These kids are alright.
A new production at Fort Greene’s Irondale Ensemble Project is bridging the generation gap with a show that features both its professional adult company and its teen troupe — the first time in Irondale’s 31-year history that the underage thespians have been teamed up with their fully-grown counterparts.
The group of young actors is primarily comprised of kids from Brooklyn, who receive 160 hours of free training a year and mentoring from the company’s pros.
“This is a way that we have decided begin to pass on what we have learned about becoming a theater company,” said Irondale’s executive director Terry Greiss, who is also a performer in the show.
Together, the two groups are performing Sidney Kingsley’s 1935 play “Dead End,” which follows a group of kids growing up in slums on the east side of Manhattan, while the very first luxury apartments are starting to appear nearby. It is a theme that should resonate with modern-day New Yorkers just as it did with audiences of the era, said Greiss.
“You see the city going through a great change and gentrification like today,” he said. “This is why the piece is so strikingly relevant.”
The play has even more significance for its teen stars — the young actors in Kingsley’s original were thrust into stardom after appearing in the film adaptation of “Dead End” alongside Humphrey Bogart. The “Dead End Kids,” as they were known, went on to star in dozens of films through the 1930s and ’40s.
Greiss said the kids have had to work hard to live up to their forebears — especially to nail the strong 1930s New York dialect spoken by their characters. But the pint-sized players say the rigorous rehearsal process was worth the effort.
“It’s allowed me to strengthen my prowess as a professional actor and it’s shown me that there’s a path to the arts should I want to put the effort in,” said 16-year-old Andre Knight.
Already a few weeks into production, the professional ensemble said the kids have made enormous strides with every show.
“I think for all of them this has become a life changing experience,” said Greiss, who often finds it hard to even get the kids to leave the theater.
As a result of the multi-generational production, Greiss said the teens’ acting abilities are now reaching the level of their adult co-stars’.
“What’s really amazing about it is that they have stepped up to a level of professionalism and rigor that some people can’t tell who’s the professional actor and who’s the non-pro,” said Greiss. “I would measure this production with anything going on in New York today.”
“Dead End” at Irondale (85 S. Oxford St. between Cumberland Street and S. Portland Avenue in Forte Green, www.irondale.org). Through March 29, Wednesday to Saturday 7:30 pm, Saturday 3 pm, $25.