Think all the interesting performing arts venues are in Manhattan? Think again. Queens Theatre is the centerpiece of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the largest park in Queens and the second largest, after Pelham Bay Park, in New York City. Corona Park gives the latter a run for its money, with 1,255 acres of lakes, meadows, playgrounds and athletic fields. But the crowning achievement of this multipurpose recreational area is Queens Theatre, which opened in 1964 as part of the three buildings which housed the World’s Fair.
Modernist architect Philip Johnson agreed to design the building as part of a construction plan for the Fair, which included the theatre, an open-air pavilion and observation towers. Johnson was a natural choice for the project, as his meetings, in the late 1920s, with European architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Walter Gropius ushered in a new era of American interest in modernist design. His exhibition of said artists’ work in 1932 introduced architecture and design to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The main building was christened the ‘Theaterama,’ and was known for its eye-catching exterior, decorated with original works by Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol.
The pavilion survived the partial demolition of the park, at the end of the World’s Fair, in 1965. In 1993, the circular theater was converted into a live entertainment venue and now hosts drama, dance, music, performance art, troupe and comedy performances. Another major feature of the 1993 reworking of the theatre added catwalks and a second roof to the dome, to protect acoustics from air traffic noise from LaGuardia Airport. Today, the theatre is home to a mainstage and studio theatre, and a cabaret/cocktail bar. The Latino Cultural Festival, the nation’s largest, is held each August at the theatre. The performing arts wing also workshops new plays; recent successes include ‘Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,’ written by Rajiv Joseph, a former writing instructor at NYU. The play, which starred Robin Williams and was directed by Moises Kaufman, premiered on Broadway in 2011.