More than 100 people sat in folding chairs and on blankets to watch local performers on a pop-up stage as part of the city’s Off-Broadway in the Boros Fest at Travers Park in Jackson Heights on Thursday, Sept. 30.
The event featured off- and off-off-Broadway theatrical performances, spotlighting local performing artists and offering free entertainment to New Yorkers hardest hit by the pandemic.
Just before the performances, Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment Commissioner Anne del Castillo, Councilman Daniel Dromm and Queens Borough President Chief of Staff Franck Joseph kicked off the event with short speeches.
During his speech, Dromm talked about how important it was to bring Broadway and off-Broadway to Jackson Heights.
“We have been through a rough two years where we have not been able to go to Broadway or to off-Broadway,” Dromm said. “Finally now, Broadway is opening, off-Broadway is opening, but I have to say there is no real recovery in New York City unless we recover and have the arts and the performing arts back in the city and open again. So today represents that reopening. Long live New York City and long live Jackson Heights.”
Up front and center, young children filled in the space closest to the stage, dancing along to the acts and mimicking performers. Some lucky ones got chosen to go on stage and be a part of the act.
“Who knows, we might have our next performers watching these shows being inspired to be the next incredible New York City talent,” Castillo said. “I think that’s what’s really important. One, it brings people together for a communal experience … and then they may be inspired to become our next talent.”
According to Castillo, the program started in 2015 with Broadway in the Boros, and the off-Broadway program followed. Last year, it was done as un-advertised pop-ups so as not to attract large crowds during the pandemic.
“To be able to come back and do this with this size crowd, you can just feel people have been craving this kind of connection with New York City entertainment,” Castillo said. “You can have Zoom performances, but you just don’t get the same connection.”
While there were varying ages in the audience, the lineup had something for everyone. Gazillion Bubble Show and the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus were crowd favorites for the kids, while the Hell’s Kitchen Happiness Krewe had some adults singing and dancing along.
Pregones put on a short test run of their new show, “TORCHED!,” a musical examining for-profit arson in the South Bronx of the 1970s.
Deni Yang, who has been doing the Gazillion Bubble Show for about 15 years in New York, is happy to be back performing with the entertainment community, especially after performing virtually during the pandemic. Yang’s parents started off traveling with a circus, doing a martial arts and juggling act, but they eventually gravitated toward bubbles, which is how the Gazillion Bubble Show was born.
“It’s like we’re starting fresh again, and it feels nice, especially now that we see all these other performers and entertainers, people with different talents and skills, all in one area,” Yang said.
As “the borough of culture,” it is entertainment and culture that will bring the Queens community together, said Queens Borough President Chief of Staff Joseph.
“There’s so much to celebrate right here where we live, where our community is, and that way there’s access. And that’s what Broadway in the Boros is all about,” Joseph said. “It’s about access, ensuring that all New Yorkers, no matter who you are, where you live, are able to partake in the fun and in the joy when we are celebrating our culture and when we are able to celebrate entertainment.”
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.