The 52nd Street Project (The Project) is dedicated to the creation and production of new plays for, and often by, kids between the ages of nine and eighteen that reside in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in New York City. The Project does this through a series of unique mentoring programs that match kids with professional theater artists.
The Project was founded in 1981 by actor/playwright Willie Reale in response to a deepening need to improve the quality of life for the kids of Hell’s Kitchen. Mr. Reale used his privileges as a company member of Ensemble Studio Theatre (EST) to reach out to the children of the neighborhood by creating theatrical endeavors specifically for them. This was done with the cooperation and support of EST and its across-the-street-neighbor, the Police Athletic League’s Duncan Center. In 1994, Mr. Reale was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (informally known as “the genius grant”) for creating The 52nd Street Project. The Project is an independent not-for-profit organization that creates over eighty new plays and serves over 150 children every year.
The Project is about making children proud of themselves. The Project is not about teaching children to act, although they will learn to. It is not about teaching them to write plays, although they will learn that as well. What it is about is giving a kid an experience of success. It is about giving a kid an opportunity to prove that he or she has something of value to offer, something that comes from within that he or she alone possesses, something that cannot be taken away.
Past artist/volunteers have included Billy Crudup, Edie Falco, Malcolm Gets, Spalding Gray, Dana Ivey, Susan Kim, Henry Krieger, Robert Sean Leonard, Natasha Lyonne, Roma Maffia, Jesse L. Martin, James McDaniel, Paul McCrane, Frances McDormand, James Naughton, Oliver Platt, Martha Plimpton, Theresa Rebeck, Jose Rivera, Lili Taylor, Pam Tyson, Wendy Wasserstein, Frank Wood and hundreds of others. Many return regularly, as they find the experience fulfilling and artistically stimulating.
For its first fifteen years, the Project relied on borrowed spaces in which to implement its programs. In 1996, the Project established The Clubhouse, a center where children can flourish in the heart of, but sheltered from, the tough neighborhood in which they live. In 2010, the Project opened its current facility, which includes, for the first time in its history, its very own theater (Five Angels Theater) dedicated to the work of the kids of the neighborhood.