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TDF's "New Audiences for New York" featured in New York Daily News

Date: Mar 31, 2011


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A musical can do more than make you hum along or tap your feet. It can make you think.

A group of students from Middle School 301 and nearby Trinity Episcopal Church in the Bronx learned that at "Mary Poppins."

It was their first Broadway show. And after seeing the Disney hit about the mysterious English nanny, the kids were buzzing.

"Were the actors lip-syncing?" asked one skeptic, as others talked about what they'd taken away from the production.

"For me, the show was about how there's always another layer when you see something," said Karla Reyes, 13. "You have to look deeper at everything to understand it."

Stanaisha Richardson, 12, said she was drawn to the candy-store owner, Mrs. Corry. "She was very colorful. I liked her accent."

And Sabrina Gonzales, like several of her friends, was still gobsmacked by a scene in which statues came to life and danced.

"I loved that part," said the 13-year-old, who hopes to go to a performing arts high school in the fall. "It was magical."

Getting 10 kids from the Fairmont-Claremont Village neighborhood to the New Amsterdam Theatre on W. 42nd St. - where "Mary Poppins" has run since November 2006 - didn't happen by magic. The first-time experience came through a Theatre Development Fund initiative now in its second year.

"The aim of the program is to bring underrepresented New Yorkers to theater and to make it more racially diverse," said TDF executive director Victoria Bailey.

Figures show that Manhattan residents account for more than half of the New Yorkers attending Broadway.

Trinity Episcopal Church, on E. 166th St., is 8 miles from the New Amsterdam, but that's only one way to measure distance.

"Forget the miles," said Bailey. "It's a world away. The program is about building a bridge between both places. The theater is for everyone."

The idea is that once you have seen a show, you're more likely to go again, on Broadway and off - or to concerts, dance and art exhibits.

TDF earmarked 20 community groups to participate in the new audiences program this year - most of them in the outer boroughs.

This month, members of Hindu Community Outreach Inc., in Flushing, are going to "The Phantom of the Opera." Creative Outlet, a dance school for kids and teens in Brooklyn, saw "Memphis" a few weeks ago.

MS 301 and Trinity Church kids paid $20 per ticket; TDF subsidized the remaining cost.

Beyond making the theater affordable, the program helps put the experience in a context. A teaching artist meets with groups before and after a show.

"Theater is a communal experience," said Joe White, who led the Bronx group. He was inspired by Mary Poppins' nonsensical word "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and had students create mile-long terms themselves. One rule: The definitions had to be empowering.

One tongue-twister was "polymystopticalwallfromulous." Its meaning could describe the impression left from seeing your first Broadway show.

Said Gonzales: "It means strong and beautiful."