Boys and Girls Club Celebrates Hip-Hop’s 50th 

The rain didn’t stop the celebration at Knockdown Center Maspeth. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected] 

In honor of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, hundreds of kids from the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Queens celebrated with an afternoon of double dutching, breakdancing and graffiti in Maspeth’s Knockdown Center. 

The “For the Love” event, hosted by SiriusXM and Pandora, allowed the youth to learn about the history of hip-hop in an interactive and fun way. The free event also served as a culmination of their summer youth employment program that ended last week. 

Later in the evening, the legendary Wu-Tang Clan headlined the venue to an older crowd. 

On August 11, 1973, hip-hop was born at a small back to school party in a Bronx apartment. Clive Campbell, also known as DJ Kool Herc, got the idea to improvise with two turntables that played snippets in a continuous loop. In his honor, a range of free celebratory events were held across all five boroughs. While Wu-Tang hails from Staten Island, Queens takes credit for Nas, LL Cool J, 50 Cent and Nicki Minaj. 

“The vision really was for this to be a community event, because hip-hop started as a basis of the community,” said Nicole Hughey, Head of Diversity, Equity and  Inclusion at SiriusXM. “We want to help inspire them to think about the historical nature of hip-hop, and to think about what they can do to take it even further. We see them as the next generation of talent that will really take us to a new level in this genre.”

Nicole Hughey, Head of DEI and Social Impact at SiriusXM, was a key organizer of the event. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

Over 250 kids who attended the event are members of the BGCMQ, which serves underprivileged youth with year-round programming that focuses on academic success, a healthy lifestyle and developing good character. 

In the summer, the organization places high school students who are eligible for SYEP in various jobs and internships across the city. Some even work at the center on Atlantic Ave. in Richmond Hill that serves as a recreational space where students can foster a sense of community while receiving resources.  

“They have been looking forward to this,” said Kimberly Paramhance, Director of Workforce Development at the Boys and Girls Club. “It’s so exciting to have the kids here today for them to be able to broaden their horizons and see what’s out there. The timing of it couldn’t have been better.” 

SiriusXM  presented a check to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Queens. Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM 

SiriusXM and Pandora, partnered with Cricket Wireless, presented the Boys & Girls Club with a check for $20,000 at the event.

“I just watched one of my kids break dance and so I didn’t even know he could break dance. That was fun,” said Paramhance, who grew up in South Ozone Park and has worked at the club for the past six years. 

Each attendee had the chance to decorate their own backpack. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

For those who wanted to pick up some breakdancing moves, local dance professionals were on site to demonstrate and guide the newbies on how to nail floor rocks and flares. With strong determination, a handful of kids kept trying until they finally landed it to a round of applause from their peers.

Each attendee also received a white backpack filled with school supplies, which also served as a blank canvas to decorate with provided stencils and spray paint. In a tucked away corner, the kids focused on designing their new backpacks with words and drawings. In honor of the art of graffiti, a blank wall was designated for spray painting. By the end of the event, it had no white space left. 

Richard Whittingham, a 15 year-old from East New York, said that he was excited to attend the celebration because he had never been to a concert before. Like many others his age at the event, he hasn’t heard of Wu-Tang, the notable group that shaped east coast hip-hop.

“Is that a dance move,” replied Whittington, who says some of his favorite hip-hop artists are Lil Tjay and Lil Tecca, all of whom were born in this century. He chose to design his backpack with the words “Be Kind” in green paint. 

311 Launches Portal to Report Obscured License Plates

Photo Credit: @placardabuse on Twitter

By Iryna Shkurhan[email protected] 

New Yorkers can now report delinquent drivers for obscuring their license plates through a simple 311 online portal. 

More and more drivers are modifying their license plates with a variety of tactics to avoid getting flagged by speeding cameras or paying tolls across the city. Some evasive drivers purchase a transparent cover on Amazon for less than $20 that reflects the camera’s flash to prevent recognition. While others resort to bending their plates, scratching off segments, spraying chemicals or even using temporary paper plates illegally. 

