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Off-Broadway in the Boros holds first festival-style series

Oh, what a night!
To celebrate Broadway’s official reopening since the pandemic, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment presented the Off-Broadway in the Boros event for the first time as a five-day festival.
This year, the stage traveled to audiences across all five boroughs to connect them to theater and live performances just off the Great White Way.
“A couple of years ago, we put together a small study that showed theaters smaller than Broadway generate $1.3 billion in economic activity for the city,” said Anne del Castillo, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.
“We thought bringing these performances to the boroughs would be a great way to connect people to the resources in their communities,” she added. “It’s really important to remind people of what’s so inherently unique about New York and how we have talent in every nook and cranny.”
Various acts performed throughout the five days, including the Gazillion Bubble Show, Hell’s Kitchen Happiness Krewe, Bindlestiff Family Cirkus and the cast of “TORCHED!” from Pregones/Puerto Rican Traveling Theater.
Deni Yang of the Gazillion Bubble Show kicked off the Jackson Heights event in a way that was whimsical enough to make a person of any age feel like a kid again.
The Gazillion Bubble Show was started in New York in 2007 by the Yang family. Ever since, they’ve found ways to make it better.
“At first, my parents and I were traveling around in a circus act, which then developed into bubbles because we got more into the science side of things,” said Yang.
The Gazillion Bubble Show holds two Guinness world records, one for the world’s largest bubble and another for the most people put inside a bubble, which is 181.
Yang said that he was delighted to perform at the Off-Broadway in the Boros fest and see so many families and children having fun.
Folks who attended the festival had the opportunity to enjoy a preview of the musical “TORCHED!” performed by Pregones/Puerto Rican Traveling Theater.
Writer and director Rosalba Rolón said the musical is still in development and will make its debut on December 2.
“TORCHED!” is a story about what Bronx residents went through during the infamous fires in the ‘70s, and much of the soundtrack is influenced by Latin music.
“I think the idea of Off-Broadway in the Boros is that we need to honor multilingualism, not only bilingualism,” said Rolón. “Artists have a way of communicating so that if someone doesn’t understand a word in a specific language, there is the imagery and the music so they do.”
Guests then got to sing along and tap their feet to tunes of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons and Frank Sinatra sung by Hell’s Kitchen Happiness Krewe, and were kept on the edge of their seats by the sword swallowers and contortionists of Bindlestiff Family Cirkus.
Castillo said that one of the best parts of her job is being able to see all of the different parts of the city, but it has also been a privilege to bring the performances of Off-Broadway in the Boros to places hardest hit by COVID-19.
“Arts and culture are what make the heart of New York City beat,” she said. “It’s a global parameter and what makes it the greatest city in the world.”
Regarding last week’s sudden closure of Broadway’s “Aladdin,” Castillo said that it was caused by the few cast members who were affected by the virus, combined with a lack of understudies to perform those roles at the time.
“Being in the creative community means that you come up with creative solutions every time,” she said. “From what I’ve seen across all of the creative community, they’ve been really diligent about the protocols and being safe.”

