name has been synonymous with the arts in New Milford for more than a quarter of a century.Ms. Begelman founded the School of Performing Arts (SOPA) in New Milford in 1978, and after 25 years of varied involvement in community arts she has opened a second branch of SOPA in town.
The New Milford resident observes that her
role in the region's arts world has "come back full circle."She's
now teaching children of former students."Once you are in the arts it's just hard to stop," Ms. Begelman
said, explaining why she's
remained so involved."Good teachers feel they need to give back in some way," she
said in a recent interview."It's fun.It's wonderful to see progress."I only do what I do to help students reach a goal," she
continued."Whatever you do in arts becomes a part of you."Ms. Begelman, who is termed "upstoppable" and full of enthusiasm by one colleague, founded SOPA in 1978 and remains its artistic director.SOPA
started as an adjunct of the professional theater company Connecticut Stage, Inc.
, which she
said was founded when New Milford attorney Harry Cohen asked her
to mount a production as a synagogue fund-raiser.Connecticut Stage
began with weekend matinee performances and led to small cabaret performances.
...Ms. Begelman also serves as artistic director of Stage II, Inc., "an opera company offshoot" that began at SOPA.She's
now involved, along with Kerry Gallagher of Fusionworks and Heidi Miller of the Lincoln Institute of New York City, spearheading a newly formed performing arts organization, the downcitydancetheater.Arlene Begelman
, a key figure in the local arts community for more than a quarter of a century, says, "I only do what I do to help students reach a goal." Ms. Begelman
said downcitydancetheater would be based at the new Performance Space at 55 West St. in New Milford.It's also the site of the second branch of SOPA
.Downcitydancetheater held its first two choreographers' forums last fall at the Jewish Community Center in Sherman.The group provides a venue for choreographers and dance companies with young preprofessionals from the area opportunities to present their works to the public through forums.Former SOPA
students have gone on to careers in dance, music and theater, Ms. Begelman
said, and frequently stop by when in the area."It's a great feeling that they remember you... that you had an imprint in their lives," she
said."You give back what is given to you; you just can't keep it in," Ms. Begelman
said."It's creating that life circle."SOPA
in Sherman offers classes for a wide variety of ages in music, voice, dance and theater at the Jewish Community Center on Route 39 South.Ms. Begelman
has recently opened a second branch of SOPA
at the Performance Space.The space, once part of the Connecticut Conservatory for the Performing Arts (CCPA) - with which Ms. Begelman was for a time allied - is now owned by Sarah Jane Chelminski, a Bridgewater resident who served as president of the board of the CCPA.
"It lends itself to a little bit of off-Broadway," Ms. Begelman
hopes the Performance Space will become a center for music and theatrical events, for mini-performances."Wherever I go I see spaces as theater," Ms. Begelman
said."When I walked in here, I had such a good feeling.It's exciting."
Ms. Chelminski is full of praise for Ms. Begelman
, "a wonderful person, who knows everybody."
Five years ago, when Ms. Begelman
lease on space on Bank Street in New Milford, she
scaled back SOPA
to private coaching and considered heading to Yale University
for a graduate degree.Instead, she decided to continue the school through the Conservatory, where she was the artistic director.
"It's too bad the original goals did not work out," Ms. Begelman
said of her
decision to leave the Conservatory three years ago, in part because she
"felt at odds artistically."Since then, she
has been slowly reviving SOPA
, beginning by offering classes two days a week at the Jewish Community Center in Sherman."The Jewish Community Center has been great," Ms. Begelman
explained that with the new Performance Space, she
is able to add more offerings, and classes are now up to five days a week.Ms. Begelman
hopes to get back to doing some small opera venues at the new Performance Space.She
also envisions classes, as well as performance-based activities - perhaps a chamber group, or a jazz group."The more [the students] perform, the better they get," she
said.The first offerings at the Performance Space to expand SOPA
's theater department include courses beginning Feb. 19 in Stage Combat and Shakespeare in Performance.
said the courses are an "exciting development in drama for the area."
Barbara Braverman, who has been a colleague of Ms. Begelman
for two decades, will also rejoin SOPA
as a dance teacher.
"The original staff are all back," Ms. Begelman
said, adding that the staff members are performing artists and teachers in their disciplines.She
said many of SOPA
's students work professionally in artistic fields, while others take classes for fitness, enjoyment and recreation."I'd like to see SOPA
continue and expand whether I'm here or not," Ms. Begelman
said."Talent starts in these communities."Talent doesn't come from New York," she
said."This is really the grassroots... From that acorn a tree grows."
For more information about SOPA
or courses, call Arlene Begelman
at (860) 354-8564.Classes will be held at the Jewish Community Center on Route 39 South in Sherman or at Performance Space at 55 West St. in New Milford.