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Bushwick in bloom: Big Green Theater Fest grows

Easy being green: Actors Flako Jimenez, left, Katey Parker, Jeremy Pickard, Isabella Sazak, Vicki Rodriguez, and Harry Poster rehearse for the Big Green Theater Festival.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

This festival is growing like a weed!

The Big Green Theater Festival, an annual event where professional actors perform plays written by Bushwick fifth-graders, is putting on a bigger-than-ever show this year, with more imaginative staging and the addition of live music, according to the organizers.

“We did some exciting new things this year,” said director Jeremy Pickard.

The festival is part play-writing workshop, part environmental justice primer. Each year, the Bushwick Starr theater and theatrical group Superhero Clubhouse partner with Bushwick’s PS 123 to stage student-written plays while teaching kids environmentally conscious theater practices, such as recycling sets and costumes. The groups also bring expert speakers to school students on environmental conservation.

This year’s production draws the audience into the action in new ways, imagining onlookers as a tour group in a futuristic museum. Under the guise of historical re-enactors, the cast portrays the everyday lives of people on an Earth-like planet just before its environmental collapse, Pickard said — the audience is at once participating in the play and the subject of its satire.

In addition to getting meta with this year’s production, the group also introduced students to set- and costume-design, as well as songwriting, Pickard said.

“There are some original songs in the production that the kids wrote,” he said.

And for the first time, the theater is taking its 11 student playwrights on field trips — first to Colombia University’s Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, and then to the New York Harbor School on Governor’s Island.

The Big Green Theater was conceived as a way to give back to the neighborhood in which the Bushwick Starr has operated for nearly a decade, Allain said.

“We were really excited to be part of the arts community in Bushwick, but we were also aware that this was part of a gentrification process,” he said.

Locals told Allain there was a lack of arts and after-school programming in the neighborhood, so the Starr created the Big Green Theater Festival to combine after-school arts with community outreach. Now Allain is starting to see the fruits of that labor pay off.

“It’s nice when you see kids who go to 123 that weren’t in the program but saw the show and recognize you,” he said.

“Big Green Theater Festival” at the Bushwick Starr (207 Starr St. near Irving Avenue, www.thebushwickstarr.org). April 27 at 7 pm. $18.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.

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