By Ivana Stolnik and Catherine Bonke
For Eva Schully, 14, practicing acting and singing at the Performing Arts Studio of New York is not only a hobby, but also a form of therapy.
Schully said that it teaches her “how to connect with other people in a new way. Now I’m not afraid to get up in front of the class and give a speech.”
People from ages three to 85 come to the studio to spread their wings and expose themselves to the world of performing arts, meet interesting people and have fun along the way.
Deborah Livering, Broadway veteran and Juilliard graduate, Michael Livering, pianist, composer, and record producer, and Terri Morrissey, an actress and singer with over twenty years of experience teaching theater workshop for children, are the directors of the Studio.
Most importantly, participating in the performing arts offers a variety of developmental benefits for children, from intellectual to social and emotional, and also provides a much-needed creative outlet for adults from all walks of life.
Christie Harrington, a local orthopedic acupuncture physician, sings opera to his patients now that he has been coming to the studio for fifteen years. He said performing gave him “a vulnerability, a confidence, a self-assuredness, a scared-shitlessness. I remember the first time I went out on stage I had six shots of Jameson whisky and four shots of espresso, and now I just have lemon water.”
In his opinion, the directors have a unique way of getting people to come out of their shells.
Morrissey teaches the elementary aged students. “My dream was always to be on Broadway and all that,” she said. But after her Broadway dreams didn’t come to fruition, she moved on to teaching. While getting her masters at Stony Brook University and teaching improvisational acting at a summer camp, she met Michael and Deborah Livering and they “hit it off right away” and decided to start the studio.
Before starting the studio, Deborah Livering had developed a cough that closed the door on her singing career, but opened up new opportunities for them to teach together. They moved from Manhattan out to Long Island after finding the studio in Port Jefferson. “It reminded me of the spaces that Deborah used to audition in in Manhattan,” Michael Livering said.
Soon after opening the studio, they found out how truly beneficial the arts were for their patrons. “People told us that coming here was therapy for them,” Michael Livering said. “They have a little gift, a little talent and we give them a place to express it.”
During rehearsals and performances, every child has a chance to be in the spotlight and play a character that has lines and songs. “Our main focus is not on the production,” Morrissey said. “The main focus first is the process. It’s really about how all are in this together.” The elementary class is working on “Annie” while the middle school and high school groups are working on “Into the Woods.”
“Especially in the North Shore, it’s all about the boy in sports,” Morrissey said. “We found that there were some boys who always wanted to express themselves in this kind of creative way.”
Performing arts offers children and youth the benefits that they wouldn’t necessarily get from ordinary settings. It gives them the confidence to perform in front of large audiences. Also, it helps them learn more about who they are and about the potential that they might have.
Small classes ensure individual attention and nurture a strong sense of security. Students can easily express their feelings and ideas through music and acting. Additionally, extensive research that was done on the children who participate in the performing arts revealed that the benefits acquired in those small classes positively influence their everyday lives.
“The research shows participation in performing arts is linked to positive outcomes in school, emotional development, family life and behavior,” wrote Alys Spencer, a professional actress and blogger.
It is no different for the adults who come here on Wednesdays. They want to get away from fast-paced and stressful lives. In the Performing Arts Studio they can slow down, take a deep breath and sing.
“It’s an expression of a part of who I am, and it’s fun. It’s an escape and it’s also just to live. You go around once and you have to make the most of it,” said Christina Giacomazza, a travel agent.
Programs that are carefully designed by Deborah and Michael Livering and Morrissey stimulate creative expression in children and youth. Children here are eager to go on the stage and showcase their capabilities and artistry.
“I remember one father thanking us,” Michael Livering said. “His son was having such consternation in his life. He came here, things came together, he met the right people, he developed confidence and self-esteem and he stood right at this doorway crying and thanking us.”
Students developed very strong bonds with the directors.“They’re like my friends and my teachers at the same time. I can trust them with anything,” Schully said.
Here, making friends and sustaining friendship comes almost naturally. “Even some of the people that I just met, I’ve become such great friends with,” Schully said.
In the group settings, every single participant is actively engaged into exchange of ideas and creativity. No one is left behind.
“We had parents that would tell us that their kid was very shy or was unable to really connect with other people and all of a sudden they were thanking us for changing their lives,” Deborah Livering said.
Forty-two percent of children (between five and 14 years-old) participate in performing arts activities such as acting, drama and singing. It has been proven that those children did better academically and socially.