The new measure was unveiled following Councilmember Robert Holden’s letter to NYC’s Chief Technology Officer, Matthew Frasier, urging him to take action against the issue. Frasier coordinates tech related projects across the city in an effort to democratize technology.

Screenshot from the new 311 portal.

Previously CM Holden, who sits on the Committee of Transportation, sponsored a bill to prohibit the sale or distribution of materials that obscure or distort plates. Enacted by the council this past January, the first penalty for violations is $300 while subsequent ones would amount to $500. 

“The financial implications of this problem are significant as well. The State is losing considerable money on tolls due to obscured license plates, and the city is losing revenue from red light and speed cameras,” penned Holden to Frasier in a letter dated February 23, 2023. “In addition to the financial impact, the safety of our citizens is at risk. Using obscured license plates makes identifying and prosecuting individuals who commit crimes challenging.”

A report from THE CITY found that drivers modifying their plates to evade personal costs has cost the city up to $75 million in possible fines for license plates that were damaged, missing or obscured. Since the pandemic, the problem has only gotten worse with a significant rise in speed cameras unable to read license plates due to obstruction.  

In addition to lost funding, safety advocates say that these tactics embolden more reckless driving and that can put others on the road at risk. Others believe that drivers may be resorting to these measures due to a higher cost of living, especially with car related expenses, and are feeling pinched by the associated costs of gas, tolls and parking. 

Data obtained by THE CITY showed that from January 2016 to March 2020, approximately one percent of camera enforcement infractions showed up unreadable. But in December 2021, the number of vehicles that could not be ticketed jumped to four percent indicating a rise in plate obstruction. 

New York State’s Vehicle and Traffic Law states, “Number plates shall be kept clean and in a condition so as to be easily readable and shall not be covered by glass or any plastic material or substance that conceals or obscures such number plates or that distorts a recorded or photographic image of such number plates.” A violation can result in a fine ranging from $50 to $300.

Congresswoman Grace Meng recently shared that she was impacted by this tactic when a speeding car with modified characters was caught by a camera in Howard Beach and appeared to match her license plate.

“Nice try. This ain’t my car and the license plate clearly shows someone altered with the plate’s characters. See you in traffic court!” wrote Meng on her campaign Twitter account alongside pictures of the speeding violation ticket she received in the mail.

“We must prioritize tackling the persistent problem of obscured or tampered license plates,” said Council Member Holden in a press release. “Implementing a streamlined 311 reporting function empowers New Yorkers to swiftly alert law enforcement of such violations through a few simple taps on their smartphones. This responsive approach exemplifies the government’s commitment to addressing the concerns of its citizens.”

Once in the portal, reporters can describe the problem with a maximum of 2000 characters and attach up to three images showing evidence of license plate obstruction. Those reporting can also submit their own contact information to receive updates, but it is not required to identify yourself. 

To report a violation, you can visit the 311 portal

Julie Won Secures Second Term 

Photo Credit: Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

By Iryna Shkurhan[email protected] 

In District 26, incumbent City Councilmember Julie Won secured a second term in office following a Democratic primary election victory on June 27. 

“I am incredibly humbled by my neighbors’ overwhelming support for my re-election to the City Council!” said Won in a press statement. “From the beginning, my campaign has always centered the needs of the working class, immigrants, and families across the district.”

Won secured 61 percent of the vote, with 99 percent currently reporting, according to unofficial results from the city’s Board of Elections. Her second time challenger to the left, Hallie Kim, received 38 percent of votes in the district that represents much of western Queens, including Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, Astoria and Maspeth.

While we did not get the result we wanted tonight, I am deeply grateful for the time everyone took to make their voices heard,” wrote Kim on Twitter the night of the election. “We made it clear that politicians who make promises on the campaign trail and break them in office will have to answer to their community and fight to maintain power.”

