Queens Theatre launches campaign to support disabled actors

By Stephanie Meditz


Vincent D’Onofrio teaching (Photo: Ari Mintz)

Queens Theatre dedicated this Disability Pride Month to raising funds to advance inclusion in the performing arts.

Its annual Theatre for All Actor Training program allows Deaf and disabled actors to take classes and work with other professionals in the industry, giving them the opportunity and tools for success completely free of charge. 

Some of the many classes offered to students in the program are Acting for the Camera, Acting for the Stage, Improv, and Movement. 

The program also encourages growth with two separate tracks for beginners and working actors. 

Taryn Sacramone, executive director of Queens Theatre, sees the TFA actor training program as a rewarding experience for everyone involved. 

“Our artistic family expands every year. The students stay in touch with each other,” she said. “And it’s amazing to see them working elsewhere and building their careers or supporting each other. It’s just turned into a great alumni network in addition to the classes themselves.”

When it was launched in 2018, the program was funded by The New York Community Trust and has received funding from various supporters over the years. 

With this funding, Queens Theatre has been able to keep the program running every fall at no cost to the actors. 

“It’s important to us that we continue the program free of cost for the students,” Sacramone said. “We want to eliminate that barrier.”

This year, Emmy-nominated actor and TFA instructor Vincent D’Onofrio pledged to match the first $15,000 donated to the program. 

D’Onofrio has been involved with the program since its inception in 2018 — first as a teacher in the Theatre for All actor training program, and later as a director of the Theatre for All Short Plays. 

Sacramone, knowing that D’Onofrio was a teacher of method acting, asked him to teach a screen acting class in the program’s early days.

“He came out to the theater and was really just extraordinary,” she said. 

Students in the TFA professional training program for Deaf and disabled actors are selected through an application consisting of a resume, cover letter and interview. 

Selection is not based on experience, but applications determine a prospective student’s placement. 

Applications for this year’s program will open in the middle of August, and for the first time since the pandemic began, classes in the fall will be offered both on-site at Queens Theatre and online. 

When she first moved to New York, Sacramone was unsure about her career, but quickly learned that she wanted to run a nonprofit theater in Queens. 

She was the executive director of Astoria Performing Arts Center for eight years before joining Queens Theatre in 2013. 

Her time at APAC allowed her to learn more about people in Queens and develop strong connections with them. 

“We at Queens Theatre have a mission. It’s about serving our uniquely diverse community,” Sacramone said. “We do have a very unique community in Queens. But when people think about its diversity, they usually think of it in terms of ethnic diversity…So we started to really question whether we were being fully proactive and inclusive about reflecting and serving people with disabilities.” 

“I think that it’s important in considering diversity to remember how intersectional disability is,” she continued. “All of the various communities that a person might consider within Queens, Deaf and disabled people are part of those communities.” 

In addition to its professional training program for actors, Theatre for All includes other initiatives to make the theater a more inclusive and equitable place for creatives and audience members alike. 

“If you’re not intentional about being inclusive of Deaf and disabled people, then you’re falling short of serving all,” Sacramone said. “So we named our program ‘Theatre for All’ to make that point.” 

Queens Theatre has taken steps to work with disabled playwrights and give them a platform to tell their stories. 

When the Queens Theatre team recruited short plays by disabled playwrights or featuring disabled characters, it received more than 160 submissions. 

In November 2018, Queens Theatre presented readings of 10 of those short plays. This year, some of them were published by Next Stage Press. 

Queens Theatre also has a Theatre for All Children program in partnership with Queens public schools, including District 75 schools. 

In addition, the theater itself now includes ASL interpretations, audio descriptions and relaxed performances to ensure that it is a sacred space for everyone. 

“We’re looking at it very holistically,” Sacramone said. “We want to know who the performers are, we wanna know what roles there are for them, we also wanna make sure that our theater is fully accessible and inclusive…Everyone starts as an audience member.” 

In the coming year, Queens Theatre looks forward to continuing The Lark’s fellowship program to support disabled playwrights. 

Queens Theatre also hopes to develop international partners when its Director of New Play Development, Rob Urbinati, travels to Japan in the fall to teach a playwriting course and direct short plays for a festival. 

