Community Column: Main Street Theatre and Dance Alliance

Jenine Olson
Jenine Olson, Board Member
Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance
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The Main Street Theatre and Dance Alliance (MST&DA) started as the Main Street Theatre in 1982. Conceived by Diana Brill and a group of other arts-minded residents, the first Board recruited theatre veterans Nancy and Worth Howe to run the programs and found space in the Youth Center (now the Cultural Center at 548 Main Street.) Within a year, the Main Street Theatre added a dance program and became the Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance. The organization has continued through the decades, providing training in acting and other theatre arts, a wide variety of dance disciplines, and various forms of fitness. MST&DA offers classes for everyone from young children to adults and strives to be a safe place for those with special needs. Everyone is welcome and given an opportunity to explore their creative side.

We have been able to attract an excellent teaching staff with the professional experience, credentials, and expertise to teach their discipline with competence and safety. The productions we put on every spring are evidence of the quality work going on in our classes. Our most recent productions, the first to take place in the newly refurbished cultural center, were The World Goes ’Round (Adult Musical Theatre Studio), Urinetown (Teen Theatre), and Little Shop of Horrors (Children’s Theatre). This year, our productions will be (in order by performance date) Forbidden Broadway (Adult Musical Theatre Studio), Annie Jr. (Children’s Theatre), and Xanadu (Teen Theatre).

We see it as part of our mission to collaborate with other organizations on the Island. We have resources and expertise that are of use to others. An example is the dance and theatre programming we have provided to PS/IS 217 under the auspices of the PTA starting during the 2010-2011 school year, with ballroom dancing for the fifth graders, and this program is ongoing. The third graders had their fourth annual performance of West African Dance right before Thanksgiving. We just signed our third contract for Theatre Games, which originally was for 6th graders but was expanded to include seventh and eighth graders in its second year. These are all held during the school day and are part of the mandated arts program for the school. We have also provided a movement class for the Roosevelt Island Day Nursery for the past two years.

Our main challenge has been to connect a storied organization with a long history to a future on the Island. The Board needed to grow and bring in a new generation with a variety of talents and experiences. Today, the Board, under the leadership of President Isa Abdul and new Executive Director Kristi Towey, is exactly what we hoped for: stable for the long term and able to keep the organization vital and growing as the Island continues to change. MST&DA benefits from the participation of the children, and perhaps grandchildren, of former students, but we have always welcomed new families and individuals who are looking to connect to Roosevelt Island through the arts. We view ourselves as a meeting place between old and new.

We have a lot of plans. Our Mission Statement charges us with providing arts training to everyone, regardless of means. We have a very active scholarship and work-study program to support the widest possible participation. We send out emails to all of our enrolled students prior to our registration periods, and we are working on setting up a scholarship page on our website that makes it easy for anyone to see what the process is. These programs were recently buttressed by a generous grant from the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation Public Purpose Funds, as recommended by the Roosevelt Island Residents Association. This allows us to widen the scope of our assistance.

We are also developing programs to be offered free to the public. This is a requirement of our Licensing and Operating Agreement with RIOC to use theatre space in the Cultural Center, and it is one that we embrace because it is in line with our mission. Among the slated programs are a multigenerational troupe that would mount a winter production and short summer theatre productions that accomplish everything in a week (casting, rehearsal, tech, and performance). A spring class will be offered in theatre tech, and will include lighting, sound, and stage management. We hope to have a number of specialty classes and events throughout our spring session, such as our Valentine’s Dance and silent auction February 6. We encourage anyone with an interest in theatre arts to get involved with us. Look for more information soon on our website and on posters and flyers.

Our registration for the spring season starts the week of January 18 and runs for the five weeks prior to the start of classes on February 22. Last year we put our registration system online. That had a number of benefits, including allowing credit card payments, but we found that we missed the human interaction of in-person registration. This year, in addition to online registration (mstda.org), we will also assist with registrations in the Cultural Center; specificm days and times will be announced by the beginning of next week. We will also have on-site class demonstrations the first two weeks in February. If you have any questions, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 212-371-4449.

Contact Info

The Main Street WIRE
531 Main Street #413
New York, NY 10044
Tel: 212-826-9056
Email: MainStreetWIRE@usa.net