In her first term, Won spearheaded negotiations for Innovation QNS, a controversial $2 billion mixed-use development project that is expected to create 3,200 apartments – 45% of which will be designated affordable. She also worked to deliver free WiFi for NYCHA residents in her district and passed two language access bills to address disparities in access to public safety  information for immigrant communities. 

Won received significant criticism from her challenger for voting to pass last year’s city budget, which allocated more funding to the NYPD and while defunding schools by $370 million, according to Chalkbeat. Only six council members voted against the budget – a choice that Won said would have hurt her district. 

Despite criticism from her challenger and some community members, Won stood by her vote and insisted that issues from the budget can not be “cherry picked” and a vote against it would ultimately result in lost funding to her district. She would also point out that the budget is not set in stone, and has room for flexibility following its passage. 

In the two weekends leading up to election day, protests against Won and her “broken campaign pledges” were held in Sunnyside. Community members showed up to Lou Lodati Park on June 24 with signs that read “Julie Won Defunded My School” and “Julie Won Breaks Her Progressive Promises.”

“Our landslide victory demonstrated that a campaign rooted in positivity, real accomplishments, and genuine grassroots support will always triumph over one built on lies, personal attacks, and dirty tactics,” said the newly re-elected council member with reference to her challenger.

Kim, an educator and housing advocate, ran a progressive campaign that staunchly criticized Mayor Adam’s “austerity budget” and called restoring cuts to public education a “number one priority” on her website. 

In a much more crowded District 26 race in the 2021 election, Kim came out in eighth place amid fifteen total candidates and no incumbent. In this race, she was Won’s only challenger. 

The election occurred just two years into the term due to redistricting which responds to decennial census data. City law requires an off-cycle election every other redistricting cycle to address significant changes to boundaries. The newly drawn lines removed a section of Astoria, while adding a chunk of Maspeth. 

The fight for justice is a marathon, not a sprint. I am excited that we broadened the coalition in support of economic and racial justice while opposing austerity together,” wrote Kim who moved on to criticizing this year’s budget, which passed shortly after the election. 

This time around, twelve city council members voted no for a budget that included significant cuts to education and housing, while increasing funding for policing. Councilmember Tiffany Caban, who represents Astoria, Steinway-Ditmars and Jackson Heights, was the sole Queens elected to vote against it. 

“It has been the honor of my life to serve the people and places I love,” said Won. “Now, it’s time to get back to work!”

The citywide turnout, which has always been chronically low, was just 6.5 percent this election cycle. A total of 174,544 New Yorkers live in District 26, and only 5,850 votes were cast. 

In November, Won will be up against Republican Marvin Jeffcoat who unsuccessfully vied for the seat in 2017 and 2021. 

Kiwanis Club Celebrates Scholarship Recipients 

Maspeth’s Kiwanis Club celebrated its scholarship recipients at a luncheon. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

By Iryna Shkurhan[email protected] 

Maspeth’s Kiwanis Club celebrated its annual scholarship recipients, alongside parents and community members, at a luncheon at Maspeth Town Hall on Thursday, June 22. 

Fifteen recent high school graduates, who reside in Maspeth, but attend schools across Queens received a check for $2,000 to assist with any educational expenses before they head off to college in the fall. 

“It’s harder and harder every year to pay for college,” said Michelle Masone, the scholarship program chairman. “This is a little thing that we can do to help them, and support them, in furthering their education.”

The annual scholarship program started in 1947, and has since awarded over $500,000 to local students. The club acknowledged the financial contributions on behalf of the late Susan Scott, a teacher “who held the scholarship program near and dear to her heart” in their program. Now in its 69th year, the fund is supported by donations from community organizations, including the Kiwanis Club and Maspeth Federal Savings Bank. 

Some past scholarship recipients also attended the in person celebration – a comeback following a two year pandemic hiatus. 

Toya Brown, an Executive Assistant to the CEO at Maspeth Federal Savings, was a scholarship recipient in 2014. After spending one year at Johnson & Wales, Brown transferred to Brooklyn College to complete her degree in film production. She says that she was grateful for the scholarship in helping cover costly tuition. 

