Our Artists

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Emily Herzlin
Emily Herzlin (Astoria)

This is a series of posts featuring our artists who are making things happen in and around our great borough of Queens.  Please check back weekly for new posts.

Emily Herzlin
Emily Herzlin

TitleOccupation
Writer, Meditation Teacher

Where were you born?
New York City. My mom likes to tell the story about when she went into labor and made my dad drive her into Manhattan (from Long Island) during a blizzard, just so that she could give birth to me at Beth Israel Hospital.

Which Queens neighborhood do you live in and for how long?
I’ve been living in Astoria since December 2013.

How did you get involved in mindfulness?
In high school I went through a difficult time–family illness, my own health issues, and you know, being in high school. My art teacher gave me a book about meditation and said he thought it would be helpful. So I tried it. It WAS helpful. It gave me a way to experience some stability within myself and the health of my body and mind, and it was a time of the day that was just for me. It felt like a way of caring for myself. It still feels that way, though now for me my meditation practice has become more about caring both for myself and for others. I study and practice at the Interdependence Project, and did their teacher training program as well as the training program at UMass Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness to teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

As a writer, I’ve gotten so much from my meditation practice: ways of working with self doubt, self criticism, and distraction; embodied writing–connecting with emotion in the body as a way of engaging with memory; ways of deepening writing through opening the senses; investigating my emotions and thoughts. I’m primarily a nonfiction writer and write a lot of personal essays, so having a deeper understanding of myself and how I’m engaging with the world benefits my writing.

What do you love most about Queens?
The people I’ve connected with in the neighborhood. I’ve made some great friends here. It’s a very creative and generous community.

Do you have an “only in Queens” moment you’d like to share?
Sometimes when I just get of the subway and start walking down 30th Avenue, I’ll get kind of lost in thought. It’s the same street I always walk down, the stores are familiar so my attention wanders to planning dinner or the emails I need to write. Then I turn south onto my street, and suddenly there’s this expanse of sky opening above the apartment buildings. And as soon as I see that–the color of the sky, the shapes of clouds–the mental chatter settles down, and I just feel happy that I’m walking home.

Your top Queens picks (food, entertainment, sights, etc)?
The Astoria Bookshop. Lexi has made that space so inviting and wonderful. I’m kind of in awe of her.

The Astoria First Presbyterian Church and Art House Astoria. Pastor Thia at Astoria First is a really inspiring person, and the church offers some beautiful community events. Art House Astoria puts on some great shows and artist salons, they get very creative with their programs.
The Noguchi Museum. My boyfriend Kris and I sort of started dating there. But don’t everyone go rushing there. Kris likes it because it’s quiet.  Astoria Coffee. I like their tea selection, and it’s a good place to get work done. But don’t everyone go rushing there. I like it because it’s quiet.

Current/Upcoming projects?
I organize Mindful Astoria, and we meet every Wednesday night somewhere in the neighborhood for guided meditation and discussion. On Saturday April 11th, I’m co-leading a daylong meditation retreat at Astoria First with my friend Paul Sireci. I also have several 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction courses starting in a few weeks. Writing-wise, I’m working on a travel memoir about my obsession with a 19th century Irish playwright, as well as a collection of personal essays. And probably a writing-related meditation event this summer with Mission to (dit)Mars, so stay tuned for that!

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Kristopher Wettstein (Astoria)

This is a series of posts featuring our artists who are making things happen in and around our great borough of Queens.  Please check back weekly for new posts.

Kristopher Wettstein
Kristopher Wettstein

TitleOccupation
I’m a songwriter, composer, music director, pianist, teacher… I wear a  few hats!

Where were you born?
Calgary, Alberta in Canada.

Which Queens neighborhood do you live in and for how long?
I now live in Astoria off of the 30th ave stop. I lived up by Ditmars before that for about a year. I’ve lived in Queens for almost three years.

How did you get involved in theater?
I spent 5 years when I was a teenager living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and I got involved in theater while I was there because it was something fun that happened indoors, where the air conditioning was.

