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BWW Feature: The 52nd Street Project's Teens Take The (Virtual) Stage For ME & U

The evening features a pair of NEW One-Act Plays performed by Teen Ensemble members!

BWW Feature: The 52nd Street Project's Teens Take The (Virtual) Stage For ME & U The 52nd Street Project, a community-based organization that supports the underserved young people of the Hell's Kitchen (Clinton) neighborhood through access to arts education with year-round theater programming and offers an expansive range of free mentorship programs, is presenting an evening of two new one-act plays in a livestreamed performance by its Teen Ensemble.

ME & U., THE TEEN ENSEMBLE ONE-ACTS. This one-night-only performance event features a pair of original one-acts: TOPIC: ROOMIES!! FALL 2K21 PLANNING SESHHH written by Garrett D. Kim and directed by Ciana Proto, featuring Teen Ensemble members Darby, Lakshmi, & Nicole; and UOF written by Caylyn Wan-Creager and directed by Danaya Esperanza, featuring Teen Ensemble members Lauren & Magalis.

In March of 2020 the Project had to temporarily close its physical doors out of safety precautions and social distancing requirements amidst the novel Coronavirus pandemic. However, that hasn't stopped The 52nd Street Project and its young members from staying connected. Early in the pandemic, when the physical doors closed, the virtual ones opened, and the Project transitioned to digital programming where it could still provide a creative outlet and educational development opportunities for its members. Virtual Project programs like Playmaking, Artmaking, Songmaking, Photography, Radiomaking, among others, have and continue to offer the young members a safe and socially distant way to meet, learn new skills, explore new interests, and perhaps, most importantly, stay engaged and connected with the community that they, as Project members, have become such a vital part of.

The 52nd Street Project's Teen Ensemble has been no exception, meeting weekly and staying connected during a year that has taken a very different shape than any year before it. "The Teen Ensemble invites the senior members of the Project in their Sophomore and Junior year to join a weekly, two-year program where they develop skills on ensemble building with the goal of creating original work that speaks to them, with topics that are pertinent to them, and that they feel they want to explore," says the Project's Teen Ensemble Director Kat Almirañez "In the Teen Ensemble they learn a variety of theatrical skills and devices. Throughout that time, they have several different opportunities to come together and perform." By the time members are invited to join the Teen Ensemble, they have been part of the Project community for 7 or so years. At the age of 9 or 10 years old, members start their journey with The Project in the Playmaking program, where they learn how to write original plays. "The teen ensemble seeks to utilize all of the skills that they have developed since Playmaking in terms of creating original work, into their last years," says Almirañez. "The biggest shift is that up until they get to Teen Ensemble, Project members are creating original work with one person, at maximum two people, on stage. Usually, it's themselves and an adult actor, or themselves and a fellow peer. The Teen Ensemble is a huge shift away from that into creating theater together and creating theater that is original and not based on written work."

While it has looked a little different in the year of virtual programming, the Teen Ensemble has continued to meet. "When the pandemic happened we decided to go virtual after their not seeing each other for a couple of weeks. Our first goal was really just to keep them connected," says Almirañez. As it became clear that virtual programming was the safest way to keep everyone connected, the Teen Ensemble adjusted with that in mind. "We had to find ways to engage them that would accommodate the erraticness of the pandemic, which meant that we had to create sessions that were one-offs essentially. We ended up doing more skill-based workshops." While Teen Ensemble attendance decreased in some cases, the Project's artistic and educational staff still checks in on and maintains communications with the Ensemble community as a whole. "The Teen Ensemble includes members who are not actively attending right now because they are still members of the Ensemble, and we still actively connect with them. Whether or not they attend, we have regular check-ins with them, we let them know what we are doing each week, and whether or not they attend, when they respond, to me, that is a way of staying connected with them," says Almirañez.

For Ensemble members that have continued to meet weekly, the virtual backdrop for the programming offered them the opportunity to share their work in a new way. "What ended up happening was there were a couple of people who stayed who never took center stage or initiated taking up space in the larger group," says Almirañez. "Suddenly, the members who were attending just found themselves in a place where there were only six or seven of us on a screen, and it just allowed them to share their work in a different way. In some ways it's less vulnerable because you have this screen." Over the course of the weekly meetings, the Teen Ensemble has been able to come together, share, and express themselves in ways that both challenge them and highlight their strengths.

In the recent weeks, the Teen Ensemble has been preparing for their upcoming performance, ME & U., THE TEEN ENSEMBLE ONE-ACTS. "One of the things that is fun with Teen Ensemble is that the topics are more mature than our standard Project fare," explains Almirañez. "They tend to be more on the realistic side, particularly when it comes to the plays that are written by the adult playwrights." Taking the helm as the playwrights for this production, Garrett D. Kim and Caylyn Wan-Creager created material for the teens with the Teen Ensemble's interests in mind. "Coincidentally, Garret and Caylyn didn't know what the other was writing, but they both submitted plays about going to college, which was a subject of interest with the Teens," says Almirañez. "One play takes place before going to college, and one play takes place while in college." Audience members who attend this livestream performance event will be treated to two new pieces of original theater featuring five members of the Teen Ensemble.

Featured on the most recent episode of The 52nd Street Project's podcast - The PROJcast - the teens of the Teen Ensemble reflect on their time at the Project and share what they've learned in their time as Project members. To hear more about their experience, visit the PROJcast page here!

ME & U., THE TEEN ENSEMBLE ONE-ACTS will take place on Thursday, February 25 at 7PM (EST). As always, all performances by The 52nd Street Project are FREE to attend, but a reservation is required. Make your reservation by visiting the Project's site, and you will be forwarded the viewing link at least 24 hours ahead of the performance. While performances are always free, donations are accepted!

PLEASE NOTE: This program contains mature themes and explicit language. Viewer discretion is advised.

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