Toya Brown was a recipient in 2014. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

“It’s great to see that they’re still doing it, and recognizing that the Kiwanis Club is important,” said Brown, who attended the luncheon with other staff members from Maspeth Federal. “It’s a great way, not just to build your portfolio, but to give back and really be a part of the community.”

As part of her role at the bank, she also visits schools to teach college and high school students about financial literacy, including budgeting skills and even how to balance a checkbook. 

Approximately 30-40 students apply to the scholarship each year, and at least fourteen are selected based on merit. Most students said that they heard about the scholarship through their guidance or college counselor, who encouraged them to apply. As part of the application, students submitted an essay outlining their contributions to their school and community, as well as their extracurricular activities and academic achievements. 

“I was very surprised,” said Emma Bogdan, who learned that she was selected at her graduation ceremony at St. Francis Preparatory School. In the fall she is heading to Marist College and to complete a dual Bachelors and Masters program in special education. 

Emma Bogdan will attend Marist College in the fall. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

After a hot lunch, the recipients were called up individually by Maspeth Kiwanis Club President, Jim Regan, to receive their checks. 

Lisa and Mike Terry, two club members in attendance, extended their congratulations to the recipients and shared that their son won the scholarship fifteen years ago. 

In 1971, Michael Falco received the scholarship after graduating from Christ The King High School. He says that the scholarship helped him pay for his textbooks as a student at Queens College, back when college tuition was significantly more affordable than it is today.

Today, he is a practicing lawyer based out of Maspeth and a Kiwanis Club member. He attended the luncheon to celebrate this year’s recipients. 

“And we hope eventually they come back to this community and they join Kiwanis to help us with our service projects,” said Masone, acknowledging that many past recipients already have.  

‘Matchmaking’ Fair Connects Schools with STEM in District 24

The team at NYC Stem Network.

By Ariel Pacheco | [email protected]

To provide students in Pre-K-8 with more opportunities in STEM, Community School District 24 held a matchmaking STEM provider fair on Friday, June 9, where representatives from schools were able to connect with STEM providers to lay the groundwork for programs beginning in September of 2023.  

Although the fair was scheduled to be held at PS/IS 128 in Middle Village, it quickly shifted to taking place virtually due to poor air quality in the New York City area. Despite the last-minute shift, about 100 participants were still in attendance.

District 24 covers Middle Village, Maspeth, Ridgewood, Glendale, Elmhurst and Corona.

Schools will be allowed to apply for financial assistance to bring and sustain these programs into their curriculum. The fair was hosted by NYC STEM Education Network in partnership with ExpandED Schools and Community School District 24. There is a total of $25,000 available in funding from ExpandED schools with awards capped at $5,000 per school. 

“STEM education really is just a window into the world,” said Ellen Darensbourg, the Grants Manager and STEM Support for Community School District 24, during the fair. “It really gives our kids a leg up into all the possibilities that are out there for them and it helps make what they learn everyday real and applicable.” 

Emma Banay, the Senior Director of STEM at ExpandED Schools, estimates that they should be able to assist about five to ten schools with the funding allocated to the school district. 

“There’s a real focus on creating high-quality engaging STEM experiences and making sure there is access and equity for those who have been historically excluded,” said Banay. “We want to engage students in a creative, critical thinking way so that they can express who they are and who they want to become.” 

Representatives from schools across the district were able to get detailed overviews from nearly 20 STEM providers in attendance. It was a forum for discussion and the first step towards partnerships between schools and STEM providers. 

Planning for the fair had been ongoing since early March when an initial “needs assessment” was conducted. The needs assessment entailed a survey created in tandem with District 24’s planning team to see what schools were looking for from STEM programs and gave them a setting to have their voices heard. 

“The survey was distributed to teachers and principals across the district to get a better feel for what they were looking for and a better understanding of what was going on in the district,” said Banay. 

Through this needs assessment, the coalition of STEM organizations learned that District 24 needed programming that supported multilingual learners, students with disabilities, and mixed-ability age groups. They also learned that there was a need for in-class programs, field trip locations and programming geared toward professional development. 