“We want more roles created for actors with disabilities, but we also wanted to really show people that there’s a robust pipeline of talented Deaf and disabled artists out there who just haven’t had opportunities yet,” Sacramone said. 

To donate to Queens Theatre’s campaign for its Theatre for All Actor Training program, visit https://secure.givelively.org/donate/queens-theatre-in-the-park-inc/theatre-for-all-matching-grant-campaign

Town hall informs about COVID vaccines for kids

By Jessica Meditz


As summer begins to fizzle out and school is in sight, many parents are on the fence about how to best protect their child against COVID-19.

The hesitancy is shown in the vaccination rates for Queens.

Although over 2.1 million Queens residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the New York State Department of Health revealed that as of July 25, just 2.5 percent of residents under age five have received at least one vaccine shot.

To inform the community and advocate for them to get their children vaccinated, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards held a virtual informational session, which was co-sponsored by City Council Committee on Health Chair and District 29 Councilwoman Lynn Schulman, and City Council Committee on General Welfare Chair and District 8 Councilwoman Diana Ayala.

The CDC recommended the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines for kids ages six months and older in June, and various agencies continue to emphasize the safe and effective nature of vaccines.

“It is so important to reiterate what the DOH has been saying. The vaccine is safe, effective, and comes at no cost to New Yorkers,” Richards said.

“With new variants emerging, it is important to get our children vaccinated before school begins in September. We have come so far since the pandemic began, but we must continue to be diligent,” he continued. “I realize there may be some hesitancy if the vaccines are safe for our children. We must come together as a community and not be afraid of what we need to do to get our community back to full strength.”

Richards reassured Queens residents that his office has and will continue to be a resource for those who need assistance in finding an appointment, and that pop up events for kids under five will be held in the coming weeks.

Schulman echoed his sentiment, sharing that a friend of hers recently experienced treating their infant for COVID, which was a painful experience.

“Kids under 5 are just developing their immune systems, so it’s so important to get vaccinated,” Schulman said.

“We have the science now to show that vaccination is key to making sure that we don’t get sick, that we don’t go to the hospital and more importantly that people don’t die,” she continued. “Kids seem to get affected more so with COVID than adults do in terms of the symptoms and other factors.”

Mental Hygiene Assistant Commissioner of Health Equity Dr. Olusimbo Ige pointed out that we are 29 months into the pandemic, and that “although things are getting better, weare not out of the woods yet.”

Ige presented data that showed how children are affected by the virus, which demonstrated how little ones under the age of four, despite having a lower case rate, had more hospitalizations.

“Up until now, our littlest ones didn’t have the opportunity to get vaccinated, now they do. This is the reason why we want them to be protected, we don’t want to continue to see high hospitalizations among children under the age of five,” she said.

Ige added how children can experience more persistent symptoms of COVID-19, as well as ongoing health problems following their recovery, and that the known complications of the virus are far more dangerous than any risk of a rare, adverse reaction to the vaccine.

“There is a small risk of inflammation of the heart, myocarditis, and surrounding tissue, pericarditis, but this is mostly among adolescents and young adult males. It’s rare, but most people improve quickly with medicine and rest,” she said.

“The risk of myocarditis is reduced by spacing out the first and second dose for those who may be at risk,” she continued. “Serious side effects are rare, and the risks from COVID-19 are much greater.”

Ige also emphasized that the ingredients found in COVID-19 vaccines do not affect puberty or a person’s fertility, and that the COVID shot will not interfere with other vaccinations they may be due for.

One difference between the administration of the vaccine to children under five and other groups is that young ones who receive the Pfizer vaccine will require three doses.

Dr. Hector Florimon, a pediatrician and associate medical director at National Pediatric Center in Queens, also gave a brief presentation, explaining how booster shots are also recommended for everyone ages five and older.

“It’s a privilege to be a physician in this area and to be able to take care of our families and hear your concerns,” he said.

“We are here to answer your questions…I encourage all of my parents and families as they have questions and concerns to make it a dialogue,” Florimon continued. “No question is too silly for us to talk about it.”

For more information about COVID-19 vaccinations, visit nyc.gov/covidvaccine, and to find a vaccine, visit nyc.gov/vaccinefinder or call 877-VAX4NYC (877) 829-4692.

