The road to stardom is not an easy one, nor is it a solo journey. Having good teachers and mentors is essential, an idea that Beyond the Stage in Plainview understands good well. In addition to an all-star faculty, the facility, which opened just a year ago, recently hosted a workshop featuring Jelani Alladin and John Riddle, who play Kristoff and Hans, respectively, in the upcoming Disney’s Frozen the Musical on Broadway. The exuberant duo took turns coaching more than 20 children between the ages of 8 and 17 in dance and song.
“I seized the opportunity [to come to Beyond the Stage for the day] because as a child, I didn’t have that,” Alladin said. “I want to make sure that kids growing up now, I give back to them what I’ve learned, what I’ve experienced, in hopes that it inspires them to continue on, to create, to pursue a career in the arts.”
In the mirror-lined dance studio, Alladin worked with one group of kids to instill in them the passion and joy of dancing while choreographing a short routine to a portion of “A Brand New Day” from The Wiz. In a matter of minutes, the students had picked up each move he taught them.
“I’m very surprised at how talented these kids are,” Alladin said. “And they’re willing to listen, to dare, to go beyond what I’m asking for. I think that alone shows the drive and the passion of these young kids.”
At the same time, Riddle worked with the rest of the kids to bring life, energy and storytelling ability to their vocal techniques. As one student belted out a song from Aladdin, Riddle encouraged him to lengthen a note here and raise his voice there. The student tried the song again and the difference was immediately noticeable.
“These kids are absolutely unbelievable; they’re way more professional than I ever was at their age, and way more prepared,” Riddle said. “They’re on a whole other level.”
After each group finished their work, they switched places so at the end of the day, each child experienced both vocal and physical coaching from the two Broadway stars.
Before the day began, Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino presented Shari Cali, the owner of Beyond the Stage, with a citation commending her on the business’ success and wishing her good luck for the future of the program.
During the emotional start to the event, Cali said the goal of her business is to educate and inspire children and ensure that they become the best they can be. Surrounded by students present for the day’s workshop, Cali spoke out to the crowd of parents standing before her.
“My students are so talented and so wonderful and they make me so proud every single day,” Cali said. “And that’s what this is about; to look at these faces and to see them grow and watch them become just incredible human beings.”
Cali described the conception of Beyond the Stage as a result of “a mother’s passion.” The studio began in 2016 when Cali wanted to help her daughter, Zoe, pursue her dream of working in theater. After going into the city to take classes and work with private instructors, costs began to add up and Cali realized she could bring to Long Island the same things that she had been taking Zoe into the city for.
“I started to think, ‘Why can’t I just bring that here? Why can’t we bring the talent to come out here?’” Cali said. “I just knew a lot of people that were in the industry, so I started to make some phone calls and I created an amazing staff of teachers and we just put together this program.”
After seeing “a problem of what we need as parents out on Long Island,” Cali took matters into her own hands to begin a business that would eliminate the need to spend hundreds of dollars for travel and programs in the city.
“It’s a very unique program,” she said. “At this point, what it’s become, I don’t know of even anything in the city that does what we do now.”
Beyond the Stage has a weekly introductory program for beginners looking to start their theatric journey, and a biweekly elite program, which children audition for. In addition, there are workshops, like this one with Alladin and Riddle, where actors or composers come to work with the kids.
“[The program] originally was just for advanced kids, and now we have an intro program for students that want to learn and want to grow,” Cali explained. “But everybody in this building has an individualized curriculum, so every single student is learning on their level what they need to know and where they need to perform.”
Michelle Kustera, who brought her daughters Ally, 13, and Emily, 10, for the workshop, said taking classes at Beyond the Stage has given them the opportunity to work with kids who share their same passion.
“They’re here to learn how to be better performers and better human beings,” she said. “I think Beyond the Stage is a good place to help them learn better technique and to be among kids that enjoy the same things that they do.”
After finishing up choreographic work with his first group of students at the workshop, Alladin shared his philosophy on the theater business.
“There are no rules in this business. Nothing. So you have to create it for yourself and also you have to remember to keep the joy over everything that you’re doing,” he said. “I want them to understand that they should never lose, as they continue on their artistic journey, the sense of freedom, the sense of there are no limits, because there really aren’t.”
For more information, visit beyondthestagestudio.com or call 516-935-0498.