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Brooklyn Youth Into Wilde Groove

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Undaunted by the funding freeze from such public sources as the Department of Cultural Affairs, the Brooklyn-based Vertices Incorporated has embarked on a production relying almost solely on donations from local merchants, all in an effort to help local youth.

The production is a musical version of Oscar Wilde's "Salome," based on the Biblical story of John the Baptist's death and the woman responsible for it. It's produced and directed by AUDELCO-winning actor/director Reg Flowers, who was featured on Broadway in David Hirson's "Wrong Mountain" and who also received an L.A. Ovation Award for his work in "Angels in America." Flowers is also part of Falconworks, a group of performing artists that includes 2001 Obie-winner Stephanie Berry ("The Shaneequa Chronicles").

Flowers says "Salome Vogue" began accidentally. He was finishing up "Curses," a solo piece, at the Westbeth Theatre Center, and was hunting for a new venue when he happened upon the Brooklyn Lyceum in Park Slope, where he lives.

"It's a monstrosity of a building that was the public baths," Flowers says. "There are still bullet holes you can see."

Flowers found owner Eric Richmond trying to assemble "a group of 100 actors from the community that would help him figure out what kind of arts organization the Brooklyn Lyceum could be." Through Richmond, Flowers met director/choreographer DJ McDonald, another Park Slope resident who founded the nonprofit, dance-oriented Vertices Incorporated in 1986 and was restarting the long-dormant group.

"And I noticed," Flowers says, "kids hanging out in front of the Brooklyn Lyceum. I'd see them and wonder what they'd be doing if they had some extracurricular activities at school. There was even an incident on my street where one kid set his house on fire because there was nothing to do. I thought, if we could bring them off the street, that would be good, instead of having them wonder what all these 'artists' were doing in their neighborhood." Now, with this production, the local youth will have the opportunity to both perform in and work behind-the-scenes on a professional project.

Flowers has long wanted to direct a production of "Salome," and felt the play, if adapted, would help introduce theatre to local youth. He also had to be creative in funding the project, since neither Falconworks, the Brooklyn Lyceum, nor Vertices Incorporated had much of a track record with public funders, and appeals to foundations and individuals would take time. Sizing up his neighborhood, Flowers theorized that local merchants might see "Salome Vogue" as an economic boon from which they could benefit, as theatregoers patronized local shops and restaurants.

After casting five Equity members in pivotal roles (including the parts of Herod, Herodias, and Salome), Flowers began asking Park Slope merchants for in-kind donations and cash, positioning the Showcase-code "Salome Vogue" as "an ensemble of professionals working with emerging artists from the community."

Flowers stressed the production's goals: "to provide young adults in the area with recreation that will be fun, educational, and skill building…to provide a draw for all businesses in Park Slope in an effort to stimulate economic growth and security."

Then there's Flowers' funky production concept: "Set in a modern society dominated by a drug lord (Herod), the play, originally set in the palace of the Tetrarch at the dawn of Christianity, is located in an abandoned warehouse in a fictional city in America in the near future."

The 30-member cast includes local performance artists, poets, musicians, rap artists, and street performers, and runs from Jan. 11-27. Call (718) 857-4816 for more information.

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