A new professional theatre company is forming in Astoria, Queens — across the East River from Manhattan — with plans to present eclectic Equity showcase programming and works serving the community beginning in fall 2001.
The Astoria Repertory Company, a collective of 40 theatre artists led by executive producer Sue Scannell and artistic director Norm Golden, will present shows — full productions, cabaret evenings, new-play readings and more — in a gymnasium space the troupers are converting. The venue is adjacent to The Presbyterian Church of Astoria. Pastor Don Olinger gave Scannell the OK for the project, with the wish that the community be served by theatre arts. Scannell said a teen theatre program and other community involvement will be part of the initiative. The flexible space is being dubbed The Astoria Performing Arts Center.
"We're still defining ourselves," Scannell told Playbill On-Line. The company will introduce itself to the community with gala "smorgasbord" performances Sept. 13-15. "It'll be a taste of everything," Scannell said.
About 400 theatre artists auditioned for the company, and the 40 chosen cover a variety of disciplines, from stage combat to choreography to playwriting to acting and directing. The new Astoria company is special because it has its own regular and exclusive space, 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 helping her form the new company, she said. "We want to create quality theatre in Astoria, we want to do musicals, straight plays, new works and more," Astoria resident Scannell said, adding that about two-thirds of the company members happen to be from Astoria, the diverse community where rents are not sky-high and Greek restaurants abound.
Professional theatre companies are certainly not new to Queens, said Mark Rossier, spokesman for Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York (A.R.T./NY), a service organization of nonprofit theatre companies in New York City. Some troupes have offices based there and present in rented spaces in Queens or Manhattan, while others, like Thalia Spanish Theatre in Sunnyside or Queens Theatre in the Park in Flushing and LaGuardia Performing Arts Center in Long Island City plan and present their seasons in their own Queens venues. The borough also has its share of amateur and professional troupes not in the A.R.T./NY membership.
Other Queens troupes in A.R.T./NY include Teatro Circulo, which tours, but frequently performs in Queens, Caribbean American Rep and Chinese Theatre Workshop. For a look at nonprofit companies in the A.R.T./NY membership, visit www.offbroadwayonline.com.
Astoria Rep's theatre space is located at 31-30 33rd Street, in Astoria, near the Broadway N subway train stop, or the Steinway R train stop. For information about the still-forming Astoria Repertory Company, call (718) 278-5925.
— By Kenneth Jones