Words by Tess Becker
Everyone deserves a voice, but not everyone has a platform.
A place like the New Haven Academy of Performing Arts is just that place. Built on inclusiveness and understanding, the academy was founded with the intent to provide a space for people to be their true selves.
The inspiration came from co-founder Billy DiCrosta, who experienced bullying as a young boy.
“Growing up as an artistically-inclined boy figuring out who I was in the 80s and 90s was not an easy scenario,” Billy tells Smiley News. “And so there was bullying for many, many years that only got worse with age until the point when I got into high school."
Luckily he had family in nearby West Haven and was able to transfer schools where he was able to be himself.
“There, the arts were a huge melting pot with kids of all different walks of life from financial backgrounds, different racial backgrounds, sexual orientation,” Billy says. “I was able to discover myself on a deeper level and feel comfortable while doing it.”
Billy and his husband and fellow co-founder Neil Fuentes wanted to create a space similar to what Neil found in West Haven, and on came the Performing Arts Academy, a place where they started teaching kids performing arts.
The pair found a massive demand for their type of teaching. As their school continued to expand, they had bigger ambitions and eventually opened Cabaret on Main: their own performing arts theater to put out productions in the same vein of ideals. The school and the theater are part of their wider non-profit Broadway on Main.
The theater itself was made in a renovated auto shop, but where they don’t have the massive space of other theaters, they make up with innovation, looking to create a more immersive show for theatergoers.
“Our stage is not the size of a traditional theater so we had to figure out a way to create something special and unique for the audience,” Neil says.
The theater’s art director, Carla Stockton, a filmmaker who is also a professor at Lehman College, and one of Billy’s former performing arts teachers believes that there’s potential in Neil and Billy’s vision.
Their first show is the Wizard of Oz, symbolizing everything that they want to do with their work, highlighting acceptance and understanding.
“Wizard of Oz embodies a sense of mental health awareness because of the tormenting that Dorothy goes through, and what she faced with the challenges and adversity,” Billy says. “So you can find that scenario in so many different situations, situations you wouldn't necessarily recognize when you first see the show.”