|Ok, Kid, We're Gonna Make You a Star
City Kids Get Their One-Acts Together
by Aileen Jacobson, Newsday, Aug. 1, 1989
|Even though Karen Myrie is only 10, she finds it no big deal to be co-staring in a play with Peter MacNicol,
whom she saw in "Ghostbusters II."
I had met him before, before he became so famous," said the youngster, who has just spent a week
rehearsing with MacNicol in a play he wrote for her. It's to be presented tomorrow through Saturday at
the Ensemble Studio Theater as one of 11 one-acts paring city kids with theater professionals. Each
playwright tailors a play to each child and, in most cases, the playwrights also co-star. The idea is "to
make each kid the star of his own play," said Marsue Cumming, the executive director of the 52nd Street
Karen has been part of the project, which sponsors the one-act play festival, for about four years, and
that's how she met MacNicol. Founded nine years ago by actor/playwright/director Willie Reale, it works
year-round with children who are members of the Police Athletic League's Duncan Center in the Hell's
Many live in hotels and are in single-parent families. Some, like Karen, come from "wonderful home
environments," said Cumming. Karen's mother works in a bank, her father in a hospital, and she and her
brother and two sisters are all in the program. The project takes children and their professional mentors
to Block Island, R.I., where Reale's parents live, for a week-long writing and rehearsal session. Leaving
town was a way to get the kids' "undivided attention," said Cumming. "There were a lot of kids from
hotels, and it was difficult to get them to rehearsals... Willie would find them home baby-sitting, and they
would have to bring the siblings along. It was difficult."
The theme for this year's festival is "You Can't Copyright a Title." Each play has the same title as a
well-known work. But the plays aren't parodies, the titles were chosen to reflect the new works' content.
MacNicol's play, called "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," is about a girl (Karen) who runs away during the
Depression and meets a jobless young man (MacNicol) when she tries to pick his pocket. They form a
comedy team until the young man is drafted and the girl's uncle, played by actor James McDaniel, takes
"He let me put my ideas into it," said Karen. "I wanted to have the jokes a little funnier. They are funny,
but by using my voice and making my face look weird, I make them funnier." Karen's 6-year-old sister,
Annette, youngest in the program, is in Reale's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" Her 9-year-old brother,
Richard, is in Cindy Lou Johnson's "The Idiot." Other plays include Kathryn Rossetter's "Moose Murders"
and Thomas Babe's "I Remember Mama."
The project began, said Cumming, after Reale, a member of the Ensemble Studio Theater, volunteered to
teach a drama class at the PAL center across 52nd Street from the theater. At first, she said, he worked
by himself. "But it blossomed and evolved as more kids joined the class," said Cumming, who joined the
group six years ago when she and Reale, the project's artistic director, made a film with the children. "It
was going to be part-time, but now it's a full-time career, a full-blown autonomous program."
The one-act play program stared in 1986 with money from the Altman Foundation. By that time, she said,
the group was doing an annual musical with about 35 children. The next one is scheduled for September
at the Lambs Theater, with an out-of-town rehearsal period in Tannersville, N.Y.
The one-act plays are developed during the week on Block Island, which ended Saturday. It wasn't all
work, however. "We went to the beach. We had a sand-castle contest. We went tube racing at a pond.
We went out for ice cream. We worked and we played." said Karen. And each day, sitting on a porch
overlooking the ocean, "We made wishes before the sun went down." Karen wants to be an actress,
among other things, "now that I see it can be a lot of fun. It's easy, if you set your mind to it," she said.