I was a student at Stage Right for a little under ten years. I have very fond memories of my time at the studio, and have made some lifelong friends from my time there. I appreciate the experiences Stage Right gave me as a young performer, and I genuinely think they are providing kids with a great place to learn and practice theater. That being said, I believe the studio is in dire need of a change, specifically in the way students are treated and talked to. It was a problem when I was a student, and reading these stories it seems like it continues to be a problem today.
During my time at Stage Right I was on the receiving end of a lot of emotional, mental, and verbal abuse mainly by the artistic director. For starters, I was constantly pitted against and compared to other students (one in particular) and was always told that what I was doing wasn’t good enough, and that I needed to be more like this one female student. He made sure to always compare myself and my performances to this female student, and would make it a point to publicly point out that he believed this student was better, prettier, and more talented than me.
We did a Disney Medley for Sensations where I played the “poor” and “ugly” Cinderella, and at some point I transformed into the other female student who played the “rich” and “pretty” Cinderella who got to go to the ball. At some point we put on a one act play written by a fellow Stage Right student. I ended up not being able to do the play, and my very small part was then given to this female student. The artistic director made a point to say in rehearsals, in front of the entire cast, that when this female student played this part (about two lines in the entire show), she reminded him of a “pretty, popular cheerleader.” He suggested she wear her own clothes for the show, and bring one of her Mother’s designer purses as a prop. He told me that when I played the part it reminded him of a “depressed butch lesbian,” and that he would have put me in flannel, work boots, and a short wig. I was only about 13 or 14 at the time, but I recognized he was trying to embarrass and belittle me in front of my peers.
Now when this female student wasn’t doing a show or a summer camp, his tune would completely change. He would tell me how strong of a performer I was, and how all the other students looked to me as a leader. He would then pick on others in the cast and compare them to me or other students. As soon as the female student would come back his snide, rude remarks would return however, and I would go back to being one of the students he picked on instead of praised. On the occasion I would receive a lead or a featured role in a show, I was rarely allowed to perform on Friday or Saturday nights. When they would triple and quadruple cast a show, I would always be forced to take a Thursday night show or a matinee simply because the artistic director didn’t believe I was capable of performing for a bigger crowd.
For one particular show, I was the only cast member for this character that could perform on the Saturday night show as my peers had a school function. The artistic director got very upset, and angrily told me it was a sold out show and that I had better be able to “handle it.” He would always make comments like this towards me, and I felt like I had to I constantly prove to him I was a capable performer. All the students there know he has a temper. The knowledge of this temper led me to become very anxious when it came to memorizing blocking, lines, or choreography, because I knew if I messed up I would be on the receiving end of a yelling in front of my peers. It was always incredibly embarrassing, and felt very belittling as a young child.
I remember on more than one occasion he made a student cry, and would then criticize them more for crying in class or at rehearsal. I witnessed in classes and rehearsals him show this temper many, many times. I understand being tough on your students so they work harder and push themselves to be better performers. However, the way he talks and yells at these kids is completely inappropriate and unacceptable.
When I left Stage Right after becoming busier with my high school’s theater club and show choir, I was received with animosity from the artistic director. Whenever I would go back to Stage Right to visit or see one of their shows, he was always cold to me. The other students, my childhood friends, also started treating me differently after I left. He brainwashes these kids into thinking that any studio or theater organization outside of Stage Right is terrible, and you leaving to go do shows with them is straight up treason. So when I left I really feel like I had my family taken away from me. These people I had grown up with now will barely talk to me because I decided to take a step back and focus more on my school’s theater and music program.
To this day the artistic director still acts coldly towards me, and barely acknowledges me as if he hasn’t known me since I was a kid. It’s really disappointing, because at one point I did see Stage Right as a home. We all loved and worshipped the artistic director and his wife because they were our teachers and our mentors. We wanted to please them, we wanted their approval, and we wanted to make them proud of us. I remember working so hard and doing everything I could for them to notice me, and to tell me I was doing a good job.
I admired them so much, and their approval was everything to me. While I always found the education coordinator to be very loving and supportive, I unfortunately never felt that from the artistic director. He would have his moments where he might single you out and offer praise, and on those moments you felt like you were on top of the world. Which makes his outbursts all the more upsetting because you felt like you were letting down someone you looked up to, someone who you thought believed in you.
I don’t wish for Stage Right to be shut down, and I don’t wish for anyone to be fired or replaced. All I ask is that the board genuinely take these accounts seriously, and take the time to reevaluate how they run the studio. You don’t have to let this cycle continue. Please do better for the sake of your current and future students.