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Theatre in the Park director bids adieu

After switching on the house lights at Queens Theatre in the Park in 1989, Executive Director Jeffrey Rosenstock is planning to take his curtain call next June. The founder and longstanding head of the two-stage performing arts center at Flushing Meadows Corona Park announced his retirement Sept. 29.

“I’ve been here 21 years and I think the theater can go on without me,” Rosenstock said.

Rosenstock, 56, who has three daughters and lives in College Point with his wife, said he made the decision to leave while on a two-week trip to Spain with his 20-year-old daughter. During the vacation, which he said was the first in a long while, he got to reflecting on the current state of the theater and its future, comparing it with the future of his child.

“When’s that time when you let go and let your kid make her own decisions?” Rosenstock asked. “They’re both my babies, the theater and my daughter.”

Rosenstock said he will be staying throughout the theater’s season, which ends in June 2011. He said he decided this was the right time to make his move since the theater has just cut the ribbon on a $27 million expansion and raised most of the money for its $2 million capital campaign to start an endowment, a working cash reserve and an artistic growth fund for the theater.

“I just thought that the theater was in a very healthy state right now,” Rosenstock said.

Rosenstock was born in Israel but grew up in Brooklyn. After graduating from SUNY Binghamton upstate with a major in English and minor in theater, Rosenstock moved to Manhattan. He became founder of the revived theater when he responded to the city’s request for proposals in 1989 for what to do with the abandoned space in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and moved to Queens.

The former incarnation of Queens Theatre in the Park opened in 1972 but closed in 1985. Since then the center has grown from a venture with an $80,000 operating budget to a $3.7 million operating budget.

During his tenure as executive director, Rosenstock said it was his artistic mission for the theater to represent the demographics of the community and to appeal to theater buffs as well as the general population. He said he was the most proud of the Chase Latino Cultural Festival, which has been held at the theater since 1997.

He said to make it happen, he hired a bilingual staff and curators who had expertise in South and Central American culture and he had them bring in artists the local community would know and revere.

“That invisible wall broke,” Rosenstock said.

The theater now holds multiple cultural festivals for Asians, blacks, Greek Americans and other populations.

Rosenstock said he hopes the next director will continue to represent underserved communities as well as expand the theater workshops and educate local children in theater. He hopes the theater will continue to represent the people who go to it.

“There’s a very loyal audience,” Rosenstock said. “There’s a strong staff, a dedicated board and ... we should continue to be as accessible and affordable and to ensure that Queens gets the quality they deserve.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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