Invitation to a Mastectomy Wins Astoria Troupe's Playwriting Award

News   Invitation to a Mastectomy Wins Astoria Troupe's Playwriting Award Playwright Esta Fischer, of Jamaica, Queens, is the winner of The Astoria Performing Arts Center's Second Annual Playwright Contest.

Over 80 scripts were submitted from across the country, according to APAC's executive producer Susan Scannell. Fischer's one-act Invitation to a Mastectomy won over the judges. The seriocomic piece concerns family relationships "as we watch a husband,brother-in-law and mother-in-law in a hospital waiting room as a woman is undergoing surgery for a mastectomy," Scannell said.

The play's debut will be presented by APAC May 16-25 under the direction of Astoria resident David Renwanz. Fischer's winning work will be presented along with several original monologues performed by a variety of actors and actresses.

APAC is an Equity-affiliated troupe that presents at the Presbyterian Church of Astoria, 31-30 33rd Street in Long Island City, across the East River from Manhattan. Tickets are $15. For information, call (718) 278-5925.

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The new professional Equity theatre company made its debut Sept. 27-29, 2001, in Astoria, Queens, across the East River from Manhattan's theatrical heart. Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) was organized over the summer in a converted gymnasium provided by The Presbyterian Church of Astoria. The nonprofit troupe has 40 artists, many of them in Actors' Equity, who were chosen in summer auditions that lured more than 300 actors, directors, singers and others. Executive producer Sue Scannell developed the company with the cooperation of the church's pastor, Rev. Donald Olinger, who wanted his underutilized gymnasium to be filled with more artistic programs, in addition to the usual recreation. The first year plan was to produce and develop plays and musicals, cabaret evenings, new works and readings, playwriting contests and youth and senior outreach, Scannell said.

The company has a showcase arrangement with Actors' Equity Association.

The new Astoria company is special because it has its own regular and exclusive venue, which is rare in New York City, where space is so precious.

Scannell is a Lexington, MA, native who came to New York and found work in modeling and soaps. She moved to Los Angeles and did more TV (including six months on "Dynasty") and then joined the corporate world. Her passion for theatre endured, and her sales and business background are now helping her form the new company, she said. She is an Astoria resident.

"We want to create quality theatre in Astoria, we want to do musicals, straight plays, new works and more," Scannell said, adding that about two-thirds of the company members are from Astoria, and most belong the major performance unions, AEA, SAG or AFTRA.

In a real let's-put-on-a-show spirit, residents, businesses and groups (including Materials for the Arts) have donated supplies, paint and lumber toward converting the gym space (which has the classic raised stage of many gym theatres in the country). Members of the troupe rolled up their sleeves and painted the space to create a diamond in the rough, Scannell said.

"Trinity Players had been here and they stopped performing, and we were aware of the loss to the community," Rev. Olinger told Playbill On-Line. "We wanted to do this. With the demographic changes, with more young professionals and more people in the performing arts moving here, we felt like this was something we could offer to the community."

Although the theatre is currently under the nonprofit umbrella of the church, the church does not dictate programming, Rev. Olinger said.

Astoria was named for the Astor family by residents who hoped the rich brood would invest in the neighborhood. It has a diverse population, reasonable rents (for New York City) and is known for its large Greek population.

The debut show in 2001 was a collection of songs and scenes under the title Opening Doors.