'Passion and commitment' unite FineLine students
When it comes to the performing arts, FineLine Theatre Arts has something for everyone.
Whether a student is interested in musical theater, drama, dance or fitness, people of all ages and skill levels can discover, explore and perfect their artistic talent at FineLine's studio on Railroad Street in New Milford.
"Students looking for recreational classes would be happy and students looking for pre-professional classes would be happy [here]," said Elizabeth Parkinson, who co-founded the studio with her husband, Scott Wise, in 2006.
The couple focuses on offering and teaching quality classes that teach and inspire students in classes of 15 students or less.
"We spend a lot of time on technique so [the students] know the vocabulary" and understand "how that technique supports the dance [or other art], and inspire them to love it," Ms. Parkinson explained.
"We have fun teaching them and they're going to leave the class knowing something. They'll walk away with a craft or at least the knowledge of a craft," she said.
Joining Mr. Wise and Ms. Parkinson are nine teachers and two student-teachers. Excluding the student-teachers, all staff has extensive background in their field of expertise.
The couple said the studio prides itself in having quality teachers. For example, they don't offer a "real" hip hop dance class, they said, because they "can't find the caliber of teacher" they would like to have on staff.
One of the things that sets FineLine apart from other performing art studios is its male enrollment, the couple said. Out of the 300-member student body, about 20 are boys, not including the toddlers in the acrobatics class.
"It changes the dynamic of the school," Mr. Wise said, referring to the positive results of having that number of boys at the school.
"It's something I've always wanted," Ms. Parkinson said. "It's important for girls to have the boys for partnering.
Mr. Wise pointed out that, although many businesses are struggling in these tough economic times, FineLine is holding steady with enrollment and studio growth.
At the start of the school year last September, FineLine celebrated the opening of studio space on the second story of its building at 66 Railroad St. to accommodate its growing student body, thus keeping class sizes to a minimum.
Acting classes and piano and vocal lessons are held upstairs, while soft-shoe and movement/acrobatics classes are held on the lower level.
The upstairs space is also rented out for visual art and creative writing courses led by outside teachers.
"Our business is growing and we're grateful it's growing in a time when a lot of businesses are struggling," Ms. Parkinson said.
Julie Czerenda of New Milford teaches visual arts experience classes at FineLine and her daughter, Zoe, 13, takes tap, ballet and jazz and is part of the ensemble at FineLine.
"What [Zoe] is learning from their dance is far beyond what she would learn anywhere else," she said.
Ms. Czerenda said she appreciates watching her daughter and the other students "grow together" and learn "self confidence."
"They're forever talking about the positive and the students are inspired to be better," she said.
Ms. Czerenda praised Ms. Parkinson and Mr. Wise for having "an appreciation for all of the arts," as evident by their offer to have her teach visual arts there.
"The energy in the whole studio is incredible," Ms. Czerenda said. "It inspires your spirit."
The majority of FineLine students are from New Milford and Sherman but also come from Hartford, Southbury, Middlebury and New York, according to studio manager Paula Burns.
Some students are enrolled in only one class while others take multiple courses and are at FineLine almost every day.
Jamel Carroll, 17, of New Milford is one of FineLine's familiar faces. He is taking ballet, jazz, acting, ensemble and musical theater.
"I want more," said Jamel, who came to FineLine in early 2009.
"They not only teach the [fundamentals], but they teach you how to be professional," he said.
That makes sense given the fact Mr. Wise and Ms. Parkinson have both experienced professional careers on Broadway.
Mr. Wise worked on Broadway for 25 years and won a Tony Award for his work in Jerome Robbins' "Broadway."
Ms. Parkinson has performed worldwide and achieved acclaim for her work in "Fosse" and "Movin' Out" on Broadway. She earned a Tony Award nomination in 2003 and has won an Astaire Award for best female dancer on Broadway.
The couple looks for and welcomes all students, but especially those who are committed.
"It's great if they have raw talent," Ms. Parkinson said. But one "thing that unites our students is passion and commitment."
"It's easy for a dance studio to become a factory and sort of get away with it because parents might not know what a good studio looks like," Ms. Parkinson explained. "We really don't want that and we want [students] to learn something."
Students have an opportunity to celebrate their hard work twice a year. Performances are given at Christmas time and in June.
Additionally, students may attend Broadway Bound, a summer camp held in New York, as well as the studio's most serious summer offering, the Vineyard Arts Project, a musical theater lab held on Martha's Vineyard.
Opening a studio in the community in which they live -- they are Sherman residents -- was something Mr. Wise had hoped for in recent years, and it turned out to be fulfilling for them as well as a successful business.
"We love our location. I like to be able to walk to the coffee shop," Ms. Parkinson said.
"We're really happy we came to New Milford and pleased with the community and the support we get," she said.
For information about FineLine Theater Arts, call the 66 Railroad St. studio at 860-210-1444.