Theater is alive.
The city’s new Open Culture program allows artists, cultural institutions, venues and groups to stage ticketed outdoor events.
“It’s great,” said Jeff Griffin, executive director of the Astoria Performing Arts Center. “Everybody who’s doing something is doing the right thing. It’s just hard to sit here and do nothing. We all have to keep thinking of new ways to do things.”
Applications for single-day performances will open March 1 and the program will run through Oct. 31.
They may be held at over 100 street locations throughout the city, including 28 in Queens, with most in the western part of the borough.
Griffin noted TV shows and movies can take months, or years, to make, a disadvantage compared to the stage. “What’s great about the theater is that you can respond to cultural events and current events really quickly,” he said.
A theater, music hall, comedy club or similar venue that has regular performances qualifies but a site that hosts performances or a production facility used to film shows before a live studio audience does not.
“As a New Yorker and a lover of the arts, it’s exciting,” said Kambri Crews, owner of QED in Astoria.
She added that she does not expect an impact on her bottom line as a business owner because she still won’t be open, citing that rent relief and financial aid would help her more.
But she’s glad — one of the 28 street locations is on QED’s block.
“QED has the luxury of being on a very non-trafficked street,” Crews said laughing. “As a business owner you might think that’s a bad thing but as an art space it doesn’t matter. If people want to see the art, they’ll come to you.”
Crews said she plans to apply for street space but added, “If it’s too overwhelming for me to apply I probably will just skip it.”
A much bigger venue, Flushing Town Hall, is reviewing the city’s program.
“As many institutions remain closed, we are grateful for initiatives that allow us to enjoy arts and cultural programming,” Ellen Kodadek, executive and artistic director of FTH, said in an email, adding, “We look forward to the day when Covid releases its grip on New York City and that we can reopen our doors and welcome audiences back, in-person.”
Courtney Ffrench, the interim artistic director for the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, said the group was “really bummed” that there is no Open Culture street close to them due to congestion. He said JCAL will put up a 20-by-20 stand on its front lawn so performers can entertain those in the area. “It’s our own version of open space,” Ffrench said.
He said he’s glad to have live performances on the horizon.
“It’s been a haunting situation,” Ffrench said. “It feels like the Phantom of the Opera — waiting for someone to say something from the balcony.”
Open Culture is another step toward a return to normalcy.
“Being with people in a space, even if it’s a big concert space where you’re far away from the stage, is completely different than hearing the recording or watching something on a video,” Griffin said.
For more information on the program visit on.nyc.gov/3u7phvE.