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Actor, playwright team up to celebrate boro diversity

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Take a 59-year-old Flushing resident with a long career in stage and screen acting, put him together with a 46-year-old friend who's an experienced playwright, and what do you get?

You get a "multi-cultural, theatrical, non-profit educational organization located in the borough of Queens, New York celebrating its 10th year of service to the people of Queens this year," as described in the literature for Ark & Allen, Inc. on Parsons Boulevard in Flushing.

James Keels, the one with the acting career, and Alan Kanen, the playwright, used their life savings to found the non-profit in April 1991. Now, "this is my day job," Keels told Qguide. Their goal was and is to create and promote original plays conveying the ethnic diversity of Queens, and to build young people's confidence through stage acting.

"Acting is probably the healthiest activity," said Keels, whose roles have ranged from playing Hamlet and Macbeth to portraying a hospital orderly on the soap, "As the World Turns." "It's a great way to handle fear and stress."

Kanen, born and raised in Jackson Heights, has so far written four plays for the company's "cultural-ethnic awareness project," and has copyrighted them under Ark & Allen rather than just his own name. The plays - which can be performed as stage productions or read as radio plays - are:

"John Bowne's Journey" - about Bowne and the Remonstrance, his legendary struggle for religious freedom which led to the establishment of the First Amendment.

"Lewis Latimer's Laboratory" - portrays the self-educated black scientist who developed the carbon filament for Edison's light bulb, helped in the work of Bell's telephone, and developed the first municipal lighting systems for New York, London, and Montreal.

"Captain Fajardo's Mission" - profiles an Ecuadorian-American who grew up in Queens, became a bomb disposal expert, fought in the Persian Gulf War, and died there protecting the men in his company.

"Gertrude Ederle's Challenge" - about a young American who became the fist woman to swim the English Channel.

Ark & Allen had produced the plays at various venues around Queens, but now, since Keels is recovering from an illness and is under doctor's orders to ease his daily schedule, the company rents out (for $50) the scripts to organizations to present, usually as an effective fundraiser. Ark & Allen will also sell the scripts for $10 to individuals or families who wish have them for their own reading.

The company, which gets funding from Flushing Savings Bank, Verizon, and Borough President Claire Shulman (and of course welcomes any other donations), offers Saturday afternoon acting classes in August at $10 a session for young people from 8 to 20 years old (in three separate age groups) at the Galaxy Arts Center, 11-11 34th Ave. in Astoria. Kanen and Keels came up with a "What is it?" contest for kids whose parents request a brochure from Ark & Allen. The youngsters have to imagine what the strange, computer-generated creature on the Ark & Allen brochure is; the kid who comes up with the most original and interesting identification wins four free acting classes in August. The runner-up gets two free classes. Entries have to be postmarked by July 27.

For more information about the contest, the scripts or the acting classes, call Ark & Allen at 718-358-1955 or visit www.arkandallen.org.

Reach Qguide Editor David Glenn at timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

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