It was the middle of the afternoon one summer day and the halls and rooms of Center Stage Dance and Theatre School were packed with kids.
Some were eating lunch, chatting away during a break from summer camp, while others ran and jumped and goofed around liked kids do during the summer. Owner Stephen Waldrup took little notice of the ruckus as he walked through the building. After all, it’s exactly what he and co-owner George Warren want.
“The days when you walked home from your school and you knew every one of your neighbors, that doesn’t really happen for children anymore. We’re those neighbors,” said Warren. “Every teacher and staff member takes care of their kids. We’re a part of their community and that’s very valuable.”
Center Stage opened 37 years ago in East Brunswick with one goal in mind, to make a difference in the life of every one of their students through the arts.
“I was teaching in New York City in the Ed Sullivan Theater, where David Letterman does his shows, when I decided to work with kids to support myself while I was still performing,” said Warren. “It became a passion of mine after I saw, with kids, the change I could make in their performance and their lives, so I became very passionate about teaching.”
Warren had a lot of friends in the theater community, and he reached out to many of them to help with his vision, which was to create a dance and theater school that would prepare students for the Broadway stage, regional theaters and ballet companies.
In the end, what he has created is an artistic oasis in which teachers of each discipline believe in their hearts that their craft is the most important one.
“We’re the owners, but we’ve have made it a collective,” said Waldrup. “There’s a lot of people on our staff that have been teaching for 25 years. We have 25 to 30 faculty members and most have been with us for well over 10 year. So there is this real family feeling of people coming in here and they stay with us and they grow with us.”
The studio specializes in all forms of dance and theater, including lyrical, ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop, vocals, gymnastics and more, and tying it all together is Waldrup, who been directing the acting program at Center Stage for 21 years.
“I think, really, over the years we have influenced one another in that I keep an eye on the storytelling end of everything, even George’s dances, there’s a story behind them, so I sort of look at that and he keeps me theatrical,” said Waldrup, who serves as the studio’s resident “storyteller.”
All of this, of course, means that students get as well-rounded an education in the arts as is possible, while also learning a few lessons about family, life and what it means to work hard to achieve something.
“Work ethic,” said Waldrup. “It’s about, first of all, learning how to learn, learning how to take instruction and direction and how to apply it and get better at something. And it’s about setting goals for yourself and working toward them and saying ‘I want this to be perfect.’ And I think it pays off in all sorts of places.”
It’s not often that the school’s instructors get to see their lessons pay off. Though Center Stage has been represented in 15 Broadway productions over the years, most of the time instructors don’t get to see what becomes of their students except through letters, emails and Facebook posts.
But what they do see thrills them.
“There’s nothing more amazing than talking about how the kids proceed after us,” said Warren. “Our kids that graduate from our company programs and once or twice a week programs, these kids go to major programs. They have a lot of wonderful things ahead of them in life and part of that is because their parents get involved with them, they get impassioned about what they do and that passion translates into what they want to do later in life.”
Center Stage has locations in East Brunswick, Morganville and Oakhurst. In East Brunswick it’s located at 110 Tices Lane behind Kohl’s. Call them at 732-238-7890.