BWW Interview: Brandon Dirden & Crystal Dickinson Talk Being Honorees For The 52nd Street Project's Virtual Gala
The 52nd Street Project, a community-based arts organization, brings grade school aged students from Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan together with theater professionals to create original works that are offered free to the general public. Adhering to its mission, the organization has pivoted its annual gala fundraiser from an in-person fête to a digital party featuring many famous faces. We chatted with this year's honorees, Brandon Dirden and Crystal Dickinson, about why The 52nd Street Project is a crucial part of New York City's theater community.
How did you come to be involved with The 52nd Street Project?
Brandon Dirden & Crystal Dickinson: We first got involved with the 52nd Street Project shortly after we moved to New York in 2007. Megan Cramer, a friend from Atlanta, was then the project coordinator and invited us to be a part of Playmaking. It truly was a godsend. We were new to the city and looking for a community and a place where our art felt respected and vital. Even though we were both these fresh-faced, no-name actors, we were immediately treated with kindness and welcomed as part of this incredible family. It was a soft landing to what can be a very hard city.
How does it feel to be picked to be the honorees for this year's gala?
Brandon Dirden: When they told us that we were being honored by the Project this year, I felt blindsided in the best possible way! I take great pride in even being asked to be a volunteer and to help bring these young people's plays to life. It is such an honor in and of itself. I know how deeply the staff cares about the kids and the community and to be trusted time and again to be a part of the process is so affirming for me. It is an honor that I cherish above any professional accolade that I have ever received.
Crystal Dickinson: I truly wondered why they would be thanking us because I always want to thank them! It is an honor to be considered a part of an organization that cares so much about young people and the power of theater arts.
What is your favorite memory with The 52nd Street Project?
Brandon Dirden: My favorite memory with The 52nd Street Project was watching a 10-year-old playwright become exhausted with Francis McDormand for messing up a bit he had written. Frances McDormand apologized profusely and worked on the bit until she was able to nail it. That was my first year volunteering with The 52nd Street Project, and it set the tone of what the project was all about: World class artists dedicated to being in service to the young people of this community.
Crystal Dickinson: Watching Lois Smith perform in a full, green dinosaur costume. Her character had a bruise on her butt and she discovers she has a twin brother, who wore only an oversized cloth diaper. It was sheer hilarity and serious commitment, who could ask for more?!
In your opinion, why is The 52nd Street Project a crucial part of the community
Brandon Dirden & Crystal Dickinson: The 52nd Street Project is a crucial part of the community because it partners with young people to give them agency over their own views of the world. And seeing their view helps us see the world differently. Witnessing their creativity shifts our perspective and teaches us more about love, friendship, honesty, courage, and all the things we sometimes forget have intangible value.
The Project gives its members a space to be celebrated and valued in a geographic location where they could otherwise be overshadowed by the bright lights of Broadway. Instead, they invite a host of Broadway stars and other amazing artists to champion these kids and create some of the most dynamic theater you will ever see and present it to the community free of charge!
When things are open again, what aspect of The 52nd Street Project do you most look forward to seeing in action again?
Brandon Dirden & Crystal Dickinson: We most look forward to seeing the throngs of family members and friends that pour into the Five Angels Theater to celebrate these young people and be moved to tears and raucous laughter. The pride that they all have for the project members is unmatched, and we feel so blessed whenever we can play a small part in helping to create that moment. It truly is one of the best theater experiences ever.
What advice would you offer to Project Members (or anyone really) that are about to graduate from high school?
Brandon Dirden: No advice. I would just say "THANK YOU" for your years of dedication to The 52nd Street Project and for sharing your voice. I love you all!
Crystal Dickinson: I would say congratulations on the milestone! Never stop learning and growing because the world needs your curiosity and point of view.
To enjoy music videos featuring top tier talent performing lyrics written by The 52nd Street Project's Project Members and/or to support The 52nd Street Project through their virtual gala, please visit their gala site HERE.