“That way they would have an easier job transitioning into the play and then they could eventually become caricatures of themselves,” said Trunzo.
As predicted, the kids felt so comfortable in their roles that they really started opening up. What Trunzo didn’t expect was for the play to transition into real life for the kids in the play, aged 7 to 14.
“Astoria Blvd” tells the story of two rival gangs, a group of kids age 12 and up called the Other Siders and a group of kids younger than 12 called the Fire Hydrants. The groups face off in a Rock Band competition at the Variety Boys and Girls Club for full control of Astoria Blvd, but when the younger kids struggle, the older ones step in to help them out, resulting in both groups winning the competition.
“It actually became art imitating life, in a roundabout way. They did have to learn how to work on stage with each other as well as in the play, having to deal with each other,” said Trunzo. “They worked beautifully. It ended up being quite gratifying with the way that the older kids came in and taught the kids and were extremely caring and understanding and patient trying to teach them.”
Over the course of three months, he rehearsed about 15 numbers with the cast of 18 kids. Not that the kids are strangers to the stage; many of them have participated in the talent shows and the School House Rock show produced by Trunzo. And through a program called Early Stages, students can see Broadway shows at affordable prices; they’ve seen “Phantom of the Opera” and “Wicked.”
Trunzo noted that it’s a great learning tool for the children to see the skills used in professional theater and then transition what they’ve learned to the Variety Boys and Girls Club’s Broccoli Theatre, but the most important thing the kids learn on stage is communication and confidence. He has worked with shy kids who came out of their shells by the play’s end.
“One of the kids came to me last week and he just said, ‘Mr. B, it’s amazing. We started out and we were two separate gangs, we really kind of were, but now we’re one cast!’ I’m like, you’re right. You got it,” said Trunzo.
In their recent production of “Astoria Blvd,” the kids effortlessly belted out popular songs, classic hits and Broadway tunes like “Popular” from “Wicked” and “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson. Parents and community members filled the theater to cheer on the talented kids.
“You have to support the kids in the neighborhood. You have to come see them and show them that there is a neighborhood behind them, that wants to see them succeed,” said Trunzo. “That’s the whole point of the Boys and Girls Club. Just that support system, to let the kids know that what they do does not go unnoticed.”
The Salah M. Hassanein Variety Boys and Girls Club is located at 21-12 30th Road in Long Island City. For information, visit www.vbgcq.org.