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APAC looks to top itself in ’09-’10 theater season

“It was the music of something beginning...”

The hint of excitement in these lyrics from the prologue of “Ragtime” seems the perfect way to describe the first year of Tom Wojtunik’s tenure as Astoria Performing Arts Center’s artistic director, Tom Wojtunik.

Wojtunik’s first collaboration with APAC was as a freelance director two years ago with the play “Proof.” Taryn Drongowski, the executive director of APAC, courted him for the position of artistic director shortly thereafter. He came on board in September 2008.

APAC was founded in 2001 by actress Susan Scannell as an Off Off Broadway theater company. It has grown in recent years to become a local hub for traditional plays and musicals, as well as community theatrical projects, staged readings and children’s productions.

But the theater company embarked on a new era when Wojtunik decided to stage and direct the large-scale musical “Ragtime” last season.

“Everyone thought it was a crazy choice, but it was the right time for the musical, especially with the election going on,” said Wojtunik. He had a unique vision for this production and decided to stage it non-traditionally. “We did it three-quarters in the round, so the action took place everywhere,” he said. “It was a much more intimate production.”

The acclaimed show opened to stellar reviews, and even caught the attention of “Ragtime” lyricist Lynn Ahrens, who attended one of the performances. APAC’s production of “Ragtime” has been nominated for two New York Innovative Theatre Awards, for outstanding scenic design by Michael P. Kramer and outstanding production of a musical. The awards ceremony will take place Sept. 21.

“This show has been more successful than I ever could have imagined,” said Wojtunik.

APAC continues to thrive as many cultural groups are feeling the pinch, thanks to grants and other public funding, and because of the generous support of local Astorians such as Councilman Peter Vallone Jr.

“One of the next steps is to secure a permanent home for the company,” Wojtunik said of his major goals. For now, APAC relies on the hospitality of the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church on Crescent Street in Astoria for the use of their space for auditions, rehearsals and performances.

The season kicks off in November with “The Pillowman” by the British playwright Martin McDonagh, a black comedy about the interrogation of a short story novelist whose tales are eerily similar to the murders of children in the area. Wojtunik hopes that this dark departure will help to get new audiences in the door. “In the past, APAC has stuck to producing conservative, family friendly works,” said Wojtunik. “This play will take the company in a new direction that I think we are ready for, and hopefully the audience will be ready for it too.”

The season continues in May with the musical “Children of Eden” by John Caird, with music by Stephen Schwartz. The show is derived from old biblical stories.

“This musical is based on some of the greatest stories of all time, and it will be a fun challenge. A full production of this show has never really been done before,” said Wojtunik.

Traditional highlights of the season will include the company’s “15/20” staged readings. The festival allows actors to gain 15 hours of rehearsal time combined with 20 hours of musical time. The goal of the series is to develop new theatrical works, and Wojtunik hopes that there will be even more exposure to new material in the near future at APAC.

“We will also do a children’s musical in the spring,” Wojtunik noted. “There is truly something here for everyone to enjoy”.

For schedule and ticket information visit www.apacny.org.

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