Smashed framed programs, strewn tickets, painted graffiti, fire extinguisher dust, and destroyed props and costumes were what was left behind after the vandals attacked the Rockaway Theatre Company (RTC) in Fort Tilden this past weekend.
The damage was discovered by RTC members Tony Homsey and Suzanne Riggs at approximately 9:15 a.m. on Saturday, March 13. They had entered the theatre that morning to do work in the building only to find more work than expected.
The nearby Rockaway Little League building and T-6 building used by the Rockaway Artists Alliance were ransacked as well.
The theatre and other buildings have been closed to the public since March 2020, due to the pandemic. The last production at the theatre was “Bye Bye Birdie, Jr.” staged in February of last year.
Riggs confirmed U.S. Park Police responded by 9:30 a.m. As part of the National Park Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area, Fort Tilden falls under their federal jurisdiction.
Park officials said U.S. Park Police “responded to two separate incidents within Fort Tilden over the weekend. The incidents, at the T4 Building and Rockaway Little League building, are currently under investigation. In response to the situation, USPP increased patrols of the area. An individual was arrested; however, it has not yet been determined if the individual was involved in the incidents.”
Officers found the vandals had most likely entered through a side window. Once inside, they ripped through drawers, cases and supply shelves, throwing the contents in all directions, and ransacked the concession and box office areas. They also did damage to the lobby area, including damaging and/or stealing costumes and props which had been donated.
The vandals then climbed a small staircase into the theatre’s lighting booth, where they sprayed crude graffiti. From there they accessed a ladder into a portion of the building’s rafters, dropping a flashlight along the way. It did not appear that they went further into this upper area.
At some point, the vandals set off a fire extinguisher, covering everything in a thick brown chemical powder. Damage was also done to the ladies’ bathroom.
Fortunately, the audience area, stage and backstage areas escaped attack.
RTC confirmed that members were last in the building early Thursday, March 11. So the intruders struck somewhere between late Thursday and Friday, March 12, overnight into Saturday.
USPP criminal investigative officers were scheduled to further examine the scene and take fingerprints from numerous surfaces, including the dropped flashlight. Their investigation is ongoing.
They noted to RTC that break-ins had previously occurred also at the Rockaway Artists Alliance and Rockaway Little League at Fort Tilden and at buildings at Riis Landing just across Rockaway Point Blvd.
Any and all information regarding these crimes can be reported anonymously by calling or texting U.S. Park Police at 888-361-3332 or 202-379-4877.
In the meantime, RTC is accepting donations to repair the damage and do other needed work. Tax deductible donations can be made online at www.rockawaytheatrecompany.org or mailed to Rockaway Theatre Company, P.O. Box 840806, Rockaway Park NY 11694-0806. “Any amount is appreciated,” noted RTC’s Susan Jasper. She and John Gilleece appeared on a Facebook video describing the damage and asking for help.
Volunteers for cleanup and theatre work are also always welcomed. To find out more, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Dan Guarino
By Dan Guarino