Center Stage rescued

Center Stage Community Playhouse, the oldest neighborhood theater in the Bronx and a Westchester Square institution, is saved. Members, patrons and shopkeepers raised $8,150 in two months to keep Center Stage afloat. The volunteer outfit asked for help in May following a sparsely attended 2008 season.

“We didn’t just meet our goal, we exceeded it,” Center Stage president John Liszewski said. “Now we can focus on the creative aspect of theater and what we’re doing next year.”

Center Stage opened in 1969 and has treated Bronxites to shows like Cabaret, Our Town, Damn Yankees, Nunsense, Chicago, Into the Woods, Doubt and Hair. The theater delivers three shows each year – two plays and a musical – and occupies Foster Hall at St. Peter’s Church on Westchester Avenue.

“We’re grateful for the support,” said Center Stage board member and Pelham Bay resident Donna Bellone. “We’re grateful to be recognized as worthwhile to keep in the community.”

No one individual or group rescued the theater; it was a team effort, Bellone said. The Throggs Neck Home Owners Association donated $500; TNHOA president Lynn Gerbino is a huge Center Stage fan. She rarely misses a show.

“I’m so happy,” Gerbino said. “I can’t wait for the new season. We were glad to donate.”

Center Stage receives support from elected officials and the Bronx Council on the Arts but relies on ticket sales. Liszewski and Bellone expect the fundraiser to boost attendance. A handful of former members are back in the fold. On Wednesday, May 27, the theater elected a board of nine, its largest in a decade. Liszewski joined the theater in 1998. He recently met some of the thespians who founded Center Stage 40 years ago.

“It’s been cool to meet past presidents,” Liszewski said.

The board hasn’t settled on a lineup for 2009, but the short list includes Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.” Although Center Stage is known for drama, the theater will likely produce a comedy. Bellone and other board members think theater patrons deserve a break.

Bellone attended a Westchester Square planning meeting recently. Center Stage stands to benefit if the city completes an Owen Dolen Recreation Center renovation. Westchester Square leaders want to host more cultural events at Owen Dolen.

Center Stage did “It’s Only A Play,” “Rabbit Hole” and “A New Brain” in 2008. Tickets are affordable – $18 for a play and $20 for a musical. The theater offers student discounts. Center Stage will send out audition and show dates on August 15, Liszewski said. Check out the theater at Call (718) 823-643 for ticket information.

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