‘More than a building’: Inside Queens Theatre’s transition to virtual programming

Queens Theatre. (QNS/File)


The Queens Theatre in Flushing Meadows Corona Park has been hard at work adapting to the unfamiliar order of performing virtually since COVID-19.

Since 1964, the theater has been serving the community as a place of performing arts activities. Their mission is to present programs that reflect the diversity and culture of artists. Since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, Queens Theatre has pivoted, instead showcasing those programs over Zoom.

Staff has been working to find new ways to bring their performances to audiences and Queens Theatre Executive Director Taryn Sacramone believes the theater has outperformed itself in adjusting to the new normal.

“Since we closed our doors in March due to COVID-19, we have worked to connect with audiences by offering original programming online that is as compelling, diverse, community-focused and accessible as the work that we put on our stages,” Sacramone said. “In the process, we’ve shown that Queens Theatre is more than a building. We’re proud and excited for the stories we’ll be telling this year, and anticipate announcing additional events throughout the season.”

Regarding the sudden switch to digital programming last March, Dominic D’Andrea, Queens Theatre’s director of community engagement, believes that the at-home programming attracted more individuals to engage with the theater.

“We transitioned to digital programming within the first week of the pandemic, starting with me leading digital community story circles, where anyone from the community could come on a Zoom and share how they were feeling and stay connected,” D’Andrea said. “From there we built out an entire arm of programming called Queens Theatre at Home, which has produced more than 250 unique digital programs.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Queens Theatre opened the show “Chicken and Biscuits,” a play about an African-American family that deals with the loss of their father. Even though “Chicken and Biscuits” transitioned to a virtual production, it was a big success for the theater. 

“It really depends on timing and the specific programming, but we usually range between 20 to 100 for any given live event, and countless more for our archives on the QT Youtube channel,” D’Andrea said.

The theater recently announced its newest show, “Invisible,” which will be a collaboration with actor Douglas Lyons. “Invisible,” which tells the story of two best friends who encounter hallucinations after decompressing over a laced blunt, will be part of the theater’s The Fly on the Wall series.

Queens Theatre partnered with IAMA Theatre Company and Savannah Repertory Theatre to develop the The Fly on the Wall series. The show will begin Feb. 13 and can be seen throughout 2021. 

“Coronavirus has redefined theater as we know it. Though our stages may be shut down, our new stories can continue development,” Lyons said. 

As New York City continues to vaccinate its residents, Queens Theatre will be offering weekday drama classes for public school kids. The classes will take place during the week of Feb. 15, which marks winter break for New York City schools. Students will learn from directors and musical directors and select a wordless graphic novel to present on stage. 

Queens Theatre will continue to host performances on a digital platform for audiences to stream from home as the city continues its battle against COVID-19. Until the theater can reopen, D’Andrea says that the theater will continue online programming because the arts are a vital part of coping during this time. 

“It’s important because our options are to make work and stay connected to our community in digital spaces, or not make work at all. We look at it more as an opportunity to grow and stretch in new ways,” D’Andrea said.

For more information about Queens Theatre, visit queenstheatre.org.

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