Yun Cafe stays resilient after Ida

During Hurricane Ida, New Yorkers were shocked by videos of subway stations completely submerged in water, including many in Queens. Yet after only one week, the vibrant culture of the mass transit system has returned.
The subways are yet again a place to watch a dance routine, listen to a mariachi band, and enjoy some world-class Burmese cuisine.
Since the spring of 2020, Yun Cafe & Asian Mart has been nestled underground right by the entrance to the 74th St-Broadway/Roosevelt Ave subway station in Jackson Heights. Within that time, the young store has endured through the heights of the pandemic and now the serious flash-flooding brought upon by Ida.
However, these roadblocks haven’t stopped the new business from accruing a loyal base of customers in the neighborhood and national media attention from outlets such as the New Yorker and Gothamist.
Yun Yati Naing, who manages the cafe alongside her Burmese immigrant parents, discussed the impact that Hurricane Ida had on the small business, as well as her larger goals for the cafe going forward.
“All these bottles and stuff were wet,” Naing said while gesturing around the cafe’s small dining area, “and what’s more frustrating is that it wasn’t just water. There was a lot of oil that came with it. I don’t know where that all came from, maybe from some of the food we keep inside the store.”
Naing and her family had to drain over a foot of water from the cafe the morning after Ida. Additionally, the store experienced an electric outage that ruined one of its refrigerators, consequently damaging a large amount of food.
Yet to the naked eye, Yun Cafe looks just as clean as ever. Even when flooding isn’t an issue, the store’s owners are feverishly dedicated to making the space feel welcoming and homey, an oasis hidden within the labyrinthian tunnels of the Jackson Heights subway station.
“There’s a different vibe when you walk into the store from outside [in the station],” Naing explained. “A lot of people say that when you come inside it feels like you are somewhere else. Our store is very friendly and very cozy, and if you are a regular we definitely know who you are and we feel like friends.”
This comfortable atmosphere is enhanced by the food served, which includes an assortment of traditional Burmese dishes that utilize a variety of locally sourced and internationally shipped fresh ingredients.
“It’s very flavorful and has a fresh taste to it,” Naing said. “We use many types of vegetables, mixed with fermented things or noodles. It tastes flavorful but isn’t heavy. You can always adjust the spice level and sour level, too.”
Popular menu items include the laphet thoke (tea leaf salad), gin thoke (fermented ginger salad), and kaut swe thoke (noodle salad with chicken and boiled egg). The cafe also serves a variety of Burmese soups and teas.
Ever since the store was featured in the New Yorker and other publications, it has attracted many new visitors from near and far. However, a large amount of the store’s business comes from loyal customers who stop by frequently for a meal, drink, or to pick up some groceries, as it serves as a marketplace, as well.
“We see many Burmese people, a lot of them come from Queens and others come from Brooklyn,” Naing explained. “They come when they want to get the food, dry goods, or vegetables that we carry. But we also get non-Burmese people in the area and others who read the articles and travel all the way from New Jersey or something just to visit a small space like this.”
Located right below Diversity Plaza, Yun Cafe & Asian Mart is surrounded by an array of different businesses, cultures, and cuisines that have earned Queens its nickname as the “world’s borough.”
Even with all the trials the city has faced this past year, Naing and her family have always felt welcomed by the people of Jackson Heights.
“We’re just very honored to be part of this diverse community,” Naing said. “A lot of people come to Queens to experience Asian cultures and their food, and that really means a lot to us.
“People are very, very open minded, and they want to explore new cuisines and they want to explain they’re very appreciative of other culture,” she added. “So if you want to show off your cuisine, I think New York City is a place to do it.”

For more information, visit @yuncafeandasianmart on Instagram.

Residents protest plans for permanent street closure

More than 50 Jackson Heights residents marched along 34th Avenue on Saturday to voice their opposition to the city’s latest push to turn a 1.3-mile stretch of the busy neighborhood thoroughfare into a permanent park.
“Who are we?” organizer Paolo Peguero asked the crowd as they gathered with placards of protest ready to take to the avenue. “Residents,” they shouted back. “What do we want?” she continued. “Compromise,” they cheered in unity.
Currently, 26 blocks of 34th Avenue from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard is closed to traffic each day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m, with the exception of emergency vehicles and local traffic.
The stretch is part of the city’s Open Streets Initiative, which created 83 miles of recreational space where residents could safely bike, walk and play during the pandemic.
The program, which was originally set to end last October, was extended indefinitely. Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation making the makeshift parks permanent.
Open Streets advocates now want to lengthen the stretch in Jackson Heights and turn it into a 24/7 expanse.
“We want to inform other residents about what is going on in our neighborhood because many don’t realize what’s happening,” said Peguero, leader of 34th Avenue Open Streets Compromise, a group of residents who say their concerns have gone unheard.
“We’ve tried for months to express how we feel to the Open Streets Coalition and the DOT,” Peguero added, noting she has already collected around 1,200 signatures from residents who are opposed to the plan.
Peguero said she and others are willing to compromise, despite how they’ve been portrayed on social media sites such as Streetsblog.org – a website that advocates for reducing the city’s dependence on cars – which claims the group is “anti-Open Streets.”
“Perhaps we can have certain days or do studies to see when people use the area the most,” Peguero suggested. “We just want to be part of the process.”
A lack of vehicle access, fewer parking spots and a decrease in quality of life were among the complaints of marchers.
“I’ve lived here for 47 years and I’ve never been through anything like this,” said Louise Ross. “The noise never ends, vendors, many who don’t have permits, are crowding the streets and boom boxes are screaming into the night. This is being shoved down our throats and we were never asked about it.”
Ross said she also worries about the elderly and disabled who need services like Access-A-Ride, which provides door-to-door transportation for those with health conditions.
“Emergency vehicles can’t get down here without stopping, getting out and moving the metal barriers,” she continued. “And what about people with cars with no space to park, what are they supposed to do? Fold them up and put them in their pockets?”
Darren Allicock, who has lived in Jackson Heights for more than 15 years, said he worries the neighborhood changes are going to displace longtime residents.
“Why the focus on Jackson Heights now?” he asked. “All of a sudden there’s an influx of money. Are they trying to attract people from Manhattan and gentrify this neighborhood? It’s always been a diverse place and now it’s just one-sided.”
What’s more, Allicock said the park is attracting picnickers who leave their trash along the avenue and fail to pick up after their dogs.
“Our building staff winds up cleaning up,” he said. “There are no rules as it is now.”

