The Usher, The Victorian Window and The Universe
"Adventurous theater in Astoria"

-- The New York Times

The Usher, The Victorian Window and The Universe

It is often said the final piece of the puzzle in any live performance is the audience. Each new audience brings its own personality, it’s own energy. Before the last bows on The Cottage we wanted to give a voice to our audiences. We asked Grace Pettijohn, a long time supporter of APAC who volunteered to usher this past Saturday, to tell us about her experience this past Saturday. 

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Ok so I put my name on the list to usher on a Saturday night.  Heesuk, box office manager, was quick to respond and I plastered the date into all my newly acquired technology – iPhone, iPad and iDon’t remember what else.  The date got crammed into every calendar iOwn.  It’s a system, a habit, a rhythm and in this unrelenting city of New York.

After 35 years in New York City and in the fastest gentrifying neighborhood in the city, I have held out for some of the very best theatre in New York.  I put my time into showcases, tours, National Tours, European tours and Law and Order, like every actor.  But that was back in the day when theatre was a Manhattan venture and Astoria was over the bridge where the high altitude will make you Greek and you might just fall in love with that and assimilate.

I started this particular teaching Saturday wearing layers of colors and then peeled down in the back of a Taxi Central cab to basic black and got out just two blocks away where I live before I sprinted to the theatre (no, that’s a lie, I don’t sprint).  The theatre?  Well, it’s a Church — Good Shepherd United Methodist Church on Crescent Street in Astoria.  You see, it’s a Church, but it has this gymnasium, no, no, sorry… meeting room, no it’s not just a room – uh, stage – no… over the years of patronizing APAC I really don’t know if it’s a stage. 

It’s a … UNIVERSE!  That’s it!  A “Universe”!

I’m on time at 7:00 pm.  I just love to push open those big red doors on time and greet Heesuk, box office manager.  “Wow, nice to see you, thank you so much” and she escorts me into the lobby where co-volunteer Emily has already laid out the concession table with the usual fare but at the end of the table are these amazing looking cupcakes.  They are not just any cupcakes, they are castles of butter and red velvet and they are calling me, I am hungry, I need sugar, I fixate…. Then…

Phyllis, who I recognize from former usher ventures and events grabs me and greets me with a big hug and shows me to my usher duties and pages the big blacks hung to protect the “Universe”.  She reveals Stephen Dobay’s set!  The set, this parlor or salon, you see, this world of the play, this lived-in, lived-on, somehow spiritually moulded creation of a “Universe”. 

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Photo by Stephen K. Dobay

The rhythm picks up and the magic moment arrives when offstage I hear Assistant Stage Manager Jenny Herdman-Lando on her walkie-talkie “10 Minutes The House Is Open” and people move as in a parade of seekers of life and truth, with a momentary afterthought of  “do I have time to go to the bathroom?”  They enter the “Universe”.  We scramble to find a lone seat for a lone late patron.  I surrender my cozy backseat for an even better seat, pull off my hat and let the lights to go to black and thank God I am sitting down at last. 

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Photo by Michael Dekker

 

photo by Michael Dekker

photo by Michael Dekker

There is a rise that happens right before an intermission.  A “lift” as they say in sailor language.  I poise myself on the bow of this ship to assist those up and down the stairs that they refresh themselves.  I am brought out of my reverie just long enough to hope there is at least one of those butterball cupcakes left.  Ah… there is and I obsequiously pay for it, cram it into my mouth and hope I don’t have to talk for one minute. Leave me to my sugar, the ivy and all the beautiful people in that Universe.

And then Phyllis with the bell sounds and we all file into the “Universe” again to complete the story, take a bow – draw the curtain.  And for the volunteer that means to strike the blacks and the very seats that our distinguished patrons have shared with us. 

And each chair replaced on the rack is a part of all that we revere in the theatre. 

I catch one final glimpse of the Victorian Ivy Window and lived-in cushioned set.  And I breathe, taking in the dust, the expired cupcake tins and the “Universe” and out the Big Red Door I go. Easing myself back into the very world from which Theatre was born.

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