MST&DA 40th Anniversary Gala Honors Founder Diana Brill

MST&DA 40th Anniversary Gala Honors Founder Diana Brill

On a spring evening in 1966, Mame opened on Broadway, starring Angela Lansbury with Bea Arthur as her best friend. But playing another friend was Diana Brill, also serving as Dance Captain. Brill would become a Roosevelt Island pioneer and, just sixteen years later, the founding force behind what’s now Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

In 1982, the first show was A Cry of Players about the young Will Shakespeare, ” Brill recalled, and a 50-year tradition began.

Tickets are available here.

“Who would have imagined that the idea of a theatre on Roosevelt Island would evolve into this long-running success?” Brill wonders.

“Just think how many children and adults in our community have enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of the creative arts right here in their own neighborhood! It is so fulfilling to see the MST&DA flourishing after all these years.”

The Monkey King, created by Jonathon and Kimbirdlee Fadner in collaboration with MSTDA, overcame the pandemic, gaining international attention. Photo Credit: Irina Hage, Irina Island Images.

Being one of the oldest organizations on Roosevelt Island, having persevered through significant destruction from hurricane Sandy and economic issues due to Covid-19, it is a true testament to its generational impact and significance to its community. MSTDA has impacted the lives of their students whether they further pursue theater or not. This hidden treasure is a place for everyone, not limited to age, ability, or economics.

MSTDA Press Release
Oklahoma, a 1995 production with Caitlin Donovan and David Cohen. Photo credit: Esther Piaskowski.

What Diana Brill Started, Others Kept Going

A key acquisition…

“I put in a call to my old friends Worth and Nancy Howe,” Brill recalls.

“I don’t know to this day how I did it but I convinced them that this was a great opportunity for them to have a theatre of their own. So they moved to Roosevelt Island. To pay for the second and third shows, in the spring of 1983, we started a children’s theatre.”

It’s history now…

“We were given the Youth Center Space (Cultural Center now) for the second show and the Children’s Theatre.”

Everyone chipped in.

“With Public Purpose Funds, NY State Council on the Arts grant money and monies raised from fundraising and class tuition, we were able to construct/renovate the space.

“We all contributed to the making of the black box theatre,” now known as the Howe Theatre. “Lights were rented and then purchased. We put in the dance studios and dressing rooms.”

Pictures Worth a Thousand Words: Over the Years

While we can’t identify every scene, the story of MSTDA comes alive in photos.

Photo: Irina Island Images
Credit: Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance.
Credit: Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance.
Circa 2015: Credit: Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance.
Credit: Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance.

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