Performing Arts Center at 32 Below makes its debut Performing Arts Center at 32 Below opens
There's a new performing arts center in New Milford.
The Performing Arts Center at 32 Below is up and running, based in renovated space on the lower level of the Connecticut Sports Arena at 32 Still River Drive.
Artistic director Beth Bonnabeau heads the center, which offers something for many age groups.
"We're here to nurture the gifts you have and help you acquire skills," Bonnabeau said. "The poise, the confidence, the ability to stand up in front of a room and speak, you may need down the road."
The center blossomed from the arena's Theatre Kids program, which Bonnabeau started in February 2013. The program is now under the umbrella of PAC at 32 Below.
PAC's spring session will start April 19. Offerings include early childhood classes in movement and dance; acting and musical theater courses for all age groups, musical theater dance for ages 12 to adult and tap for adult. Individual private music instruction for all age groups and levels is available.
The Theatre Kids program, geared toward students age 7-17, is growing. The current session will stage "Beauty and the Beast Jr." May 2-3.
The summer session will feature two productions: "The Battle for Broadway," to be staged July 25-26, and "Avenue Q," to be staged July 31 and Aug. 2.
In addition, an April 13-17 spring break camp, featuring a trip to see "The Fantasticks" in New York City and a musical revue of "Matilda," is on tap.
Bonnabeau said since the arena offers an after-school program, children can take the bus there, where they can do homework, have a snack and then take their after-school PAC class.
She also teaches the Theater Kids program. All other classes are taught by local, award-winning dancers, professional musicians and other professional theater folk, including Robin Frome, Missy Hanlon, Jackie Decho-Holm, LuAnn Johns and Regina Sweeney.
"I want students to experience different teachers and different perspectives," Bonnabeau said.
Growth and confidence are part of PAC's philosophy, Bonnabeau related.
For example, at the beginning of each arena theater program, Bonnabeau and her students introduce themselves. Everyone must say their name, say something unique and embarrassing about themselves and describe something weird they can do.
This creates what Bonnabeau calls the "no-judgment space," allowing students to let down their guard and feel comfortable.
She also ensures no "kid has to be a rock wall." If a student isn't the best singer, but can dance, she will fit the dancing into the show.
"I want them to come out feeling happy and confident," she said.
Brianan Dowler, 15, of New Preston, who has worked with Bonnnabeau since 2009, said Bonnabeau helped her "open up and find who I am."
Participating in programs "made me feel welcome and happy," Brianan related.
Productions are staged on arena's upper level, which is transformed from a skybox, with large windows that overlook the main space, into a full theater, complete with a house, custom stage and wings. Darkening curtains cover the windows.
Bonnabeau emphasized PAC's family atmosphere.
"It's kind of like a big family," said Clare Costello, 14, of the bond between staff and students. "It's not fun being away from them" between shows.
Clare has participated in Bonnabeau productions for nearly five years.
Costello's mother, Jo Anne, praised Bonnabeau's instruction and ability to "bring (Clare) completely out of her shell" and help her build confidence.
For registration, call the Connecticut Sports Arena at 860-799-6000.