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Youth theater awards Southeast Queens teens

Honoring the work of the more than 200 southeast Queens children who put together its musicals and plays, TEEM Productions handed out the equivalent of the Academy Awards to 57 young thespians.

The nominees, ranging in age from 8 to 19, all participate in Teach Enlighten Empower Motivate Productions, a youth-oriented theater program based in southeast Queens. The Black Diamond Awards, held Jan. 5 in Jackson Heights, are the organization’s version of the Oscars.

Claudia Aldamuy, who created the program along with her daughter Crystal, said she started the group because her home was a favorite after-school hangout for the neighborhood kids and she saw a need for a creative outlet so that the children could express themselves.

“The Black Diamond is the final part of our esteem-building process that starts in September and continues throughout the school season,” Aldamuy said. “Our program is all about building self-respect and esteem.

“Winners are those children we have seen grow from the time we met until the awards,” she said. “Winners are those children who made a difference.”

The not-for-profit, youth-oriented theater and arts program, which has won grants from the Queens Council of the Arts, began in 1996 and, according to Aldamuy, is the only after-school program of its kind in School District 29. In addition, TEEM runs a summer workshop program to work with children on acting, script writing and stage production.

The evening was an enormous success, said Aldamuy, with 257 people from the southeast Queens community attending the awards to support the children.

The event’s keynote speaker was state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans).

TEEM produces two musicals and two plays a year at PS 15 at 121-15 Lucas St. and IS 192, both in Springfield Gardens. The group’s productions are a combination of plays and musicals, including an original TEEM-written and produced production.

Aldamuy said TEEM auditions children who want to participate in the program, which meets three times a week each semester and accepts between 25 and 40 kids, depending on the production.

The objective of the program is to fill the void created in the school system because of declining school budgets, which have forced cuts in extracurricular and after-school activities, Aldamuy said.

“In the upcoming year,” she said, “we are looking for space outside of the school so all kids can participate. We want to bring in kids from all over the community.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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