City Councilmember Julie Won, who represents District 26 in Queens, was in attendance and spoke about her own personal experience working in tech and how it helped lead her to where she is now. Won worked at IBM for close to a decade in various roles prior to becoming a councilwoman.

“It is so important that our schools have these programs and that our students are getting exposure from early on,” said Won. “I am grateful that everyone is here to make sure that we’re connecting our children to the most holistic education possible.” 

Similar fairs will be held for Community School District 4 in Harlem in August and Community School District 9 in the Bronx in November. 

Maspeth’s Candlelight Vigil Honors All Vets

A separate candle was designated for each conflict where American lives were lost. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected] 

At the intersection of Grand Ave and 69th Street, dozens of Maspeth residents paid their respects to all veterans at the 37th Annual Memorial Candlelight Ceremony on Monday evening. 

The event was hosted by the United Veterans & Fraternal Organizations of Maspeth, and organized by Chairperson Carole Stein, Eileen Hagen and Maspeth Federal Savings Bank. 

Following an invocation by Reverend Joseph Wilson, and the Pledge of Allegiance recited by attendees, this year’s Grand Marshall, Paul A. Feddern, delivered a speech on the purpose of Memorial Day. 

“Memorial day marks the beginning of summer for some people,” said Feddern, who enlisted to serve in the Vietnam War in 1967. “But just remember that is not the purpose of Memorial Day. We are here to honor all the people that have given their lives in sacrifice. Keep that in mind when you start your barbecue.”

Paul A. Feddern is a Vietnam War veteran and this year’s Grand Marshall. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

Feddern, a longtime Forest Hills resident, says that he has attended the Maspeth vigil for over ten years. Following his deployment he was an officer in the NYPD. 

No war, veteran or victim was excluded from the vigil. In total six candles were lit and carried by representatives from various local chapters to the front of the ceremony. 

One candle each was lit for veterans of World War l, World War ll, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. A separate candle, honored by Francis Cardinal Spellman Council, Knights of Columbus and Ladies Auxiliary, was reserved for Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and all American victims of terrorism. The last candle was lit for all prisoners of war (POW) and those who went missing in action (MIA) during military conflict. 

“May the light of these candles light our deceased American veteran’s journey and may perpetual peace concur their immortal souls,” said Stein, after the candleholders stood together in unity. 

Some veterans say they have been attending the vigil for years. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

Stein also took it upon herself to write original lyrics to recite at the ceremony to reflect on the impact of Memorial Day and what it represents to veterans and regular Americans. Her act was a mix of slam poetry and song that Stein says she spent two weeks crafting. 

“Their courage, love and devotion we must remember. Their legacy shall never fade away,” Stein rendered during her spoken word performance.

To conclude the ceremony, students and performing arts players from the St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Academy of Queens sang “God Bless America” as the sun set. 

The vigil precedes Maspeth’s Memorial Day Parade which will be held on Monday, May 29 and begin at 1 p.m at the same spot, Maspeth Memorial Park. 


More than a Mile of Water Mains Installed in Maspeth

By Alicia Venter

[email protected]


New water mains have been installed in Maspeth, replacing pipes that are over 100 years old. Totaling more than a mile and installed between 61st St. and Hamilton Pl. along Borden Ave. — a primarily residential area adjacent to the Long Island Expressway — the new pipes were a $2.25 million capital project and were completed more than a year ahead of schedule.

Alongside the 5,960 feet of water mains, which were originally set to cost $4.06 million, 19 fire hydrants were replaced and 1,380 square feet of broken sidewalks were replaced. The project was managed by DCC’s in-house construction management team.

“So many Americans have learned hard lessons about the critical importance of water infrastructure,” said Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris in a press release. “I am glad this urgently needed water pipe improvement in Maspeth was done to ensure Queens neighbors have high quality, safe drinking water.”

Construction began in July 2022, and was completed this month, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DCC) announced on May 8. It was initially slated to be completed in July 2024.