Shakespeare in the Park — Queens Style!

Shakespeare is coming to Forest Park! The newly formed Richmond Hill Park Players are giving two performances of “Romeo & Juliet” on Saturday and Sunday, August 13th and 14th, at the Forest Park Bandshell. Both performances begin at 8 P.M. and are free to the public.

“The hope in creating this company is to facilitate more opportunities for accessible art, especially theater, in our home community here in Woodhaven and Richmond Hill,” says Laura DePalo, the Artistic Director of Richmond Hill Park Players.

DePalo gained her early theatrical experience at Wayne State University in Michigan where she attained a B.F.A. in Acting Performance but she credits her involvement in local community groups for her growth as an artist.

“It was in community theater that I was able to explore all the various aspects of theater production and be welcomed, mentored, and exposed to the beauty of theater and the community surrounding each group,” she says.

“Now, as a community member living in Richmond Hill, I long to bring that experience here.”

The play stars Maximilian Johnsson and Jessica Lausell in the title roles. Johnsson (Romeo) came to the United States two years ago from Stockholm, Sweden and is a graduate of the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. He has studied Shakespeare with distinguished mentors Elizabeth Sheperd and Jack Wetherall.

Jessica Lausell (Juliet) graduated BMCC with her A.S. in Theater and says that she is “honored to be in this production with this company in this gorgeous space!”

They will be joined on the nearly 100-year old stage by Jonas Barranca, Zach Bravo, Nicholas Costello, Ruben Dario Cruz, Mike Georg, Leah Hawthorne, Katelynn Kennedy Staggs, Meghan Lane, Sebastian LaPointe, JK Larkin, Sarah Manas, Coleen O’Driscoll, Morgan Ruis and Zen Tunsaringkran.

Behind the scenes, DePalo (who will also be taking the stage in the role of Friar Lawrence) is joined by Theresa McLoughlin (Production Manager), Kaitlyn Day (Costume Consultant), Nicole Bilbao (Movement & Intimacy Coordinator) and David Thomas Cronin (Creative Director). Actors Jonas Barranca and Zach Bravo also double as the Fight Choreographer and Fight Captain, respectively.

“Unanimously, our cast is excited to perform at the bandshell,” says DePalo.”Some members of our cast are not from the neighborhood, so they were astounded to learn of such a beautiful space to perform in, right here in Queens.”

“Others of our cast are from the neighborhood and are incredibly excited because they know there hasn’t been anything like this done before in this space, at least in their lifetime! The Parks Department has been so incredibly accommodating and it is going to be such a gorgeous experience to bring Shakespeare to life in the park, Queens Style!”

While the Forest Park Trust has brought several plays to this stage in recent years, I can’t remember the last time I saw live theater performed by a local troupe. It’s a great opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds.

DePalo says that this accessibility is what makes local community theater so special and important. “We know Broadway is a train ride and mucho bucks away, but theater is a vital and unique art. We can have heightened theatrical art right here in our backyard, with our very own community taking part in creating it. What’s better than that?”

As noted earlier, both performances of this show are free but if you would like to support this effort so that we can see more local productions in our area, they have started a Go Fund Me (https://gofund.me/e8f8505b) where they are asking for small donations from those who are inclined to support it.

You can learn more about the Richmond Hill Park Players and read bios of all involved at their website http://www.richmondhillparkplayers.com.

If you’ve never seen Romeo & Juliet live you are in for a treat. “We have a minimalist set concept,” explains DePalo. “This play has lots of fun moments. I believe this is the funniest play Shakespeare wrote, until it wasn’t and turned to tragedy! It has brilliant fight choreography, the works!”

We hope you’ll come out on Saturday and Sunday, August 13th and 14th, at the Forest Park Bandshell to support local theater and support all the people bringing this entertainment to our beautiful park.

Kweller Prep: An educational center with a unique mission

By Michael Perlman


Kweller Prep at the Midway.

Kweller Prep has not only been a major draw for tutoring and educational services, but a beacon in the name of the humanitarian spirit.

With a local center situated above the Midway Theatre at 108-22 Queens Boulevard on the second floor, owner and founder Frances Kweller of Forest Hills and general manager Ben Z. Davidov of Kew Gardens have tirelessly been making a difference for younger generations.

