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Paulanne Simmons

Kids Show Their Strength in "Power of Ten: Plays that Count"

"Power of Ten: Plays that Count"
The Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street between East 4th St. and Astor Place
Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 9 at 3 and 7:30 p.m. & Dec. 10 at 3 p.m.
Tickets are free, reservations required 212.642.5052
Preview by Paulanne Simmons

You won't read about it in The National Enquirer or the New York Post. But while some performers are making headlines with their romantic escapades and brushes with the law, others are working to help inner city youth succeed.

Now in its 25th year, the 52nd Street Project brings together kids from Hell's Kitchen with theater professionals to create original work. Youngsters write plays by themselves and with their mentors in after-school programs and during the summer. The fruits of this labor can be seen at The Public Theater, where the fall 2006 show, "Power of Ten: Plays that Count" will be presented Dec. 8, 9 and 10.

The plays will feature Fran McDormand (the pregnant deputy sheriff in the Coen brothers' "Fargo," on Broadway in Wendy Wasserstein's "The Sisters Rosensweig"), Peter Dinklage (the Jon Favreau holiday comedy "Elf"), Ned Eisenberg (Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby"), Lizbeth MacKay ("Crimes of the Heart"), Robert Sella, Mary Testa and Nancy Giles, a writer and contributor to the Emmy award-winning "CBS News Sunday Morning."

Giles has been working with the 52nd Street Project on and off since 1988 when she learned about the program from her good friend Lewis Black ("The Daily Show with Jon Stewart").

"We did comedy together," she says, "and his girlfriend was working with the 52nd Street Project and described a show she was doing…That summer I went upstate and worked with the kids. I wrote ‘A Night at the Oprah' about a woman who would have dreams that she was Oprah Winfrey."

Giles believes that the experience of working with the 52nd Street Project is transforming for both the kids and the adults who work with them.

"It changes their lives. I have seen kids that are two steps from dropping out go on to graduate high school and then on to college. Sometimes they are the first person in their family to excel," she says. Then she adds, "It enriched my life. It's a wonderful community. I've done some of my best work as an actress in plays written by children. Their plays are innately dramatic and well structured."

Giles will be appearing with Lizbeth MacKay in "Camping in Florida" by nine-year-old Mari Ulloa.

Over the years, Giles has learned that working with children can be not only rewarding, but also be professionally challenging.

"I've worked with big directors, and never had as withering an experience as when a kid said, ‘Do you have to do that accent?'" she said somewhat ruefully.


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