“Getting high-quality water to every tap across the five boroughs requires regular investments in our infrastructure and by replacing the water mains that had served this neighborhood for a century, we significantly reduce the risk of leaks and breaks,” said DEP Commissioner Rohit T. Aggarwala in a press release.

Photo: DCC and DEP

5 Community Fridges For Giving and Taking

The NYC Community Fridge Mapping project features 136 fridges across the city and allows anyone to post an update with a look inside the fridge.

By Iryna Shkurhan[email protected] 

In an effort to address food insecurity during the pandemic, community fridges started by regular New Yorkers popped up across the city. Oftentimes they are regular fridges, colorfully decorated, that sit on the sidewalk. Anyone can open the door and take what they need, no questions asked. And If your circumstances permit, you are welcome to leave quality food items for others. 

The fridge movement is based on the concept of mutual aid, which rejects charity and encourages building interdependent relationships outside of power structures. It is powered through cooperation and the responsibility to take care of your neighbors. 

Currently there are 136 community fridges across the city, according to the NYC Community Fridge Mapping project which tracks their location and status. The site allows visitors to post photos and updates on the contents of a fridge to keep fridge users informed. Fridgekeepers can also add a new fridge or update the status of an existing one. 

There are several fridges that closed operations in the past several months due to various circumstances. But these five locations across Queens are still up and running. 

Fenix Community Fridge

Located in Ridgewood, this fridge is run by Beatriz Perez who started the project in the beginning of the pandemic. At the time, she was working at Fenix Car Service on Seneca Ave where the fridge is currently located. With the recent influx of Latin American migrants arriving in NYC, organizers at the location stepped up to collect clothes, strollers and other necessary goods on top of their regular food distribution work. They regularly post updates on collections and events. You can find them on Facebook at @FenixCFridge. 

Astoria Halal Fridge 

In an effort to accommodate Astoria’s Muslim residents, the fridge only accepts food donations that are designed halal. It is located on 3513 23rd Avenue in Astoria, just behind the gates of the Dar Al-Da’awa Mosque. Once a former church, the location is now under the Muslim American Society of Queens. The weekly stocked fridge was an initiative of Little Egypt NYC, a community seeking to create safe spaces and economic power for the Egyptian diaspora. More information can be found on their Instagram @astoriahalalfridge.

Glennon’s Community Fridge

This fridge has been operated by Becky Glennon outside her home in Rockaway since 2020. For the past three years, Glennon has been providing food despite resistance from her neighbors who tried to destroy the fridge. Last week Councilwoman Ariola and her staff delivered over 2,000 pounds of fresh produce, the largest donation the fridge has received so far. It is located on Beach 92nd Street between Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Holland Avenue. 

Ravenswood Community Fridge 

A fridge outside of Hour Children, a nonprofit organization that supports women and families impacted by a mother’s incarceration. It is located near the Ravenswood Houses on 12-14 36th Avenue in Astoria. You can’t miss the colorful fridge with a flying raven and “free food” painted on the door. There is also a space for book donations on the side. Local residents say that the fridge is maintained and utilized regularly. They can be found on Instagram at @ravenswoodfridge for updates. 

Maspeth Fridge

This fridge is located outside of Brothers Wash and Dry, a community space home to music events since the spring of 2019. It is run by Sampson Dahl, who also resides in the former laundromat. More information on the space can be found on his instagram @brotherswashndry or on his website

Old Friends and Budding Mediums Converge at ‘Psychic Night Dinners’ in Maspeth

By Adam Manno

[email protected]

At the end of a long table, past the Coke carafes and sweetener packets, Arnie Layton sits with his hands clasped in front of him.

The retired IT worker isn’t new to the Psychic Night Dinners at Connolly’s Corner, a red-upholstered-booth eatery in Maspeth. But on Thursday night, he was on a mission.

“Pretty much, I wanna know when my psychic abilities will totally come out,” he said. The monthly outing is just about the only place he feels comfortable exploring his budding talent. “You talk to the average person about some of this stuff, being empathic, they think you’re crazy,” he said.