Remarkably, Kweller Prep teaches and mentors an average of over 1,500 students per year, which adds up to over 10,000 students in the past 15 years.

Kweller explained, “Kweller Prep has a very intentional, dedicated mission to help immigrant and minority children advance to higher education, including placement in highly competitive environments that build their careers. We are a targeted program that hires tutors who reflect the students we serve, placing them on track for success.”

As of July 2022, Kweller Prep was recognized by New York Family as among “The 7 best kids afterschool programs in Queens.”

Kweller is an attorney who came from an immigrant family, and graduated from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education and Hofstra University School of Law.

She is regarded as an education news expert, and is a regular when it comes to interviews on national TV.

Davidov, a native of Israel, achieved a BBA in entrepreneurial management from Baruch College in 2019. Backtracking, at Forest Hills High School, he pursued advanced courses, enabling him to complete the high school curriculum at the end of the 11th grade, and take AP and college classes as a 12th grader.

Among his leadership roles, he was president of Hillel at Baruch and also achieved the Henry Wollman Prizes award for outstanding contributions to student life.

Kweller originated a very successful organization as a result of her frustration with the school system.

Throughout high school and college, she felt that the system did not offer her enough beneficial information or guidance.

Davidov said, “Frances launched Kweller Prep to be a community resource and provide insight into the application and testing process, along with teaching students test-taking skills that they would need for their academic careers.”

He proudly joined the Kweller Prep team in 2014 after experiencing the same frustrations.

Part of Kweller Prep team with Frances Kweller, third from left & Ben Davidov, fifth from left.

“Being an immigrant, I had a hard time navigating the NYC Department of Education system, and I learned as much as possible from my mentor, Frances Kweller, so I could also serve as a resource to our community,” he said.

Today, they are both members of the National Association for College Counseling.

In 2015, Kweller Prep was government certified as a 100 percent Women-owned Business Enterprise in NYC and NYS.

Throughout many years, Kweller Prep established community partnerships with Place NYC and the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, in addition to building relationships with diverse educational institutions.

They include Stuyvesant High School and its PTA, Townsend Harris High School and its PTA, Forest Hills High School and its PTA, Brooklyn Tech High School, Bronx High School of Science, York High School, Richmond Hill High School, Arts and Business High School, Academy of Finance and Enterprise, and the First in Family Fund, which is Kweller Prep’s non-profit.

The Kweller Prep approach varies from alternate supplemental educational programs, as it specializes in preparations for competitive junior high schools, high schools, colleges and graduate schools.

Classes are limited to 10 students and are offered in person and via Zoom.

Besides focusing on minority students, Davidov explained, “We resort to customizing groups and ensure that each student leaves our center more prepared for the exam. Our strategy is to over-prepare and offer a bunch of resources, so there are no surprises, come the day of the exam.”

Kweller continued, “We meet with most of our families before the start of a course, to understand the needs of every single student.”

Kweller, Davidov and their colleagues are recognized for their ability to identify early talent and focus on holistic learning approaches.

“Families seek us with hopes that their child will one day attend a top tier school or an Ivy League school. We offer support from the 3rd to 12th grade to assist students every step of the way. We guide students through what is needed each year, in order for them to achieve the results that they envisioned,” Kweller said.

Davidov added, “Families begin planning for Ivy Leagues as early as the 6th grade, and often have meetings with management to create a great college application. At the start of 12th grade, Kweller Prep offers a college application service that assists from A-Z in preparing applications for universities nationwide.”

One may wonder about a typical day at Kweller Prep, which is not so typical after all.

After a full-time security guard opens, 80 students per session attend their daily or weekly class.

“Students come to their assigned classroom, where they generally receive 4 hours of instruction. They are provided with an abundance of resources relating to their exam and the steps that follow, after completing our program,” Davidov said.

“Students receive our tests, homework packets, textbooks, and related materials, as well as snacks to keep them engaged. We order breakfast, lunch, and dinner depending on the session, and order all food from local small businesses to support our surrounding community.”

Students take exams at Kweller Prep every four weeks during the school year, which pertain to weekend fall and spring classes, and each Monday during summer camp classes.