What do you love most about Queens?
I love the incredible diversity: people and culture from all parts of the globe. Also, a general lack of pretension. A supportive artistic community. It’s the most mixed, most interesting Borough.

Do you have an “only in Queens” moment you’d like to share?
Probably biking under Roosevelt avenue. For the most part, Queens is really quiet and pleasant to listen to and I enjoy hearing all the different noises and languages as I get around on my bike. Roosevelt Ave is a different story, with the 7 train clattering around like an angry dragon overhead. But what could be more Queens than Roosevelt avenue! I’ll never be able to fully understand everything that goes on on that street. Such a dense mix of cultures and smells and total chaos. It’s like Queens distilled in a shot glass.
Your top Queens picks (food, entertainment, sights, etc)?
I love the Isamu Noguchi Museum, it’s my favorite place in the city. His sculptures have this wonderful vibe to them, you’re not sure if they came from the ancient past or the distant future. I was there once yammering to my girlfriend about how I wished there was more music that had his sensibility, and she said “well, why don’t you write it?” So since then I’ve written a growing body of songs about specific sculptures on display there.
I also love Bahari’s restaurant on Broadway, they can do amazing things with just simple vegetables.
The COFFEED Inspired Word open mic is just a great, warm scene of Queens writers and musicians.
Current/Upcoming projects?
I’m pretty excited about a show I’m playing at Art House Astoria (23-35 Broadway, intersection of Broadway and Crescent St) on Saturday, March 21st at 7pm. I’ll be playing some new songs with an all-star band of Adrianna Matteo  on violin (she directs Face the Music, an amazing Queens-based youth orchestra/band), and Alex Lambert on drums. Then my friends Universal Thump will be playing some of their wonderfully imaginative pop songs from a new record they just made at Abbey Road (yes, THE Abbey Road!). Their lead singer and songwriter, Greta Gertler-Gold, also does some fabulous work in musical theater. Just $10 at the door. It will be fun, consider coming!

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Don Castro
Don Castro
Don Castro
Don Castro

Neighborhood: Sunnyside
Website: http://doncastro.com

Don Castro is a Manila-born American actor based in New York City. His resume includes diverse roles spanning theatre, film, and television. He has performed on stage in many places across theUnited States, including North Carolina, Florida, California, and Missouri. Don has also performed internationally in Athens and Spetses, Greece. Films featuring his work have screened in festivals in cities worldwide, such as Seoul (Korea), Mumbai and Bangalore (India), Christchurch (New Zealand), Bangkok (Thailand), Cannes (France), Rotterdam (The Netherlands), Los Angeles, and New York City. Don also has extensive experience in industrials, commercials, voice-overs, and commercial print. He is a member of Actors Equity Association (AEA) and Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA).

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This is a series of posts featuring our artists who are making things happen in and around our great borough of Queens.  Please check back weekly for new posts.

TitleOccupation
Actor

Where were you born?
Saugus, Massachusetts (a small town in the North Shore of Boston)

Which Queens neighborhood do you live in and for how long?
Astoria. I’ve lived here off and on for 12 years. I’ve been in my current apartment now for 2 1/2. I’ve lived all over the Burroughs….but I always come back to Queens.

How did you get involved in theater?
Hm. Well, I was a dancer and thought I’d be a choreographer one day. Truth be told, that wasn’t my dream. Dancing was just something I did well, like my Mom. She was a beautiful dancer. So I was 17 years old, and I was all set to go to Emerson College on a big dance scholarship, when I blew out my left knee in the middle of a performance. I had to undergo reconstructive knee surgery and I was looking at about a 2 year recovery time. I lost my dance scholarship, and my folks couldn’t afford to send me to Emerson without it, so I went to Salem State College and auditioned for their BFA program as an actor. I figured, “I can’t dance for 2 years, but I’d like to be on stage. So I’ll try this.” To make a long story short – I fell in love with acting when I was 18, and that was it.

