March 30, 2021 By Christina Santucci
A Queens-based theater company that closed its performance space in Long Island City last year is opening a location in Sunnyside to offer performing arts classes.
Richard Mazda, the owner and founder of the Secret Theater, said he has found a venue in Sunnyside for his company’s educational programming and rehearsals – nearly 11 months after the organization shuttered its Long Island City performance space.
Mazda, a Sunnyside resident, has signed leases on two locations – at 50-12 and 50-14 Skillman Avenue, which are next door to one another – and expects to be holding in-person classes before the end of April.
The properties were previously occupied by a Tae Kwon Do studio and the French restaurant, Côté Soleil.
The Secret Theatre’s Long Island City space, at 44-02 23rd St., shut down in May due economic hardship from the pandemic. The 23rd Street space was mainly used for Off-Off-Broadway theater.
“Honestly, it was really heart wrenching to close the theater,” Mazda said.
At that time, the organization started holding classes virtually.
The Secret Theatre currently has classes for youngsters aged six to 17, who learn drama, musical theater, tap dancing and acting for film and TV performances. New offerings – like pop and hip-hop dance – may also be added to the lineup.
“We may have the ability to have two classes simultaneously and there is also a third room that would be an ideal room for self-taping, small photography projects including headshots, or even vocal and speech recording,” he wrote in an email announcing the new space.
Mazda said he intends to institute a slew of precautionary health measures – such as procedures for face masks, reduced capacity and temperature checks. He also plans to invest in air purifiers for the space.
“We will do everything in our power to make it a very safe environment,” Mazda said.
In addition to classes, Mazda plans to use the Sunnyside space to hold rehearsals for possible future performances as well as for artist studios and galleries, through a new venture called Vital Arts. “I’m creating my own little art hub,” he said.
Prior to the pandemic, classes were held only when the theater was not in use for rehearsals or a performance.
“In a sense we have expanded. When we did classes before we had to work around the theater schedule,” he said. “Now we can do classes all week, rehearsals all week.”
Mazda said that down the line he hopes to figure out a location to hold performances – possibly by partnering with another theater.
The origins of Secret Theatre date back to 2004, when Mazda first sought to start a theater group.
“There was no real business plan to begin with. It was like, ‘Hey kids, let’s make a show,’” he said.
He first held productions at the now-stuttered The Creek & The Cave in Long Island City, then another location, before he took over space on 23rd Street.
Over the years, the Secret Theatre has presented and produced plays, musicals, dance shows, opera, films and avant-garde performances.
“There was a special sauce about it,” Mazda said. “I’m hoping to recreate that.”