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Queens Theatre honors two borough residents, pays tribute to Claire Shulman at annual gala

Queens Theatre
(From l. to r.) Honoree Daniel Zausner, COO of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Queens Theatre Executive Director Taryn Sacramone, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and Queens Theatre Board President Gary Kesner. (Photo by Dominick Totino)

 Queens Theatre honored two borough residents for their leadership and paid tribute to the late Queens Borough President Claire Shulman at its annual gala on May 2. 

More than 250 people attended the celebratory event, which raised funds to support Queens Theatre’s ongoing performances, community engagement and education programs. The evening included performances by the Hiplet Ballerinas and Omnium Circus with a special video tribute to Shulman, who passed away in August 2020.

Queens Theatre
A performance by the Hiplet Ballerinas (Photo by Dominick Totino)

 “We are here tonight to pay tribute to the incredible, inimitable Claire Shulman,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who introduced the tribute video. “She was without a doubt one of the greatest leaders that Queens has ever had. Her memory will live on in all of those who had the privilege of knowing and working with her.”

Queens Theatre Executive Director Taryn Sacramone and Board President Gary Kesner delivered welcoming remarks, noting how Queens Theatre pivoted during the pandemic to provide virtual programming to connect with audiences from across the borough and city — and world.

 “I want to thank the Queens Theatre team. We have a really small but mighty team who have made things possible that I would never have imagined,” Sacramone said. “This was our first gala since the passing of Claire Shulman — a singular champion of culture in Queens, and a dear friend to Queens Theatre. We were proud to recognize her impact on Queens Theatre on our main stage, which is named for her — the Claire Shulman Theater.”

Queens Theatre
(From l. to r.) Queens Theatre Board Members Alfonso Quiroz, Bruce Levine, Tracy Capune, Gary Kesner, Mark Misk, and Queens Theatre Director Taryn Sacramone (second from right) (Photo by Dominick Totino)

The Queens Theatre also honored Melva Miller, CEO of the Association for a Better New York (ABNY) and Daniel Zausner, chief operating officer of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

 “This honor allows me to celebrate and boast about one of the premier institutions in our borough,” Ms. Miller said. “Being recognized this evening allows me to highlight to all of my friends, colleagues and all of you in the room this evening, Queens Theatre’s amazing work over the years, and more importantly, its tenacity over the last two years when we needed them the most. Throughout the pandemic, Queens Theatre showed an enormous commitment to the city of New York and to the communities they serve.”

Queens Theatre
Queens Theatre Executive Director Taryn Sacramone announces honoree Melva Miller, CEO of the Association For a Better New York. (Photo by Dominick Totino)

Prior to serving as CEO at ABNY, Miller led the organization’s Census initiative for an accurate count of New York. A resident of southeast Queens, Miller has dedicated her life to community development through equitable economic growth, creative organizing, and inclusive stakeholder participation.

Miller 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, Miller joined the Office of the Queens Borough President as a key advisor on small businesses throughout Queens, and was later promoted to director of economic development, and then in 2015, to deputy Queens borough president. 

Zausner thanked Queens Theatre for the tremendous honor and praised its leadership and staff for their work to connect with audiences during the pandemic, and their support of other cultural organizations across the city. 

“It’s a thrill for me to be able to participate in this event,” Zausner said. 

Queens Theatre
Queens Theatre Executive Director Taryn Sacramone and honoree Daniel Zausner, COO of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center

 Zausner first joined the USTA in August of 2001 after accumulating 17 years of experience in the sports and entertainment industry. He 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, Zausner 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 by 40 percent, 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, 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/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.

Queens Theatre
(From l. to r.) Bonetta Lynch, Evan Cummings, Queens Theatre Executive Director Taryn Sacramone, Melissa Gonzalez and Megan Simcox. (Photo by Dominick Totino)

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