further south, St. Gregory’s Theatre Group has provided inspirational musicals for decades. Another troupe, FSFCTG spent years in Flushing. When logistics changed, the group changed its name to Royal Star Theatre and found a new home in Jamaica Estates.
The Queensborough Performing Arts Center is anchored by Susan Agin. A talented performer in her own right, she hosts a varied schedule throughout the year.
So many other troupes of every shape and size continue to celebrate the diverse, creative and cultural strengths of Queens. We are as unique as we are similar. Yes, we are a family.
As always, save me a seat on the aisle!