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APAC opens 10th season with acclaimed ‘MilkMilk’

The Astoria Performing Arts Center will celebrate its 10th season with two main stage plays, Joshua Conkel’s “MilkMilkLemonade” Oct. 28, and “The Human Comedy,” the musical based on William Saroyan’s story, in May.

The first was chosen, said Artistic Director Tom Wojtunik, because it had too short a run Off Off Broadway at UNDER St. Mark’s Theater in 2009 and he wanted more people to see it.

“When the run was over we were all incredibly sad,” Conkel explained via e-mail. “Producing the original production was like summer camp and we all became really close friends. We tried and tried to find another home for it and eventually we did, thanks to Tom and APAC. We’ve reunited the entire original cast for this production and we couldn’t be more excited.”

The play, said Conkel, is a collage of images and memories from his childhood that “I twisted up so much they were no longer autobiographical, and then formed a narrative out of them.”

As for “The Human Comedy,” Wojtunik said, “I’ve loved it for a long time. It has a beautiful score, by the guy who composed “Hair” [Galt MacDermot]. But it hasn’t had as much of a life as I think it should have. I’m excited to be directing it!”

The season will also have readings of four plays for “The 15/20s: Staged Readings of New Works” series, including Wendy Macleod’s “The Groaning Board.” Macleod is the playwright in residence at Kenyon College, which happens to be APAC Executive Director Taryn Drongowski’s alma mater.

“Taryn ... approached me this summer. Aha, I thought, my master plan is working: to foster the next generation of theater artists so that they might eventually produce my plays!” Macleod said via e-mail. “Taryn did a brilliant performance as the lead in my play ‘The Water Children,’ which I directed at Kenyon in ... 2000.”

Other plays scheduled for the “15/20’s,” which begins Sept. 16, are “Doctoring” by Nastaran Ahmadi, “Afterglow (A Comedie of Bad Manners)” by Sarah Overman and “It is Done” by Alex Goldberg. The “15/20s,” by the way, gets its name from the Actors Equity Association Staged Reading Guidelines, which permits 15 hours of combined rehearsal and performance time for AEA actors and 20 hours for musicals. There will also be programs for children and senior citizens. They also plan to throw a 10th anniversary gala in March.

“Ten years is a big deal!” said Drongowski. “These are tough times and I feel very grateful.” Speaking of tough times, one of her tasks is to raise money, which is hard with public funds being cut. “But we’ve benefitted from support from Peter Vallone Jr. , our Council member.”

She and Wojtunik hope the shows will be as successful as “Ragtime,” the only show Drongowski made sure she saw at least a part of every night of its run. Like “Ragtime,” all the other events will be staged at the The Good Shepherd United Methodist Church.

“It felt really, really good,” Taryn recalled. “We have a great relationship with the church.”

APAC also has a great relationship with the Astoria community.

“Local businesses donated supplies, the Astoria Studios gave seed money,” Drongowski recalled. “Peter Vallone’s office called and asked, ‘Do you need help?’ He reached out to us, we didn’t reach out to him. So many friends — I consider them friends — ask what’s going on with APAC. There’s a certain amount of pride that shows with the quality of ‘Ragtime’ are happening in Astoria, and that we have programs for children and senior citizens.”

“I’m humbled and grateful by what Astoria gives to us,” she said.

APAC’s “Children of Eden” has been nominated for three New York Innovative Theatre Awards, while “MilkMilkLemonade” has been nominated for four. Drongowski will be at the ceremony Sept. 20.

“I’m going! I have a new dress!” she laughed.

She loves the energy people from Off Off Broadway bring to their work.

“There’s a lot of creativity and innovative work,” she said. “People at this level do it for the love of theater. It’s about wanting to tell a great story. They’re just passionate about it.”

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