Queens Theatre to host annual gala in May honoring two borough residents, with tribute to Claire Shulman

(Left) Daniel Zausner, chief operating officer of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center; (right) Melva Miller, chief executive officer of the Association for a Better New York (Photos courtesy of Daniel Zausner and ABNY)

After canceling its events the last two years due to the pandemic, Queens Theatre is prepared to host its annual gala in-person on Monday, May 2, honoring two Queens leaders and featuring a memorial tribute to late Queens Borough President Claire Shulman.

Queens Theatre will honor southeast Queens resident Melva Miller, chief executive officer of the Association for A Better New York (ABNY) and Daniel Zausner, chief operating officer of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. 

“We are excited for the opportunity to honor these two outstanding leaders. We had planned to honor Melva and Danny in spring 2020, before the shutdown, and are grateful that we are now in a place where we can gather and celebrate together,” said Taryn Sacramone, executive director of Queens Theatre. “We are even more proud to recognize them now. The work that both have done to support New Yorkers through the pandemic and to advance the city’s recovery speaks to their commitments to the community.”

The gala will begin with a 6 p.m. cocktail and dinner reception, followed by a 7:30 p.m. program of honors and performances and concludes with an 8:30 p.m. dessert reception. 

The celebratory event will include a program of honors and performances, including one by the extraordinary dance company Hiplet Ballerinas, and will raise funds to support Queens Theatre’s ongoing performances, community engagement and education programs. 

During the evening, Queens Theatre will present a memorial tribute to Shulman. 

 “This will be our first gala since the passing of Claire Shulman — a singular champion of culture in Queens and a dear friend to Queens Theatre. We are looking forward to recognizing her in our main stage, which is named for her – the Claire Shulman Theater,” Sacramone said. 

Late Queens Borough President Claire Shulman (Photo courtesy of Queens Theatre)

Miller, who has led ABNY’s census initiative for an accurate count of New York, has dedicated her life to community development through equitable economic growth, creative organizing and inclusive stakeholder participation. She started her community work in 1993 when she began working with children using the arts as a tool to promote civic responsibility while fostering positive imagery of youth in her community. 

Through this work, Miller used dance, music and artistic expression as a conduit for community empowerment, collective consciousness and individual pride. She later became the founding executive director of the Sutphin Boulevard Business Improvement District (BID). While leading this community-based not-for-profit organization, she also served as project director of the Downtown Jamaica Cultural District formed to support the artistic development of downtown Jamaica.

 In 2007, she joined the Queens borough president’s office as a key adviser and provided assistance to small businesses throughout Queens. She was later promoted to director of economic development, and then in 2015, to deputy Queens borough president.

Zausner is the chief operating officer at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. He first joined the USTA in August 2001 after accumulating 17 years of experience in the sports and entertainment industry.

In his current role, Zausner is responsible for managing and directing all aspects of the NTC, overseeing the year-round programming held at the facility, and for instituting and implementing a strategic vision for the long-term sustainability and growth of one of the largest public tennis facilities in the world and the home of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships.

Additionally, he manages all operations for the world’s highest-attended annual sporting event, the U.S. Open, including food and beverage, merchandise, suites and hospitality, security, guest services, broadcast operations, sponsor activation and construction trades. He also seeks out opportunities to expand the use of the venue for additional sports and entertainment-related events.

During his tenure, he has increased U.S. Open sales revenues across multiple disciplines. He has overseen the growth in ticket sales from $45 million to $140 million, boosting attendance 40%; increasing food and beverage sales from $8 million to more than $32 million; and increasing merchandise sales from $6 million to $18 million. 

Zausner directed the design, construction and New York City approval process for the NTC’s $650 million visionary transformation that included upgrades to all 42.5 acres of the site over a five-year period and designed and developed the $150 million master plan for the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center site.

Previously, Zausner led Ogden Entertainment, a worldwide leader of venue management, food and beverage and related support services to arenas, stadiums, convention and exhibition centers, amphitheaters and other public assembly facilities, and spent more than 11 years at Metropolitan Entertainment, one of the nation’s largest concert promoters. He sits on the board of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of NYC, is the chairperson of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Alliance, and has been a long-serving trustee of the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

In the two years since its last gala, Queens Theatre produced 593 online programs, performances and community engagement events reaching nearly 25,000 viewers with over 3,000 community members participating in community and education programs while its building was closed. 

This past summer, Queens Theatre welcomed back in-person audiences with 23 dance and music events and more than 100 performers lined up to perform on Queens Theatre’s first outdoor stage in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and at Corona Plaza. 

To learn more about the gala and how to support it through sponsorships, gala journal ads, tickets and donations, go to queenstheatre.org/gala or email [email protected].