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August 3, 2000, THURSDAY; ALL EDITIONS
YOUR TIME; Pg. Y3

A WITCH'S OTHER POWERS

'SABRINA STAR MELISSAJOAN HART TACKLES DIRECTING AND A CONTROVERSIALSTAGE PRODUCTION

JEANNE SPREIER
Special from The Dallas Morning News

Melissa Joan Hart was a little groggy, despite the noontime hour and her prime-time witchy powers. The star of "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" had returned the previous day from directing an episode of"So Weird" for the Disney Channel. She was spending one day at home, regrouping before heading back to the studio to edit the episode.

After that it was off to New York City to do something she says she hasn't done in eight years, work onstage. In this case, she was doing a two-week stint in"The Vagina Monologues,"a production made even more controversial than its name implies because the estranged wife of New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani was planning to also star in the play.

Hart's latest stint as director of"So Weird's""Snapshot"episode had worn her out."It fries your brain,"she says."You're constantly thinking. The crew is constantly throwing questions at you.

"It's insane but it's so much fun. It's like a good workout." She says she appreciates the difficulties of being a director even more, now that she's done a project away from her home turf. Her directing debut was for a "Sabrina"episode that aired last season. "It was so fun to do Sabrina,"she says. "Everyone was so supportive. I knew everyone, the cast, the sets." Not true at"So Weird."Everything was so different, right down to the technical details."They shoot single camera on location,"she says.

"Sabrina"uses three cameras on a set. Disney has some rules, she says, such as 1 requiring kids to wear helmets during certain sports. She had to know about camera lenses for"So Weird,"something that wasn't an issue with"Sabrina.""I'm glad I didn't turn down the opportunity,"she says, but is sure she'll keep her day job."I'm not planning on quitting acting."

Not for at least two years anyway. Hart has a two-year commitment to continue with"Sabrina,"now that it's moving to The WB this fall from its Friday night home on ABC. Sabrina is going off to college this season, but other than that, the stories will be much the same, Hart says.

"We'll see more advertising, which will be great. WB will put up billboards and really promote it,"she says. Playing a teenage witch appears to fit perfectly with Hart's own personality."I love to be funny and make people laugh,"she says.

"Sabrina is a real girl with extraordinary powers and some good lines."

But does she like being a goofy witch day in and day out?

"Sabrina? I love it! It's the best job in Hollywood,"she enthuses, ticking off the qualities of steady work and a cast and crew who have fun together on the set and off. "The best compliment I've gotten from parents is that, 'This is the only show we can watch with our kids."

GRAPHIC: PHOTO - Melissa Joan Hart says playing "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch"is the"best job in Hollywood."

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