‘Fahrenheit 451’ to Be Acted on Stage in Nationwide Arts & Literacy Program

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Meryl Streep recorded a selection from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury for the Project 451 Living Library, a project of The Literature to Life program of The American Place Theatre. (Photo by Steve Di Maio)

The Literature to Life program of The American Place Theatre (APT) will kick off its newest campaign, Project 451, with a celebrity gala May 17 and 18 in Theater at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street, Manhattan. The organization presents professionally staged adaptations of significant American literary works. It is working to reverse the trend of declining reading among young Americans as funding is being cut to school arts programs.

Ray Bradbury, author of “Fahrenheit 451,” will be honored. A verbatim performance of this classic novel, directed by Wynn Handman, has been developed by Literature to Life and will debut at the Gala. The program will conclude with readings of very short passages from other works of great literature by distinguished guests.

Celebrities such as actors Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Sam Waterston, John Hockenberry and Kathleen Chalfant, Eric Bogosian, Jessica Lange, Anna Deavere Smith, Chris Cooper and Marion Seldes and poet laureate Billy Collins will contribute to the Project 451 campaign by recording clips for the Project 451 Living Library. Following the Gala, guests will be given the opportunity to do the same. Participants will simply go on camera, say the name and author of a book they feel must be preserved, and read a short passage.

On Monday May 18, St. Clement’s Church will be open to the public for guests to come in, read from their favorite piece of literature while being recorded. New Yorkers will have their very own experience of keeping literature alive, not only for their children but for themselves as well.

Meryl Streep can be viewed on video reading a passage from “Fahrenheit 451” at 2009literaturetolifeawards.

Each Literature to Life Gala to-date has featured the debut of a verbatim performance of a significant book of American Literature, entering it into the repertoire of its arts education program. This year’s entry, “Fahrenheit 451,” will be acted by Rich Orlow. The piece paints a picture of a world without free thought because citizens don’t read, and asks, “What if that came true?” Ray Bradbury, author of “Fahrenheit 451,” has said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture, you just have to get people to stop reading them.”

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David Kener, Executive Director of The American Place Theatre, and actor Alec Baldwin, who also recorded a selection from Fahrenheit 451. (Photo by Steve Di Maio)

Over 70% of the American students reached by this vital program live below the poverty line, and studies show that a majority of families living in poverty own one or no books in their home. Following the experience of seeing a Literature to Life performance, 85% of students want to read or re-read the book. When students experience Literature to Life Performances and in-school Residency workshops, they engage in a deep and meaningful exploration of curriculum and concepts within English, Social Studies, Character Education and Theatre subject areas.

This year, APT has received many calls from teachers and principals who had been able to budget for these educational programs in the past, saying they now cannot find the funding for the program’s nominal fees. APT is responding to this vital need by inviting supporters to help the institution provide these invaluable programs at no cost to deserving and needing schools.

The American Place Theatre (www.americanplacetheatre.org), now 47 years old, made its first home at Theater at St. Clements in 1963. So this Gala will also be a cherished homecoming to the place where the theater organization first started nurtured authors and poets as writers for the stage. Notable alumni of its productions from that period include Robert Lowell, Sam Shepard, Dustin Hoffman, and Frank Langella.

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Rich Orlow in Fahrenheit 451, a verbatim staged adaptation of the novel by Ray Bradbury, directed by Wynn Handman. (Photo by Jennifer Barnette)

Literature to Life was recently awarded the William T. Grant Foundation’s Youth Service Improvement Grant. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a fan of the program, recently said, “Not only are these inspiring presentations entertaining, they do so much to spark a lifelong passion for reading in their audiences.”

More info on the 2009 Literature to Life Awards is online at: 2009literaturetolifeawards/.

The Gala is on May 17 and 18 at 7:00 pm at Theater at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street, Manhattan. Benefit tickets begin at $100. For tickets call (212) 594-4482 x 16 or visit www.americanplacetheatre.org.