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Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning brings back in-person presentations under new leadership team

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The Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning presents “Queen Bess – the Bessie Coleman Story” playwright Tommie J. Moore as part of its monthly script-development series returning this month. (Photo courtesy of JCAL)

The Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning Center is gearing up for its first in-person event this month with a presentation of its “Meet the Playwright” monthly script development series. The season premiere will take place at JCAL’s Black-Box Theater, located at 161-04 Jamaica Ave., on Monday, March 28, at 7 p.m. with scenes from “Queen Bess – The Bessie Coleman Story” by Tommie J. Moore.

Curated to showcase Queens-based playwrights and theater artists, “Meet the Playwright” explores new work by both emerging and established writers for the stage. The program began virtually in 2021 as part of JCAL’s Black History Month programming, and it included streamed performances and a remote Q&A with the playwright. Now in 2022, audiences not only can see the presentation live on stage but engage with many of the artists during a live Q&A.

“Meet the Playwright is a genuine opportunity for new and developing writers to pitch their ideas in a meaningful way,” JCAL Artistic Director Courtney Ffrench told QNS. “It has created an exciting energy filled with the expectations that a diamond will soon be discovered, or simply, the uncelebrated gets a fair chance to be heard. Meet the Playwright is possibly a one-of-a-kind opportunity, with a community filled with writers and artists, with a variety of stories to tell.”

Along with reintroducing southeast Queens audiences to live theater, “Meet the Playwright” is structured as an innovative opportunity to pitch a new play for future production at JCAL Scenes.

Tommie J. Moore’s play “Queens Bess – The Bessie Coleman Story” honors one of the great pioneers of American aviation. Coleman was the first African-American woman and first Native American to hold a pilot license. Her airshows were notorious for their daring.

Moore is the founder of Dare To Be Black Corp., a company that educates and protects the legacies of African-American icons through theater and film. Moore is an actor, screenwriter, playwright and director with credits in more than 30 plays.

Ffrench and JCAL Executive Director Leonard Jacobs, both former interim leaders of the cultural institution, were recently named as the new leadership team.

JCAL Executive Director Leonard Jacobs (Photo courtesy of JCAL)

“Leonard and Courtney stepped up together as JCAL’s interim leaders in June 2020, a vulnerable time for all arts groups,” said David Thomas, chairman of the JCAL board of directors. “Despite the many challenges posed by COVID and the last two years, our ‘dynamic duo’ navigated us through, forging a community-focused, inclusive approach to arts and culture in southeast Queens. Our board is inspired by their vision as JCAL heads into its 50th anniversary year in 2022.”

Founded in 1972, JCAL is the only multidisciplinary urban arts center — and the only member of New York City’s historic public-private partnership, the Cultural Institutions Group — located in southern Queens. Born of a community-driven effort to situate and elevate arts and culture in the revitalizing Jamaica neighborhood, JCAL’s mission is to offer quality visual, performing and literary arts, and to provide accessible education programs to encourage participation in the arts.

Jacobs grew up in the Pomonok Houses and fell in love with theater at an early age, starting out as a playwright, director and producer before becoming a theater critic. Immediately before joining JCAL, he served as director of cultural institutions at the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs.

“As someone Queens-born and bred, I’m deeply inspired by the opportunity to rebuild JCAL for a post-pandemic future,” Jacobs said. “Two buildings, two theaters, two galleries, four dance studios, three flex spaces, plus outdoor, office and studio spaces – Courtney and I see unlimited potential. We’re building on a 50-year foundation of elevating emerging talent and underrepresented voices. I’m honored to be a part of a team that celebrates community-based arts.”

Courtney Ffrench (Photo courtesy of JCAL)

Ffrench has worked at JCAL for over a decade, most recently as general manager of the Jamaica Performing Arts Center.

“In 2020, as we hid in our homes, Leonard and I looked at our programs pre-pandemic and saw so many opportunities,” Ffrench said. “Remote at first, then with live audiences, we believe that the right thing to do at this moment, this era, is to place the community first. From art to music to dance to theater, plus education and festivals, we aim for JCAL to be a sustainable cultural force in southeast Queens. Especially after the nightmare of COVID, our community deserves nothing less.”

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