Posted 8/13 @ 6:18pm.
I have a long, long history with all of the Marinos and Stage Right!, so I’m prepared for whoever to pass this off as “biased.” Isn’t it funny how you tend to form lifelong friendships with those people who support you and who you’ve respected and admired for decades? Crazy.
Tony and Renata directed/choreographed my high school’s spring musical during my freshman year. A billion years ago, give or take. They saw something in me that I’d never seen or believed in myself. They gave me an opportunity to be something big because they realized very raw potential in an incredibly scared, insecure, majorly-bullied nerd of a kid, as they do with every student across the board. (Speaking of bullying, I remember VERY vividly being mocked and laughed at by other cast members while rehearsing a particularly tense scene and Tony putting a concrete stop to the bullying immediately. That was maybe the first/only time I actually ever felt protected in a school bullying situation. And there were PLENTY.) It was my first foray into theatre outside of church Christmas plays, and the theatre club quickly became my primary focus for the rest of my high school career.
I had a rocky few years right out of high school because I wanted to do theatre in college, but I doubted myself and kept quitting to try and find something I loved as much. (That was a fail.) Every time I came back to Greensburg, Tony and Renata reached out to get me involved in the studio, or at the very least, to offer encouragement. They loved me even though they didn’t have to, even though they weren’t benefitting from it whatsoever. Years went by, I got an acting degree, I worked as a pianist at a major musical theatre conservatory, I earned my Equity card to be a professional actor in the actors’ union, moved to New York for many years, and now act and music direct all over the Pittsburgh area. If not for Tony and Renata, my life as I know it - doing what I actually love as a profession - wouldn’t exist. That’s what they do and have done for HUNDREDS of kids. So, so many of whom will succeed in this business, doing what they love so much.
I have a long history with mental illness, with struggles with my identity, with crippling anxiety, and the Marinos have - for 20 years - been the family I feel air-tight comfortable going to. I can’t put into words how much Tony and Renata care about kids, about the arts, about helping and teaching and making theatre available to absolutely anyone who wants to be a part of it. There is legitimately no one who they wouldn’t listen to or help if that person went to them with a problem. I constantly see them encouraging students to work harder, to meet their full potential. I’m 35, and STILL doing shows with them, I know they’re constantly pushing me to be better. I know they go home after being at the studio all day and still continue to think of their students and what they can do to enhance their lives, both on- and off-stage. I’ve listened to them. They CELEBRATE their students in their victories and HURT for their students in their pain and unendingly strive to strengthen their well-being.
In theatre, you’re going to get direction you don’t like or understand, notes that makes you feel like an idiot. Everything feels so much more personal in theatre because the product you’re selling is YOU; it’s hard not to take offense when someone is telling you that what you’re doing in a rehearsal is wrong. But that’s how we learn and grow. I don’t personally understand anyone saying that Tony raising his voice in a blocking rehearsal, when you didn’t bother to learn your blocking or when you were constantly goofing off and not paying attention, was abusive. If you don’t want to do the work, don’t do it. No one is entitled to anything. Theatre’s not about getting the title role, standing front and center in a sweet costume, getting applause, and hearing that you’re a genius from everyone. You don’t earn that just because you’re paying for class or because you have a college degree. You’re lucky if that happens to you even once, AS A PROFESSIONAL. It’s a career mostly made up of NOT getting the role you want, learning how to get over the disappointment, diving into whatever you WERE given and making it a personal goal to figure out how you can pull every ounce of character you can out of that one moment you might have onstage. That’s what people who want to do theatre do, anyway. And those experiences have taught me more about acting than any others. I know for a fact I’ve gotten better over the years at discerning between what is constructive criticism and my go-to reaction of THEY THINK I SUCK; that is a learned habit that takes time and energy to unlearn. I still play roles where I don’t feel I’m doing my best, where directors call me out for holding back or missing the timing of a scene or any number of notes that make me feel embarrassed for not being perfect. But that’s what directors DO: they put you in a DIRECTION towards the ultimate goal of the show, towards greatness - not just for you, but for everyone. How boring theatre would be if everyone just did whatever they wanted to. Where’s the growth? Where’s the sense of unity or through line? Theatre only works if everyone is on the same page to tell the same story, so if you’re over there doing whatever you want, you’re going to be told to get in sync.
Oh and hey. I’ve known Anthony since he was born, but we were never really close until this past year and a half. We’ve worked onstage in many shows together, but this past summer, Tony gave me the opportunity to sub in for pre-teen music director Jake when he had to be away for a few weeks. I had no idea how good Anthony was at his job until I saw it with my own eyes. He has truly blown me away with the professionalism he has very obviously learned from his parents over the years. He makes kids excited about what they’re doing, he explains his ideas clearly and embraces new ones from cast members. His positive energy is honestly exhausting to me, I don’t know how he does it - what a dream quality to have. It was such an enormously positive experience that I started thinking about getting more into teaching, which I’ve been adamantly against forever because, again, I doubt myself and my ability to inspire anyone, let alone young performers. But Anthony does that so effortlessly, and I want to be a part of that. I am enormously proud of the teacher he’s become, the performer he’s become, the human being he’s become. To watch him AND Gia have so much passion for what they do and genuinely CARE about the people around them and how they’re feeling, to watch them actively tend to others who are battling emotional crises (myself included), to watch them take responsibility for when they’ve made mistakes and continuously strive to be better - the most important thing for all of us to do - I couldn’t be prouder of them.
My heart breaks over all of this. Stage Right! saved, and continues to save, me - not just the staff, but the students themselves: their love of the craft, their passion, their hard work and crazy talent. I felt so proud of those pre-teens in “Rock of Ages” this past June who I worked with so briefly, and I stood in the wings during curtain call with tears rolling down my face while hearing all the teens in the audience cheering on their younger, one-day successors. The amount of support and encouragement and guidance from older kids to younger in this establishment is honestly astounding, something I wish so badly I’d had that young. I don’t regret one moment I’ve had at Stage Right! - the celebratory times, the sweat, the tears, the nervous excitement, the frustration, the confusion, the anxiety, the self-doubt - because all of it nudged me outside of my comfort zone over the many years and gave me life experiences in a supportive environment that made me a better actor. Theatre is hard work. Sometimes you feel like you suck. And you either drown in it or you take responsibility and decide you want it badly enough to work harder. I’ve tried both. The latter works better every time.