Arnie Layton, a retired IT worker at Thursday’s Event.

Few people at Connolly’s that Thursday, save for maybe the regulars at the bar, would agree.

“It was absolutely phenomenal,” Mary Ann Gasparro said of her 15-minute turn at the psychic’s booth. “I had an absolutely dead-on accurate reading tonight.”

She’s skeptical about any claims of supernatural abilities. But if Thursday’s reading was any indication, she’s turning into a true believer. Her friends, sat around her and rapt by the re-telling of her reading, already are.

“I grew up in a very abusive childhood. And tonight the psychic was saying, ‘I don’t understand why there’s apologies all around. There’s a male figure, has your father passed?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She goes, ‘He wants to apologize to you for the way he treated you in this life.’ No one says that! They all say, ‘Your father’s very proud of you, your fathers love you,’” Gasparro said.

Like Layton and Gasparro, many of the night’s guests are regulars at the event, which is run by ESPconnection. For $85 a person (not including tax or tip), diners are guaranteed a three-course meal, non-alcoholic beverages, and a private, one-on-one session with one of the five psychics on deck that night.

Re Jean, the group’s founder, spent the night walking between a side room—where the psychics sit at booths with their tarot cards strewn about—and the private hall behind the main dining area, where the guests sit at tables covered in white tablecloths, anxiously waiting their turn or dishing about their sessions.

Most are looking to hear from someone who’s passed on, Jean said, or if they’re younger, they’re curious about their love lives, careers, families and health. “I think it kind of covers all the big questions,” she added. “The readers try to focus on the big questions.”

And what makes a good reader? For this particular affair, speed.

“These are very short readings. It’s like 12 to 15 minutes, so if you can read quickly and accurately,” she said. “Some readers, they need 45 minutes to cover all they wanna get to. People that do well at events like this are people that can get a good chunk of—I don’t wanna say material—a good chunk of what’s going on with them in a short period of time.”

Jean is a former music teacher and occasional composer whose songs have appeared in shows like Law & Order, Will & Grace, and ER under her real name, Rae Jean Ferreri. These days, she’s busier handling her growing stable of psychics. Asked about the gentleman in the other room wondering when his own powers will blossom, she said, “We get a lot of people that are also very intuitive themselves. We get a lot of psychologists and therapists, we get doctors, you name it. They wanna know! They believe in it!”

City Gate Productions presents “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” in Maspeth

 The show’s titular women will be played by Regina Fischedick, Virginia Harmon, Margaret Leisenheimer, Ashley Gage and Liv Campbell. Photo by Joe Sinnott.

By Stephanie Meditz | [email protected]

City Gate Productions will celebrate Women’s History Month with six performances of Alan Ball’s iconic play,
“Five Women Wearing the Same Dress.”

The heartwarming comedy will run on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from March 24 to April 2 at the Moose
Lodge Theater in Maspeth.

The play follows five bridesmaids who are united by their womanhood, wedding garb, complicated relationships
with the bride and desire to escape the festivities.

In addition to irreverent comedy, this character-driven play tells a story of hope, human connection and women
lifting each other up.

“The audience can expect a lot of peeling back of the layers of what it means to be a woman in society,” director
Amanda Montoni said.

“I think the play itself has themes of healing and friendship and is a really beautiful story of women coming together and supporting one another,” Margaret Leisenheimer, who plays Frances, said.

Frances is a devout Christian who initially uses her religion to push others away.

“I think her story throughout the play is finding ways to connect with people on a really human level,” Leisenheimer
said. “Frances really does have a huge character growth throughout this play.”

To get into character, she reconnected with her Catholic roots and composed journal entries as Frances. Although this is her first play with City Gate Productions, Leisenheimer grew up in Maspeth and regularly attended
shows at the Moose Lodge Theater.

