Centerstage Academy Celebrates 20 Years of Music and Arts Education is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.

Centerstage Academy puts on four to five musical productions a year. Longtime student Jenna Stetina starred as Fiona in last April's production of Shrek the Musical. (Courtesy Centerstage Academy)
Centerstage Academy puts on four to five musical productions a year. Longtime student Jenna Stetina starred as Fiona in last April’s production of Shrek the Musical. (Courtesy Centerstage Academy)

Centerstage Academy is celebrating 20 years of bringing music and theater to the Historic Triangle.

Owner and founder Rebecca Lowe began teaching piano lessons while she was a student at the College of William & Mary in the mid-1990s and quickly found she could not keep up with the demand.

The realization there was such a desire for musical education in the community inspired Lowe to open Centerstage Academy in September 1995.

In its early days, the Academy occupied just one suite in the Harwood Village office complex in York County. Lowe and a handful of other teachers started out teaching piano, guitar and flute to about 120 students.

Since then, the school has expanded to occupy five suites in the same complex, with 25 teachers teaching giving musical instrument, vocal and acting lessons to nearly 400 students ranging in age from 3 to 70 years old.

When Centerstage Academy opened its doors 20 years ago, Lowe recalls there being “not as many opportunities in schools” for local kids to try their hands at music and theater.

“[Music and theater] are much more accessible today,” Lowe said. “We see a lot more elementary and middle schools students getting involved than ever before.”

As the group continued to grow and take on more of a musical theater focus, as opposed to the early emphasis on musical instruments, a major challenge became finding spaces to perform.

“Finding venues to put on our productions has always been an obstacle,” Lowe said. “A performing arts center is badly needed in this area.”

The desire for a “home-base” performance space informs Lowe’s vision for Centerstage Academy’s own standalone building, which she is hopeful will materialize within the next 10 years.

Also on the horizon for the school is a wider variety of classes. Centerstage Academy has bee notable up until now for its lack of dance offerings, which Lowe attributes to her own lack of experience with dance and the physical limitations of the classroom spaces, but just this year the academy began dipping its toes in the water with a Broadway-style dance class.

A performance magic class has also recently been added to the schedule, further expanding the scope of the arts taught at the school.

Though the classes offered at Centerstage Academy are varied, their underlying philosophy is consistent.

“We want to help kids discover the joy of art,” Lowe said. “We’re not necessarily looking to develop concert pianists.”

Despite, or perhaps because of this more laid-back approach to teaching, several former students of Centerstage Academy have gone on to big things.

Achievements of past students include film credits in major Hollywood movies such as Before the Fall, roles in well known television programs such as House of Cards and national tours with hit Broadway shows like MEMPHIS.

Whether any future students go on to achieve fame, Lowe and her fellow teachers are looking forward to continuing to teach and instill a love of the arts in their students.

“Our mission is to provide a fun, positive experience for kids,” Lowe said. “The life skills that arts offer – creativity, confidence, passion – are just invaluable.”