“Once their session is complete, they are escorted by staff and security, and staff meet with parents to let them know about their child’s progress, which is followed by emailing progress reports,” said Kweller.

The management and administrative staff hold daily meetings with parents and families to customize courses, devoted to each student’s needs.

For Kweller and Davidov, running Kweller Prep is a gift.

In a joint statement, they explained that the benefit includes having 10 students or less per class, providing uniforms, materials, syllabi and a safe space to work.

Kweller Prep staff appreciation event.

“We collect some of the brightest minds in NYC who aspire to bigger and better achievements. The friendships created among staff lead to the creation of study groups, new business ventures and access to major-specific opportunities outside of working at the center. We mentor all staff members and help them pursue other opportunities outside Kweller Prep, as we are firm believers in supporting small businesses and entrepreneurship.”

Kweller explained their goals: “Our short-term goal is to help every student that comes to our center achieve their academic goal. Our long-term goals are in the works, and we hope to be sharing good news soon. We foresee in the future that we will be working towards creating a school for students to get ahead of the NYC DOE curriculum, and be able to years ahead upon entering high school and college.”

In the spring, not long after the community’s beloved Chinese food delivery worker and longtime Forest Hills personality Zhiwen Yan was killed, Kweller leaped forward.

She launched a GoFundMe via her First in Family Fund, Inc. non-profit, to support his three children.

Miraculously, over $100,000 was raised within a 24-hour period, which increased to $154,160. It attracted a total of 2,600+ donors.

Exhibiting a good heart for students, parents, staff and the community at large makes Kweller and Davidov true humanitarians, and a mobilizing force in the name of innovative education.

Queens College grad designs Discover cards

By Jessica Meditz


A recent Queens College graduate now has the chance to be close to people’s hearts — or perhaps, their wallets.

Dana Komsky, a Long Island resident and artist who graduated from the college this spring, is now partnering with Discover on designing their student cards.

Komsky, who majored in design, shares her passion for art with the world through social media.

She goes by the screen name, “@colorintheworld,” on Instagram and TikTok, where she has thousands of followers who she motivates each day with her cheerful rainbow designs.

“I started out on Instagram and eventually moved to TikTok during the pandemic to share my art, because that’s when it got really big. I started growing from there,” Komsky said.

“On TikTok, I was able to video my art and involve myself in the process with raw footage and vlogging the experience,” she continued. “I love working with rainbows and lots of colors because it’s so much fun, and I like to make the world a little more colorful.”

Inspired by her talents and seeking out a young artist’s perspective, Discover approached Komsky online to ask her to partner with them in designing their Student Cards.

As part of the campaign, Komsky created three potential card designs: “Go with the Flow,” “Rainbow Frogs” and “For the Foodies” — which she eventually became inspired to make with the help of her friends.

Folks ages 18 and up are able to vote for their favorite design on Discover’s website through August 26. The winning design will be featured on the Discover Student Card.

“Go with the Flow”

She explained that “Go with the Flow” is an abstract design created using a fluid art painting technique, which allowed her to select the desired colors, pour it onto a canvas and let the paint “do what it wants.”

“For the Foodies”

“For the Foodies” is a lighthearted concept inspired by the snacks that college kids indulge in during late-night study sessions, such as chips, popcorn and pizza.


“Rainbow Frogs” was a more deliberate decision, Komsky said, because they are hand-drawn with a specific meaning in mind.

“I used a rainbow realism style to inspire people to look at things differently,” Komsky said.

“I specifically chose the frogs to represent students leaping forward into a new chapter in their lives as they move forward through college and apply for a credit card.”

“Rainbow Frogs”

Komsky, who’s been sharing her art and passion with the world since her senior year of high school, said that she’s amazed that her art has gone from high school art class to a national level, and is excited about her artwork being permanently featured on a card.

“Discover brings a fun and exciting aspect to the card process — between involving my friends and peers and seeing them get excited to get a credit card with my work,” she said.

“I am proud to say that I can make the experience of getting a card more fun and a little less daunting for students, because doing that for the first time can be intimidating.”

She’s also thankful for the small arts community within her major at Queens College for their continued support.

As for the future, Komsky hopes to continue her success by inspiring others to be more colorful via social media, but most importantly, she aspires to keep using her art and skills to make a difference in the world.

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