She is a Queens community theater veteran — she began acting with St. Mary’s Drama Guild in Woodside at age

“This is kind of my introduction back to plays in Queens as of recently, since graduating from college,” she said.
“It’s really cool to be doing a show in my hometown.”

Leisenheimer was a drama major at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in
Manhattan. She then earned her B.A. in Theater and Performance from Binghamton University.

The cast of “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” has been rehearsing for their run since the end of January. Since the play is driven by character development, the actors have worked tirelessly to capture the true essence of
their roles.

“It’s been wonderful, they’re all rock stars. It’s really great to work with a cast of people that is so supportive,”
Leisenheimer said. “It’s been a lot of fun and it’s been a really cool space to be a part of, because I always feel like I
can play around and really explore this character with my cast members.”

“I’m blown away by the cast. They have a connection that is very rare to find, especially in local theater,” Montoni
said. “They work so hard. In every rehearsal, they peel back another layer of their characters and they explore their
characters a little bit more. It’s just been a beautiful progression of character development.”

It was precisely this character development and storytelling that prompted her to become a director in 2018.
Montoni feels especially connected to “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” in particular.

“Reading the play as a young adult first in college, I felt seen in a lot of ways. And then coming back and reading
[Alan Ball’s] words as an adult, I’m like, ‘Wow, he hit the nail on the head,’” she said. “Now that I’ve had some life
experience, I feel like there’s someone who has held my hand through the process without knowing it.”

Not only was the play published the year she was born, but the titular dress for this production is based on the one
worn by her mother’s maid of honor.

Producer Thom Harmon worked closely with costume designer Amy Ellis, who made the dresses by hand.

“We knew that the dresses really needed to be special. They’re in the title of the show, and the show takes place and was written in the early ‘90s,” he said.

Although this is not City Gate Productions’ first play since the COVID-19 pandemic, the cast and crew are thrilled
to have live theater back in full swing.

Leisenheimer participated in Zoom workshops during the shutdown, but she said there is nothing like the in-person
interaction that theater promotes.

“The feeling of doing a play in front of an audience, it’s incomparable,” she said. “[Acting onstage] is this really
beautiful community, and it allows us to tell stories of what people might be going through at this point in time.”

As a director, Montoni feels like a part of herself has been restored since live theater’s return.

“I live and breathe theater and creativity, so it’s almost like I feel complete again,” she said. “I feel overjoyed and
just excited to bring theater back to the community.”

Queens-based artist Sandra Vucicevic painted five original abstract portraits of the show’s five titular women. She asked each actress for a few words to describe their character, and she used them to depict the characters’ inner worlds using acrylic paint on canvas.

“It’s not like a real portrait where you could see the face, it’s just my impression of what is going on inside of these
characters,” she said. “I use color to express feelings…different personalities would have different colors.”

Each portrait is specific to the character it represents, but they will all be in the same frame to represent that they are all women who wear the same dress.

Vucicevic’s work will be displayed in the lobby at the Moose Lodge Theater for all six performances. Harmon hopes to collaborate with Queens-based artists for future shows as well, both to support local artists and add
another layer of meaning to each production.

“I’ve been doing all the PR and marketing for the show, which has been a lot of fun. The show really lends itself to a
lot of creative angles,” he said.

“Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” will allow audience members to come together and enjoy a comedy, but
also contemplate the play’s deeper meaning.

“It’s an opportunity for people to escape their everyday lives and just get to have two hours…to sit there in
community with one another and experience this thing together,” Leisenheimer said. “I think that’s something that’s
really beautiful, and something that’s hard to come by, especially in a city like New York where everyone’s kind of
doing their own thing and running from one place to another. It’s sort of like this huge deep breath in and exhale,
where everybody gets to experience together.”

Tickets are available for $25/$20 for seniors and students with ID at City Gate Productions.

“It’ll give them a couple hours to actually ponder life, but in an enjoyable way, in a hilarious way. They will be
swept away by the comedy, and faith and hope will be restored if audience members are feeling a little less of that
nowadays,” Montoni said.

Fill the Form for Events, Advertisement or Business Listing