What do you love most about Queens?
I love coming home at the end of the day from the loud ass City to a quiet neighborhood with lots of artists and families. There’s something really cozy about Queens. I haven’t found that feeling in any other neighborhood of New York.

Do you have an “only in Queens” moment you’d like to share?
Every night I go to the deli on my corner and get a sandwich. And every night the owner (an old man in an apron) says, “You gotta work, right kid?! You gotta work to pay bills!” And every night I say, “I know! Thank God for work!”
So one night he asks me what I do for a living, and I say, “I’m on Broadway”.
There was this huge, awkward pause. And he blinked, about 10 times. Then finally he replied, “…the street?”  I laughed and said, “Yes. I work over on Broadway.”

Your top Queens picks (food, entertainment, sights, etc)?
Taverna Kyclades (best seafood I’ve ever had in NY)
Astoria Bier and Cheese
Astoria Park (by the water underneath Hellsgate)
The Studio (outdoor bar great for watching football games)
The Beer Garden
Silvercup Studios
Current/Upcoming projects?
Shooting season 3 of Orange is the New Black, and getting ready to go into rehearsals for LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART at Second Stage.

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Amy Witting

This is a series of posts featuring our artists who are making things happen in and around our great borough of Queens.  Please check back weekly for new posts.

Amy Witting

TitleOccupation
Playwright

Where were you born?
I was born in the beautiful and underrated state of New Jersey.

Which Queens neighborhood do you live in and for how long?
I’ve lived in Queens since 2008.  Started in Long Island City and have been in Sunnyside for the past four years.

How did you get involved in theater?
My family encouraged me to put my drama on the stage.  Ha.  Gratefully my parents enrolled me in a theatre group when I was in kindergarten after being cast as the Fat Cat in my preschool play.

What do you love most about Queens?
It’s home.  I lived in Brooklyn for many years with roommates, and when I looked to get a place of my own with decent space I could only afford Queens.  It was a hard move from Brooklyn but now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.  I have a nice community of friends in Sunnyside, and it really feels like a neighborhood where people have roots.  Of course, living off the Bliss stop in Sunnyside I’m always happy.

Do you have an “only in Queens” moment you’d like to share?
Not sure if it’s an “only in Queens” moment but the first summer I lived in Sunnyside I went to the grocery store and came across a jazz festival underneath the big Sunnyside sign.  People were dancing, laughing, and the performers were really talented.  It was an eclectic group of folks listening to the music, dancing, and celebrating the life of Bix Beiderbecke.  I had no idea who Bix Beiderbecke was but every year I have made a point to sit and listen to the music.  It’s a real neighborhood event.  Also discovered that Bix was a jazz legend who lived around the corner from my current apartment in the 1920s.
Your top Queens picks (food, entertainment, sights, etc)?
The wonderful thing about my neighborhood is that you can find so many different types of restaurants you’ll never get board.  Outside my neighborhood I love Gantry Park.  It’s one of my favorite places to just sit and watch the world go by.  They’ve recently expanded the boardwalk and you can have a picnic underneath the Pepsi Sign.
Current/Upcoming projects?
I’m pretty excited to workshop my play Day 392 at The Kennedy Center in Washington DC in August as part of NNPN’s MFA Playwrights’ Workshop.  I will also have a workshop production of Road Veins at TADA! in NYC this November thanks to the generous support of The Anne Freedman Grant.

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A. Rey Pamatmat
A. Rey Pamatmat

This is a series of posts featuring our artists who are making things happen in and around our great borough of Queens.  Please check back weekly for new posts.

 

A. Rey Pamatmat
A. Rey Pamatmat

TitleOccupation
Playwright and Co-Director of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab

Which Queens neighborhood do you live in and for how long?
I live in Sunnyside as of September 2012. I lived in Jackson Heights from February 2006 – September 2011.

How did you get involved in theater?
My first real involvement in theater was with the Port Huron Community Theatre. I played Eeyore in The House at Pooh Corner. I had acted in a couple of Christmas shows in Catholic School prior to that, but it was playing Eeyore that got me really hooked on theatre.

