A shabbily-clad waif of a woman moves defiantly for several paces – each step surging with determination. The tail of her outdated, though strangely elegant dress trails behind her as though a silent and decidedly unrefined handmaiden. She cunningly approaches, as the object of her ire ascends the makeshift stairs, before releasing the typhoon of emotions within: “Just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins! Just you wait!”
Wait – is that sensational siren your next-door neighbor? Who would have thought?
Ah, Community Theater. The inimitable inflection of spoken performance by a vessel atop a rickety stage, laughing and cajoling an unwary interlocutor for a decidedly dastardly act – only rivaled by the song and dance concoction the season following, embracing sights and sounds generally foreign to the neighborhood at large.
The best part? Who knew that Bob the baker from Sheepshead Bay had been such a tremendous tenor or that Sally from the local salon had all the artistic makings of a master thespian?
Yes, the best part of Community Theater is certainly its location – where Shakespeare’s referenced stage is just around the corner and the neighbors are its players.
Bardic references aside, the need for that level of theatrical entertainment in southern, oceanfront Brooklyn is larger than that oft-referenced, show-terminating lady.
“If there were theaters available in Marine Park, I would not hesitate in going,” said Marine Park resident and theater fan Marianna Khanis. “Nothing can beat a great, live performance and having a theater nearby would make me want to stay in the area more.”
But Marine Park is not the only neighborhood potentially in need of live, theatrical entertainment. The commercial hubs of Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach and Coney Island may greatly benefit from the addition. Though the summer concert series at Seaside Park has visibly garnered vivid responses – ranging from euphoric excitement to staunch disapproval – music, while brilliant in its own right, is vastly different from theater.
Thankfully, several fledgling groups seem to be in the process of altering this dilemma, but the ultimate results have yet to be seen.
Starting a community theater is hard work, according to the Ann C. Gubiotti, the director of Narrows Community Theater, Inc. in Bay Ridge.
As part of its mission statement, Narrows holds auditions open to the public and advertises though many venues, such as “Backstage,” “Playbill,” local newspapers and their website (www.nctheaterny.com). Open for nearly 38 years, Narrows has largely been without a permanent home, though currently uses St. Patrick’s auditorium and rents space from the Salem Lutheran Church.
Community Theatre, by nature, is volunteer-based, according to Gubiotti, who does not receive a fee for her services at Narrows. This requires actors, costume and set designers, ticket sellers, advertisers and a plethora of other cooperative cogs.
“One of the things we’ve always done is hire professional directors and music directors,” said Gubiotti.
Musicians are paid as well, though their budget is limited.
Securing a location is the first step, though the ones that follow are many. Ultimately, Gubiotti insists the responsible party must be those that “love it and are willing to work very hard since it is a lot of work to put on a production.”
Undeterred, however, are the highly adaptable and eager performers. Willing to transfer great distances for their profound love of the stage, actors carry their portable passion on their vessel at all times.
“Convenience and theater do not go hand in hand,” said aspiring actress Nadia Lyakhnovich. “There is no such thing – at least from my experience. Working on a play requires strong dedication and commitment and even if you eliminate long traveling time that it’ll take you to get to your rehearsal, you still have to accommodate other aspects of your life and sacrifice your daily activities for your love of performing.”
A former student at Kingsborough Community College, Lyakhnovich played the Female Greek Chorus for the college’s winter production of “How I Learned to Drive” and had the starring role of Sister Mary Ignatius for a scene in “Sister Mary Explains it All” during the college’s annual 10-minute play festival. While not a true community theatre, KCC allows half of its cast to be composed of non-student body and continues to hold open auditions.
Though enveloped by the boisterous beats of song and dance as joyous faces, alight with enthusiasm observe summer’s splendor, an ache rests at the center of the fray. With the exception of Kingsborough and a meager handful of institutions, the coveted masks of Comedy and Tragedy are seldom found among its masses.
Absent is the humbling, sobering influence of “Hamlet.” Missing is the darkly tongue-in-cheek appeal of “The Misanthrope.”
Like many trends in the entertainment industry, however, performance drama is like a lake of potent – though pleasant – ethanol. All it may need is a spark.
“As much as I love Marine Park, it needs a jolt of excitement in the air,” said Khanis. “And who knows? A community theater might lead to an expansion of other community theaters.”