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Troupe actively seeks help

Theater members work to clean the stage of debris following Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy Rockaway Theatre Group
TimesLedger Newspapers

It was curtains for a Rockaway theater after Hurricane Sandy struck in October and caused thousands of dollars in damage, forcing the cancelation of the season’s final performance.

Now with recovery hardships slowing repairs and delaying the reopening, the Rockaway Theatre Co. is taking the stage in a temporary location with all proceeds going toward the superstorm relief effort.

The group presents its take on “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the Ave Maria Catholic Academy Auditorium, at 158-20 101st St., in Howard Beach this weekend after returning to the stage last week for the first time since Sandy surged.

“It felt great to finally put on the show and see all the support,” said Susan Jasper, a producer at the Rockaway Theatre Co., which had been staging performances on the peninsula for 15 years prior to the storm. “We had a much smaller stage to work with and had to simplify the show, but the audiences had a great time.”

Jasper said the Rockaway Theatre Co. sustained close to $90,000 in damages during the hurricane, with damage to the stage, seating, lighting, sound equipment, dressing rooms and just about everything else in the theater.

A large chunk of that recovery price tag is in mold remediation, as managers had to bring in a specialist to deal with water-born debris.

Sets and costumes were also destroyed as the theater group had already begun to build “Dreamcoat’s” backdrop and design its outfits. Jasper said every piece of fabric and every slab of drywall had to be trashed — stacked on the sidewalk in a heap instead of setting the scenery for the play.

But help and performance space would come in the form of Our Lady of Grace in Howard Beach. The church wanted to reignite its acting group with its first show being “Dreamcoat” at Ave Maria

The stars had aligned.

Our Lady of Grace agreed to allow the theater group to use its space for the play. Unfortunately, the church was badly damaged by Sandy and since the storm has been holding mass in the Ave Maria school gym.

In order for the theater and the church to co-exist, actors and crew members have to work extra hours breaking down the stage and reinstalling the church setup.

“It’s a very quick turnover and it’s a challenge,” said Jasper. “We don’t have the usual crew, because many had to leave Rockaway when their homes were damaged.”

Jasper said she and many members of the theater group sustained massive amounts of destruction in their homes and are still wondering when they will see any financial help.

“It’s very disheartening because when the storm happened, the governor and local lawmakers were constantly on television saying we had their support and they were going to work to make things right,” she said. “But we have seen nothing on a personal level in our homes and nothing on a business level in our theater.”

Having already applied for aid from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration, Jasper said that after “Dreamcoat” closes, she will get back to work applying for grants to help fund the reconstruction and reopening of the theater.

“The hurricane was so decimating to people’s psyches and the feeling here in the Rockaways has been horrendous,” said Jasper, who hopes the theater will reopen in July with a major Broadway musical. “People could really use the theater to escape for a while. There isn’t much else to do in Rockaway.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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