The founders of Greensburg performing arts school and theater company Stage Right have turned to a new opportunity.
Tony and Renata Marino have started a new business – Westmoreland Performing Arts, a business offering acting, dancing and singing lessons for students aged 4 to 18, as well as a class for “special ability” students of all ages.
“After 23 years with Stage Right, Renata and I are excited to try something new, to explore what we know in a slightly different way,” said Tony Marino. “The needs of young artists are definitely different than they were 20 years ago, and our overarching goal is to help children find their way, not only professionally, but also as people.”
The Marinos’ split with Stage Right began to take shape over the summer, when Stage Right officials told the Tribune-Review that its board was investigating public criticism of Stage Right’s directing style and behavior. Marino by former students and others.
Marino’s attorney, Nicole Nino, said her client would “cooperate 100% with their investigation.”
One area of difference had to do with Marino’s directing style, Nino said.
“Like sports coaches, artistic directors have different styles and are subject to criticism from those who disagree,” she said.
Eventually, the parties agreed to go in different directions.
Stage Right officials have repeatedly declined to discuss the split, providing only statements confirming that Marino is no longer involved with the company.
“We strive to provide a safe and supportive environment for our students to shine,” the statement read in part. “Training and cultivating talent, encouraging teamwork and partnerships, and learning to uplift each other and share each other’s successes will serve our students well on and off stage.”
Marino described the split as “amicable.” He said the two sides had different opinions on how the productions were handled. He even noted that the new executive director, Christopher McAllister, is someone he brought to Stage Right.
“There was a difference in how we thought the band should move forward,” he said. “I respect where they came from.
“I have nothing but good feelings in my heart for this. Renata and I were blessed to be able to start it and run it with my sister (the late Chris Orosz) and have the success that we had.
One of Westmoreland Performing Arts’ goals is to create a welcoming space for budding performers of all races and backgrounds, Marino said.
“The idea is not just to say you’re welcoming, but to create a faculty and faces that make everyone feel welcome,” he said. “Obviously we have a very big commitment moving forward.”
WPA began offering classes in January to about 55 students between the ages of 4 and 18, Marino said. More than 80 students are enrolled.
“The classes themselves are pretty much the same as what we’ve always offered,” he said, including acting, various dance forms, musical theater and audition prep.
The school also offers the Big Dreamers Broadway Squad for those with special needs, Shooting Stars lessons for children ages 4-7, and a drama club for home-schooled and online students.
WPA held classes at St. Barbara’s Church in Harrison City, but is in the process of securing permanent space in the Greensburg area, Marino said. Performances will take place at the Greensburg Garden and Civic Center or the Westmoreland County Community College Science Hall Theater, where student company WPA last week presented performances of “Disney’s Frozen Jr.”
The organization has applied for nonprofit status.
“In the meantime, there’s an organization in Pittsburgh that provides an umbrella organization for nonprofits awaiting approval,” Marino said. “(We) are authorized to accept donations through them.”
‘We love what we do’
In addition to the Marinos, WPA instructors include area actors Alex Noble and Kevin Daniel O’Leary.
“My background in musical theater began my freshman year of high school with a production of ‘West Side Story’ directed by Tony and Renata,” said O’Leary, a Greensburg native and Penn Theater grad. State, who has performed professionally in New York and with local bands including Stage Right and Saint Vincent Summer Theatre.
“There is such a level of enthusiastic acceptance from the students I have worked with so far, and it is amazing and so encouraging to see this group of people striving to love and support everyone, no matter where they’re from,” O’Leary says.
It’s a challenge to start a performing arts group from scratch, Marino said, but he feels like it’s a calling.
“We do this because we love what we do. This is our life’s work,” he said. “We want to be part of the community, like Renata and I have always been. We are willing collaborators in the community with anyone who would like to work with us.