What do you love most about Queens?
I LOVE TO EAT. So the many food adventures in Queens are probably what I love the most.

Do you have an “only in Queens” moment you’d like to share?
I don’t have any “only in Queens” moments, but I love walking down blocks and seeing those buildings where there’s a Latin American lawyer’s office under a Filipino martial arts studio next door to a Turkish restaurant. It always blows my mind wide open.

Your top Queens picks (food, entertainment, sights, etc)?
SweetLeaf LIC for coffee. Taqueria Coatzingo in Jackson Heights for Mexican, although vegans won’t want to miss out on vegan mole at De Mole in Sunnyside. Sripraphai forever for Thai food. Joju’s in Elmhurst only has so-so banh mi, but they do have an amazing invention called loaded kimchi fries (get it with the fried egg). If you’re a lazy Filipino vegetarian who doesn’t feel like cooking, Payag in Woodside is pretty much the only Filipino resto that will accommodate your veggie-ness. Zenon Taverna is my go-to for Astoria Greek food. Hop the N/Q further into Astoria and go to Martha’s Country Bakery for pie and cheesecake when your done. And, finally, the Xi’an Famous Foods in Flushing is WAY better than the one in the East Village if you don’t mind navigating through a sketchy underground food court.
Current/Upcoming projects?
The Mysteries, including my short play Something in the Water, is currently playing at The Flea until July 14. A presentation of A Power Play; Or, What’s-its-name will be at the O’Neill Playwrights Conference July 16 and 17We Have Cookies will be produced at the Yale Summer Cabaret August 14 – 17 as part of their Summer Shorts. My short play Some Other Kid is being presented throughout the U.S. as part of The New Black Fest’s Facing Our Truth: 10-Minute Plays on Trayvon, Race, and Privilege. And, finally, after all the terrible things I do will premiere at Milwaukee Rep in October 2014 before heading to Boston’s Huntington Theatre in spring 2015.
For more information on Rey, check out http://www.areypamatmat.com

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Kevin Christopher Snipes
Kevin Christopher Snipes

This is a series of posts featuring our artists who are making things happen in and around our great borough of Queens.  Please check back weekly for new posts.

Kevin Christopher Snipes
Kevin Christopher Snipes

TitleOccupation
Playwright

Where were you born?
Plantation, Florida. I’m Swamp Trash.

Which Queens neighborhood do you live in and for how long?
I live right on the border of Woodside & Sunnyside. Technically my address is Woodside but I tell people Sunnyside because, frankly, I have yet to learn the consequences of lying.

How did you get involved in theater?
I grew up in Central Florida where we had a pretty amazing regional theater called Seaside Music Theater. One of the first shows I remember seeing at SMT was Marsha Norman & Lucy Simon’s The Secret Garden, and it kind of changed my life. It was the first time I remember being completely transported to another world and being deeply affected by the power of theater. After that I started seeing theater regularly. I joined my school’s drama club. I started acting. I wrote plays. I stopped acting. I kept writing plays. And now here I am. (Incidentally, my childhood infatuation with theater via The Secret Garden has actually been turned into theater. Former Sunnyside playwright/composer Matt Schatz used my “theater awakening” story as inspiration for a song in his musical LOVE TRAPEZOID. The song is called, appropriately enough, “The Secret Garden.”)

What do you love most about Queens?
I like that Queens keeps surprising me. I’ve lived here almost a decade and yet every year I discover something new to love about it. Some hidden gem of a restaurant. A museum. A park. Queens doesn’t really advertise itself so it’s up to you to find out what it has to offer. I like that it makes me put in the effort.

Do you have an “only in Queens” moment you’d like to share?
April 22nd was the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair in Queens.  To mark the occasion, the city briefly re-opened the long-neglected but still standing New York Pavilion. More than 6,000 people stood in line for (sometimes) more than five hours for the chance to go inside the historic structure for five minutes. Including me. That is some hardcore Queens love.

