From its humble beginnings in a classroom at St. Anthony’s Church to a dedicated storefront studio on Brower Avenue, which now has 150 students, To The Stage in Oceanside has become a haven for the performing arts on Long Island.
To celebrate its impressive 10-year anniversary, the performing arts school is holding a special concert, entitled “To The Stage Celebrates 10” at Don’t Tell Mama in New York City on Sept. 10.
“The show features 14 performers,” To The Stage owner Courtney Koehle said. “They’ll each be performing a song that they’ve sung in a show at our school and a couple will be performing duets of songs from our shows together and it runs about two hours long.
She said that the show will also feature alumni of the school who have gone on to perform on Broadway.
“One of our alumni, Daelynn Jorif, was one of our students for almost all 10 years and was my assistant teacher and she just got cast in the Broadway national tour of Les Mis,” Koehle said.
Also on the bill is 14-year-old Bella May Mordus, who performed in “The Ferryman” on Broadway and a couple other small Broadway shows. There will also be musical theater college students who have done smaller shows. Also couple of Koehle’s students who have been with her for 10 years straight will be there too.
“Additonally, one of our Broadway To The Stage Boot Camp instructors Lauryn Ciardullo, who played Jasmine in “Aladdin” on Broadway, will be performing; she now teaches one of our classes in the summer,” Koehle said.
To The Stage enrolls students from age three up to high school and its approach ensures that every kid gets to be a star.
“We teach singing, acting, and dancing skills and at end we put on a Disney or Broadway show,” Koehle said. “We keep each class small; under 15 kids, so every kid gets to perform a lead role with a lot of lines and solos. Nobody’s just in the background like in school plays sometimes; we want them to actually be exposed to the larger roles.”
Koehle said another goal of the school is to boost children’s self-esteem, something she had struggled with herself in the past.
“Growing up, I never really had a lot of confidence and was really insecure,” Koehle said.
“So, I wanted to start a place where kids could find confidence and build their self-esteem. There are some programs out there that are really competitive and about making the child a star but we’re more about building self-esteem and confidence and helping kids find what’s unique about themselves and embracing that.”
She also started To The Stage to fill a niche in the community.
“I went to school for theatre and at first I thought I wanted to perform, but I found that I really liked working with kids,” Koehle said. “I grew up in Oceanside and there wasn’t really anywhere like this in town where I could work with kids on musical theatre.”
She said one of her most rewarding experiences at To The Stage was watching her students embrace more mature productions.
“A few years ago, we starting doing shows like Spring Awakening, Hair and Rent,” Koehle said. “Those shows are a little more risqué and the community was a little nervous about us doing these productions with high school kids. But now these performers say these performances were the greatest experiences of their lives and it was life changing working on such controversial material.”
Another one of her greatest memories is bringing her family into the act.
“When we did Rent six years ago, my dad played the drums and my brother played the bass guitar in the pit and I directed and my mom produced,” Koehle said. “When my son took his first class with me at three years old this past year, it was very rewarding to be able to see his enthusiasm and excitement in the class and for my two greatest accomplishments to come together.”
But the biggest reward is seeing her students grow over the years.
“I love seeing how far they come whether in theatre or in school and how they come out of their shells and are now confident teenagers in high school,” Koehle said. “A lot of my students come back and teach for me and that’s a big confidence builder for them.”