Burgeoning New Milford school preps for 'Nutcracker'
"55 -- 66 --77."
No, it's not a football play, but rather a call to perform.
These are the addresses in New Milford called home by FineLine Theatre Arts during the past eight years.
"We started at 55 West St., then went to the red brick building at 66 Railroad St.," said Scott Wise, co-founder/director of the school. "Now we're at 77 Railroad St."
Three months ago, the culmination of two years work -- thousands of parent volunteer hours coupled with Wise's handyman talents and help from fellow Sherman resident Chris Coughlin -- occurred when FineLine Theatre Arts moved into the former Connecticut Memories building.
"I have to say how great it has been for Elizabeth and me and our staff to have proven this school has staying power, and being part of New Milford and this area," Wise said.
"The town has been amazingly supportive," he said.
Elizabeth Parkinson is Wise's wife. Like Scott, she is a professional dancer. Together, they created FineLine, fulfilling a dream Wise had held for years.
"Scott always wanted to have a school. I supported his dream and have been pleasantly surprised by how much I love teaching," Parkinson said. "It's more satisfying than performing even -- sharing what you've learned with students who are open and receptive.
"We were both in our 40s and felt we had great careers, but were getting older," Parkinson said. "We're both pragmatic, had a new-born baby and wanted to put down roots and be more stable as a family."
Today, some 350 students from preschool age to 18 study tap, ballet, modern dance, voice, musical theater and more at FineLine.
Area residents will get the chance next week to experience the talents of many of FineLine's students.
The school will present its eighth annual "Nutcracker" Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 22 at 1 and 6 p.m. at New Milford High School.
Tickets are $15 and may be purchased the day of the show. Children under 12 will be admitted for free.
For more information, call 860-210-1444 or visit www.finelinetheatrearts.com.
Moore now teaches dance at FineLine.
"One of my mentors when I was a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence (College) knew Elizabeth was part of this school, and advised me to contact her," Moore said.
Wise and Parkinson have enjoyed mega-careers in dance.
Wise stepped back at the top of his career, a Tony Award winner for dance on Broadway and on the rise as a much sought-after choreographer.
The Sherman couple have gathered a staff of professionals who relish sharing their art and knowledge of the theater world with students of all ability ranges.
"When you all have the same strong feelings about teaching," said Leland Williams, who directs FineLine's theater studies, "and a love of the arts, you come together. We all have this incredible philosophy -- to impart our wisdom and help our students through the process.
"Scott sat down with me one day and said, `this acting stuff, that's your world. I'm music/dance. Let's do it. Let's have a school,' " Williams said. "I began as a teacher with Arlene (Begelman) at the School of Performing Arts."
Begelman has brought her many decades of ballet teaching experience to FineLine. She is the school's "bad cop," Williams said with a laugh.
"The students love Arlene," Parkinson said. "If they don't get a correction from Arlene, they feel like things aren't going right."
The love is mutual. Begelman and the rest of the FineLine staff cherish their students.
"We all came out of a background in performance that was so competitive," Begelman said. "We don't want any of that here. We want to give what we can to further our students no matter what level they are at."
Kerry Gallagher runs the not-for-profit ballet company, Artists In Motion, in residence at the school. The company has 24 student members 11 to 17.
"I work with them, bringing in professional choreographers and give them special classes," Gallagher said. "Their performances raise funds for charities, including Dancers Responding To AIDS."
The new location at 77 Railroad St. is a work in progress.
Already in place are a spring floor small ballet studio; tap and acrobatics room with hardwood floor; piano room for practice and voice classes; and large main studio.
Wise has many finishing touches in mind.
"This lobby has become a gathering place as I'd hoped," he said. "Eventually I want to build sets in the basement. Mirrors and a bar are going up in this space" just past the lobby.
Wise said one reason for the move across Railroad Street was to have a modest performance space for the students.
"That's what the kids need," he said. "They don't need a big stage and a big audience. That won't advance them. What they need is a place where they can make mistakes, experiment, fall down and get back up.
"They make a mistake, and then we do another show -- they do better. And then they advance," Williams said. "Full orchestras with huge houses, that's what you do after you graduate."
The ballet program is also bolstered by the teaching of Barbara Braverman.
Musical theater offerings have also grown this year. Instructor Sandy Kleisner has been joined by Julio Matos Jr., a faculty member at Western Connecticut State University with a master's degree in voice and diction.
"We're already at capacity in the new building," Parkinson said. "But that's all right. We want to keep our class sizes small, not have it be a factory.
"I like to think of Fine Line as a boutique conservatory," she said, smiling.
For more photos, see updates at www.newmilfordspectrum.com.