Stage Left proves right fit for Rockland County kids

Stage Left Children’s Theater in Tappan may be for kids, but its impact on Rockland County has been anything but small. Founded in 1999 by current Artistic Director Ayn Lauren, the once 25-member, one show per-year company has since evolved into a thriving local theater education system.

Stage Left now serves approximately 500 students grades Pre-K through 12 through a variety of workshops, productions, after-school programs, and summer camps.

One student of the 1999 Stage Left cast of “Mary Poppins” directed by Lauren—Jessica Barrios-Jones—now serves as the Executive Director and Producer of the 25-year-old theater. The experience, she emphasized, feels like a full-circle moment.

“I grew up in this theater,” Barrios-Jones explained. “I learned how to direct here and ended up going to school for musical theatre. I came back as an instructor and director for a number of years while I did other things with my career…(Now), I’m extremely happy to be in this position. Just knowing what Stage Left was for me—as a creative outlet, a safe space, an opportunity to make friends from different schools. It’s a really exciting opportunity.”

While Stage Left continues to serve as a creative outlet for students, its methods of doing so have multiplied. At its core, the semester-based program runs a wide selection of in-house workshops for elementary through middle school students. Children grades K-2 and 3-5 perform musicals and kids grades 6-8 put on straight plays that deal with more serious yet age-appropriate subject matter.

By participating in these classes and learning what it takes to make a show happen, students then have the opportunity to audition for Stage Left’s annual mainstage production, which ultimately takes place at Nyack’s BOCES Ritterhausen Auditorium. A musical director, choreographer, costumer, lighting designer, and sound designer all come together to help the children put on the best show possible. This year’s production is “Seussical,” which runs from Thursday, May 9 to Saturday, May 18 at the Ritterhausen Auditorium with a double cast of 50.

The theater company also runs after-school enrichment programs and teaching residencies in South Orange town and Pearl River school districts, with hopes to expand further.

When speaking of the impact she has seen Stage Left make on students of all kinds, Barrios-Jones smiled.

“A number of kids come here with an interest in theatre, or they come and haven’t yet found their ‘thing’ maybe—whether it be sports or something else their peers are interested in, and haven’t found their place,” said Barrios-Jones. “A lot of the students that come here find that home…There’s lots of little ways we like to help our students find where their strengths are and continue to build on them. ”

A Stage Left cast member sings out

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