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Summer camp gives underprivileged kids a safe, creative summer

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EAST HARLEM — It’s a safe bet in this East Harlem neighborhood, most teens are not spending their days on stage getting a taste of what it’s like under the bright lights of Broadway.

The sad fact is, NYPD flood lights and yellow crime scene tape often dominate the landscape in the area.

More often than not, it’s those crime-related stories that find their way into this city’s news cycle.

It’s why PIX11 News was so eager to tell you about an arts camp where some three dozen Democracy Prep Charter School students from East Harlem and some of the toughest neighborhoods in the Bronx have been acting, singing, and dancing for several hours a day for the last three weeks.

They are first time performers.

Inner city kids, like high school junior Victoria Pannell, who are completely out of their element and loving it.

“It’s something that you really don’t see too much in our communities. It’s an amazing experience, because they’re exposing us to so much,” Pannell said.

Audrey Kaplan, founder of the youth acting program “Applause,” is  working her sponsors to bring her acting camp to other schools. She’s had a front row seat to a transformation - students who never thought they’d have the will, let alone the interest - to take the stage.

“I think one of the number one words that was used across the entire circle was, we feel safe here. There are some situations that are difficult,” said Kaplan.

Ultimately, for Audrey and her troup, this isn’t just some old song and dance.

They’ve been working hard for this moment: a prime time showcase in front of their families.

Proof positive that for 16-year-old Victoria Pannell and her fellow performers, Thursday night could just be the first step in a new direction.