When playwright Willie Reale started the 52nd Street Project in 1981 it was to meet a need. Children living in poverty in and around the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City often had little joy in their lives. A group of theater people decided to use the art they knew best to change that.
“The mission of The 52nd Street Project is to bring together kids (ages 9 to 18) from the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, with theater professionals to create original theater. The primary activity of the Project is to present free theater to a general audience. The Project’s deeper purpose is to use the art form of theater to engage the children’s imaginations, broaden their means of expression, and increase their sense of self worth, their literacy skills and their appreciation for the arts. With the addition of our expanded Clubhouse and our own theater, the Project has been able to add programming in various other art forms (such as Photography, Poetry, Theatrical Design and Dance). Additionally, the Project runs a free, after school homework help and academic mentoring program.”
In the early years, I saw some of the plays created when one child and one actor bonded and collaborated. Delightful. As Reale says, “There is no way to fast forward and know how the kids will look back on this, but I have seen the joy in their eyes and have heard it in their voices and I have watched them take a bow and come up taller.”
In this clip, kids work with adult partners on haiku.