Residents protest plans for permanent street closure

More than 50 Jackson Heights residents marched along 34th Avenue on Saturday to voice their opposition to the city’s latest push to turn a 1.3-mile stretch of the busy neighborhood thoroughfare into a permanent park.
“Who are we?” organizer Paolo Peguero asked the crowd as they gathered with placards of protest ready to take to the avenue. “Residents,” they shouted back. “What do we want?” she continued. “Compromise,” they cheered in unity.
Currently, 26 blocks of 34th Avenue from 69th Street to Junction Boulevard is closed to traffic each day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m, with the exception of emergency vehicles and local traffic.
The stretch is part of the city’s Open Streets Initiative, which created 83 miles of recreational space where residents could safely bike, walk and play during the pandemic.
The program, which was originally set to end last October, was extended indefinitely. Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation making the makeshift parks permanent.
Open Streets advocates now want to lengthen the stretch in Jackson Heights and turn it into a 24/7 expanse.
“We want to inform other residents about what is going on in our neighborhood because many don’t realize what’s happening,” said Peguero, leader of 34th Avenue Open Streets Compromise, a group of residents who say their concerns have gone unheard.
“We’ve tried for months to express how we feel to the Open Streets Coalition and the DOT,” Peguero added, noting she has already collected around 1,200 signatures from residents who are opposed to the plan.
Peguero said she and others are willing to compromise, despite how they’ve been portrayed on social media sites such as Streetsblog.org – a website that advocates for reducing the city’s dependence on cars – which claims thegroup is “anti-Open Streets.”
“Perhaps we can have certain days or do studies to see when people use the area the most,” Peguero suggested. “We just want to be part of the process.”
A lack of vehicle access, fewer parking spots and a decrease in quality of life were among the complaints of marchers.
“I’ve lived here for 47 years and I’ve never been through anything like this,” said Louise Ross. “The noise never ends, vendors, many who don’t have permits, are crowding the streets and boom boxes are screaming into the night. This is being shoved down our throats and we were never asked about it.”
Ross said she also worries about the elderly and disabled who need services like Access-A-Ride, which provides door-to-door transportation for those with health conditions.
“Emergency vehicles can’t get down here without stopping, getting out and moving the metal barriers,” she continued. “And what about people with cars with no space to park, what are they supposed to do? Fold them up and put them in their pockets?”
Darren Allicock, who has lived in Jackson Heights for more than 15 years, said he worries the neighborhood changes are going to displace longtime residents.
“Why the focus on Jackson Heights now?” he asked. “All of a sudden there’s an influx of money. Are they trying to attract people from Manhattan and gentrify this neighborhood? It’s always been a diverse place and now it’s just one-sided.”
What’s more, Allicock said the park is attracting picnickers who leave their trash along the avenue and fail to pick up after their dogs.
“Our building staff winds up cleaning up,” he said. “There are no rules as it is now.”

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