Your top Queens picks (food, entertainment, sights, etc)?
In my opinion there is no greater restaurant in all of Queens that De Mole. It’s the most delicious, least expensive Mexican food I have ever had. They even make an insanely good cheeseburger.  If you like tapas (and who doesn’t like tapas?), the chefs at Salt & Fat are endlessly inventive. I just had a dessert there that consisted of beet sorbet, chocolate “dirt,” and mint sprigs. It was so quirky and delicious I couldn’t stop smiling.  The Queens Museum and Unisphere are amazing. They’re located in Flushing Meadows (the former site of the 1964 World’s Fair) and you could spend a whole day walking the grounds.
Current/Upcoming projects?
In June I’ll be heading up to the Berkshires for the Berkshires Playwrights Lab’s 7th Annual Gala. My one-act THE AGE OF IRON will be part of an evening of short plays that are being staged to help raise money for BPL.

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This is a series of posts featuring our artists who are making things happen in and around our great borough of Queens.  Please check back weekly for new posts.

JulieCongress
Julie Congress

TitleOccupation
Co-Artistic Director, No.11 Productions/Actor

Where were you born?
Alexandria, Virginia

Which Queens neighborhood do you live in and for how long?
I’ve lived in Astoria for over 4 years now! I’ve spent the last 2 years off of the Ditmars stop. And my first apartment in the city was by Steinway, next to the dearly departed Time Cafe, off of what was then the V train. 

How did you get involved in theater?
In 4th grade, I was in a class production of Oedipus (we had a very progressive teacher!) – I played the Oracle of Delphi and made a lot of crazy gargling sounds and have been hooked ever since. I majored in theatre at Skidmore College (with a stint abroad at the Moscow Art Theatre) and loved the ensemble-based approach. Immediately upon graduating from Skidmore, I co-founded No.11 Productions, a non-profit theater company dedicated to creating, developing and touring theatre as an ensemble (www.no11productions). As of this June, we will be at it 6 years and counting!

What do you love most about Queens?
I love living off of an elevated train line! 

Do you have an “only in Queens” moment you’d like to share?
When I was preparing to move to NYC, my roommate-to-be asked me where we should look for an apartment. Without hesitation, I declared “Astoria”. I had never been to Astoria (or to Queens for that matter), but I just knew that this was the place for me!

Your top Queens picks (food, entertainment, sights, etc)?
There are some really neat little bars near my house (Mosaic, Crescent & Vine) and I love wandering through Astoria Park. Oh and Materials for the Arts!

 

Current/Upcoming projects?
We are remounting our original play-with-music Coosje this summer. In this whimsical love story, inspired by artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, two sculptors learn to collaborate in life and art. Meanwhile, a pear falls out of a fruit bowl, gains consciousness and travels the world. We’ll be bringing Coosje up to Saratoga Springs this June and then heading to DC for the Capital Fringe in July.

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Julie Congress
Julie Congress

Neighborhood: Astoria
Website: http://www.no11productions.com

Julie Congress is a founding member/Co-Artistic Director of No.11 Productions and is an actor, director and voiceover artist. Selected acting credits: “Quest for the West: Adventures on the Oregon Trail!” (Kentucky Repertory Theatre, FringeNYC, FRIGID New York, Capital Fringe), “The Eyes of Orbach” (FRIGID New York), “Coosje” (FRIGID New York, Fringe Wilmington), “A Christmas Carol” (Kentucky Repertory Theater), “Medea” (FRIGID New York), “Lysistrata” (FringeNYC, SaratogaArtsFest), “MythUnderstood” (educational touring), “Jet of Blood” (FRIGID New York). Directing credits include: “Survived By” (Columbia University/3LD), “Greatest Place on Earth” (NYU), “The Acharnians” (Assistant Director, Stella Adler Studio of Acting), “Places” (Under St. Marks), “The Elephant Man – the Musical” (Capital Fringe). Julie holds a BS in theatre from Skidmore College, studied at the Moscow Art Theatre School and is the co-chapter director of the New York Thespian Society.