When he immigrated from England in 2004, Richard Mazda arrived in Long Island City as an accomplished actor, director, producer, writer and musician, and noticed something was lacking in Queens.
“Back then Long Island City was so different and I looked around and noticed there was no real theater,” Mazda said. “I knew of the Thalia Theatre in Sunnyside but I didn’t even know there was a Queens Theatre in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. I thought how could a borough of more than 2.2 million there wasn’t enough theater for that amount of people. At the time we had a little theater company at the Creek and the Cave on Jackson Avenue, and I had a hunch that the rezoning for an Olympic Village wouldn’t work and next thing you know it was a free-for-all of a residential boom.”
Before Long Island City became known as the fastest growing neighborhood in the country, Mazda opened the Secret Theatre in 2007 at 44-02 23rd St., eventually expanding into a larger spot with room for a 100-seat theater when a coffee company moved out of the property. The Secret Theatre had its growing pains along the way with revenue shortfalls, but Mazda was always able to put it on more stable ground through fundraising efforts.
“The big problem was back then no one knew Long Island City existed,” Mazda said. “We did a lot to improve access to cultural activities in the neighborhood through the Secret Theatre and the LIC Arts Open which will return for its 10th year in May. We’re trying to go gangbusters this year and make it a real celebration.”
In addition to providing performance space for plays, musicals, dance, music, opera, film, classes, rehearsals, art openings, parties, and film festivals, Mazda launched The Secret Theatre Academy for children ages 6 to 17 in 2010.
“After giving access to thousands of artists through the years we were able to become the biggest theater school in the borough, and the only theater school in an actual theater,” Mazda said. “We have 70 to 80 kids each semester and in then we have eight weeks of summer camp for a couple of hundred kids.”
Young performers build confidence and begin to develop skills as stage actors and performers through classes such as musical theater, Broadway musical theater and Broadway tap dance, and drama theater.
“We also provide individual coaching for those of our students preparing them for prestigious performing arts schools,” Mazda said. “So it’s the 10th year of the Academy and the 10th year of the LIC Arts Open, I guess you could call it a decade of cultural activity.”