Nestled just across the street from the Long Island Rail Road station on Haven Avenue in Port Washington is a snug studio space packed with a lot of young talent.
The space is home to Shining Studios, a performing arts nonprofit where children and teens interested in theater can hone their crafts.
Founder and Executive Director Kyle Savage of Great Neck first came up with the idea for the studio shortly after graduating from Adelphi University with a master’s degree in education.
“I knew I wanted to work with kids, I knew I wanted to teach, but I didn’t want to teach in a public school system,” Savage said. “I had been working at the Great Neck Arts Center teaching theater there, and I decided to do my own thing.”
Savage, a Babylon native who participated in theater at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip and the Great South Bay YMCA in Bay Shore, knew the value of a performing arts community for young people, and sought to make it happen on the North Shore. Shining Studios’ first rehearsal space was in the basement of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Port Washington.
“We had nine kids, and within six months we expanded to having 50 kids,” Savage said.
Under Savage’s direction, the students, mostly aged 12 or 13, inaugurated the studio with its first production, “13 the Musical.”
“A lot of those kids are now 16 or 17, and they’re teaching classes for me,” Savage said.
Now housed in proper studio space, Shining Studios has over 200 students involved in its programs, and has classes for students ranging in age from 6 to 18, with two to three sections per class.
“Our motto is production with instruction,” Savage said. “You sign up for a class, and then the class culminates in a show. In class, we teach you acting, we teach you singing, we teach you dancing, improv, all those different facets that make up theater.”
On average, the studio puts on 10 full-scale musicals per year, but Savage says that 2020 will see 11 produced.
One musical, “The Addams Family,” which opens Friday and continues on Jan. 18 and 19, stars Julian Kimball, 12, of Sands Point, as Gomez Addams. Kimball began his career at the studio with a role in the musical “Grease,” and in the two years since, he has been cast in seven shows.
While most of the students come in from different schools or areas, Kimball says, they become close quite quickly.
“In like a week, you’ll be friends with everyone, and you never feel embarrassed because they treat you like family,” Kimball said.
Following “Addams,” on Feb. 7, 8 and 9, the organization will present “Les Miserables: School Edition,” a full-company production directed by Savage. In lieu of a stage, the students will be performing in Castle Gould at the Sands Point Preserve.
Marcus Fonsecca, 10, of Port Washington plays Gavroche, just a year after making his debut with the studio as Troy in “High School Musical.”
“I’ve always loved to act, and I wanted to have the experience for myself,” Marcus said. “I love Gavroche’s little songs, and mainly I really like his lines, because it’s a lot of fun to learn the accent and work with everyone else.”
At the end of February, Shining Studios will also produce the North Shore Hebrew Academy’s spring musical, “Mary Poppins.” Savage said the organization was hired to mount the musical after winning Best Theater Arts Center in the Bethpage Federal Credit Union’s Best of Long Island contest.
In addition to the shows, Shining will also present its annual fundraising gala Mirage on March 7 at the Village Club of Sands Point. This year, Savage says, it will be themed to the musical “Moulin Rouge!” with cabaret performances from professionals and students alike.
“It’s going to be the hottest party Port Washington’s ever seen,” Savage said.
Last year’s gala saw Loren Allred, a vocalist best known for providing the singing voice for Jenny Lind in the film “The Greatest Showman,” perform with students.
“One of the things that I emphasize here is finding new and innovative opportunities for our kids to perform,” Savage said. “Interacting with the community, working with different people, that’s something that’s really important for us.”
Even more is ahead for Shining Studios in 2020, but Savage says he wants to keep some surprises in store.
“We have a lot more going on, but I don’t want to give away all the secrets,” Savage said.