PS 133 Holds Up Talent

By Nancie L. Katz, Daily News Staff Writer, June 2000: 

Now 100, Capone’s Old Haunt Showcases Student Skits

Its been 80 years since Al Capone got expelled from school in Park Slope, but that didn’t keep him from reappearing recently at Public School 133.

In a stuffy auditorium packed with excited students, five sixth-graders danced and sang their interpretation of the mobster alum — a rotten kid who extorted milk money from anyone he could.

“Big Bad Al Capone . . . he got kicked out of . . .’cause he was bad, bad to the bone,” they chanted.

“Gimme your change, schoolboy!” sixth-grader Norvin Moreno, aka mobster Capone, said to classmate Tahj Watkins, after a resounding “smack” on the kisser. “This town’s only big enough for one tough guy, and that’s me!”

But as the skit continues, “Nigel” convinces “Capone” that Chicago is the place to go, and the child mobster — wearing a white shirt and sporting a red bow — stalked off the stage and presumably out of the school. The crowd cheered.

PS 133’s presentation was something more — a chance for city youth who otherwise have few opportunities to excel to do exactly that.

“You will see craziness,” warned Bill Bartlett, whose Imagine Project worked with the fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders at the school to stage the play. They have been extraordinary.

“This may be the only time some will ever be performing. They created it. Everything is original.”

Founded in 1992, the Imagine Project has worked in schools throughout the city helping children, as Bartlett said, “to rediscover their innate creativity and imagination.”

Working with his musician daughter, Holly Bartlett-Lasala, Bartlett founded the not-for-profit company under the auspices of New York University. It is an attempt to steer the creative energies of low-income, at-risk children away from violence and toward art.

All the words and songs are solely written by the children.

In the skits at PS 133, the students merrily created “Kids’ Society,” in which children rebelled against their parents and formed their own club rules.

Capone was featured in “Centennial Man”, in which Tahj Watkins plays a century-old man remembering his past as a tribute to the school’s 100th anniversary. That idea, Bartlett admitted, is the only one adults gave the students.

Principal Maria Martinez said she was thrilled with the program, saying it gave the predominantly low-income minority students “another chance to experience success.”

“At a school where less than half the children are reading at grade level, the project also builds their literacy skills,” she said.

“It is fabulous. Look at their faces,” she glowed, gesturing to the children watching in the audience. “You can see how children who are not that confident in class blossom here. It’s a wonderful outlet for self-expression, and all the children benefit.”

Sixth-grader Bryan Davis, 12, said he loved the applause. “It’s fun, and it inspires us to express our talents and it lets us show our emotions,” he said. “In our normal daily life, you can do that. But it’s just better doing it in front of people.”

Barbara Arias is ready to become an actress.

“I like doing it because it helps me,” said the 11-year-old, who also is school council president. “I used to be shy when Bill came last year, but now I’m not shy talking in front of people. I can talk without getting nervous.”