The Secret Theatre’s loss strikes home for this devotee of the stage 1

Theater has been dying, so it has often been said, for more than two thousand years ... and it's still here, proving the critics wrong and gladdening the hearts of those who make it happen as well as those who enjoy it as spectators.

Theater has been a major part of my life since I saw my first live performance, a production of the classic musical, "The King and I." I was 9 years old.

My love of theater has only grown over the years. Of course, I enjoy going to see plays, and I have also had the privilege of being involved in the theater in multiple capacities — as actor, director, playwright, and, thanks to the Queens Chronicle, as local theater critic, a pleasure I have had for going on 25 years.

In the latter capacity, I have seen countless productions, some wonderful, some less than stellar, but each a part of our cultural past.

So, it came as rather devastating news to me this past week that one of my favorite theaters — after more than a decade of struggling to keep its doors open against all financial odds — brought its curtain down for the last time, the victim, ultimately, of an insidious disease.

I'm talking about The Secret Theatre, a tiny, 50-plus-seat black box hidden quite unobtrusively behind a loading dock in Long Island City. As I sat in one of the three rows of raked seats that surround the playing area, I often found myself transported to another time and another place.

But the theater was to take on an even more special meaning for me.

I had always fantasized that one day I would be involved in a production at the theater. That dream came true early in 2018, when a musical I wrote in tribute to the borough, "Let's Hear It For Queens," was accepted into the theater's one-act play festival.

Then, this past November, my personal ties to the theater became even stronger.

I wrote a book called "The Theater and I," named in tribute to my favorite show, which had been published the month before. When my publisher and I were deciding on a venue for the launch, a book-signing event, I was delighted when Richard Mazda, the founder and artistic director of The Secret Theatre, opened his doors to us.

I took center stage, surrounded by a house packed with friends, all of whom had come to celebrate my book and me. I felt like a real someone!

It was actually the second occasion on which I had found myself in that spot. The first time was in the summer of 2018, when the paths of The Secret Theatre and another popular local theater company intertwined.

Johnny Culver, founder and managing director of the Woodside Players, a troupe that performs primarily in libraries around the borough, invited me to play a role in a short piece he had written. It was to be performed as part of another one-act play festival, at — you guessed it — The Secret Theatre.

It marked my debut as an actor on that stage, and having the opportunity to explore the backstage area and to use the same dressing room where so many others had preceded me was a thrill.

Sadly, at almost the exact same time I heard about the demise of The Secret Theatre, I learned that Johnny had decided to, at least temporarily, suspend operations on the Woodside Players. With most venues closed because of the pandemic, where would the group perform?

Will the ancient prognosticators and those who followed their leads in suggesting that theater is a dying form ultimately be proven correct?

At least for now, the prospects for the reopening of theaters (including all of Broadway, which has been shuttered for weeks) seem mighty bleak. I, for one, would think twice — no, that would have to be many more times — about setting foot in any crowded venue, including a theater, until a cure or vaccine for the virus is available.

But hope springs eternal. And with people like Richard Mazda and Johnny Culver around, not to mention the millions of people worldwide who appreciate this art form, I'm willing to bet the theater will still be around in another couple thousand years.

Mark Lord is a Queens Chronicle contributing writer, retired teacher, lifelong lover of Broadway, playwright, community theater actor and author of “The Theater and I,” who lives in Forest Hills.

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