July 19, 2014 at 9:21 AM
SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - When Page O’Connor began volunteering at the studio where her daughter was learning music and dance, she had no idea that 12 years later she would be opening her own studio and creating a thriving arts community here in the Village. TAP sat down with O’Connor and her Associate Director, Kendal Sparks, to talk about the rapid evolution of Class Act Performing Arts Studio.
After being the “head mom” at her daughter’s studio and doing all sorts of volunteer work there, she became the business manager and a partner in that business. O’Connor and her husband, Bill, bought the building at 128 Irvington Avenue originally with the thought of moving that business to South Orange. However, the business relationship with their partner soon ended, and the O’Connors decided to take the plunge and open their own studio.
“We worked from June to September of 2013 to get the studio ready for students,” O’Connor said. “I couldn’t even show prospective students and their parents the building before September. To start the year with 90 kids before anyone even saw the place was kind of amazing. The caliber of teachers I had was amazing. Everybody took a leap of faith all at the same time, and when I look back I can be very...”
O’Connor became visibly emotional as she recounted those early days of the business.
“I don’t know why people trusted me so much,” O’Connor said. “And when they did, I felt like I just have to make this work.”
Sparks jumped in and said, “I know why people trusted her so much, because I was one of the people that took the leap, too.” He had worked at the other studio for three years before the split. “Page’s office was always full of student who needed guidance in their lives, not just in their artistic development. Part of our mission statement is to raise artists of integrity. We’re not trying just to get kids on to Broadway or into great schools. That’s a great by-product, but we are teaching them to be accountable and to take responsibility and all of the life skills that come from working in the arts that are applicable to the workplace. It’s empowering for kids to learn how to collaborate and how to communicate.”
“And to be humble,” added O’Connor. “To be humble is a big one.”
Class Act has grown in its first year to 150 students and is planning for more. The studio trains students at both the recreational and pre-professional level in voice, music, drama and dance. Each teacher specializes in just one area, offering each student top-level training. The studio has a dedicated dance company that travels to compete and a musical theatre company that stages full productions. Class offerings include musical theatre, drama, kinder, voice, ballet, hip-hop, jazz, lyrical and tap.
“While our arts education and training is of the highest caliber available, our primary focus is to create a community of young people that parents can be proud of,” Sparks aid. “We are trying to train artists of integrity and I think that is what sets us apart.”
Class Act Performing Arts Studio: 128 Irvington Avenue, South Orange; 973-789-0191; www.classactpas.com