In Astoria, an Art and Performance Space Doubles as an 'After-School Center' for Adults
QED founder Kambri Crews
QED, a multipurpose event space in Astoria, has been visited by comedy-world luminaries like Ted Alexandro, Mystery Science Theater 3000's Frank Conniff, and a slew of Saturday Night Live writers. But it also recently played host to an archaeology professor, who lectured about how to build stone tools for surviving a zombie apocalypse.
"That's what makes this place so cool — there's nothing else like it," says Lauren Krass, a comedian and producer who hosts an open mic at QED. "It's a bookstore, a bar, a café, and a theater."
Opened in November, QED is billed as an after-school space for grown-ups, and, according to founder Kambri Crews, fills an entertainment-venue vacuum in the neighborhood. Crews, who founded the former Chelsea alternative performance space Ochi's Lounge, saw an opportunity to bring affordable shows and classes to Astoria, itself home to plenty of burgeoning artists.
Alanna Schubach for the Village Voice
"There are bars nearby that might have a trivia or game night, but this is a performance space and learning center that also serves beer and wine, so we're flipping the script on that," says Crews, who is an accomplished storyteller herself and author of the memoir Burn Down the Ground. Six months in, she says, the long hours it has taken to establish the space are paying off: QED's calendar is fully booked with events ranging from stand-up showcases to henna tattoo classes to a talk on bioethics — as seen through the lens of The Golden Girls.
Crews has been surprised by which programs have proved popular: courses on juggling, crocheting, and calligraphy are consistently packed, as was the bioethics talk, which made a complex subject accessible to novices by couching it in the world of Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia.
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As for comedy, at QED, underground and unestablished stand-ups get the chance to be headliners. "There aren't a lot of places in the city where they can do a longer, 30-minute set," Crews says. In fact, her husband, the comedian and writer Christian Finnegan, took to QED to perform his storytelling/stand-up show The Gorgeous Mosaic, about the indignities and joys of living in New York.
But the space also provides a forum for locals to venture into unfamiliar territory. Crews said one of her favorite activities is the Drink & Draw, which features a live model. "I'm not an artist and I've never drawn before, but there's something so fun and freeing about trying to capture thirty-second or one-minute poses," she says. "You don't have the time to think or worry about it, or be judgmental of other people."
In the long term, Crews plans to open the backyard for classes on gardening and composting. And she hopes to continue hosting performances that go beyond the stand-up showcase model, like theater, improv and sketch comedy, singer-songwriter nights, and more one-off lectures from quality instructors — all at Queens prices.
"We're not a nonprofit, but our goal isn't to get rich," Crews said. "This is about community, not money."
Krass agrees. "At Manhattan venues, you have to pay $25 and a two-drink minimum, and you feel like you're cattle being herded in," she said. "Here, you can see the same comics and it's just down the street. It's a positive place."
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