Lighthouse Youth Theatre, one of Westchester’s preeminent creative programs for children, is relocating from its Armonk studio to the Saw Mill Club in Mount Kisco this week.
John Fanelli, Lighthouse’s founder and artistic director, said as the year-long pandemic-induced closure dragged on, it became imperative to find an alternate arrangement rather than to try and hold on to the 6,300-square-foot Standing Ovation Studio. The program had operated out of the studio at 1 Labriola Court in Armonk for just over nine years.
“I just couldn’t support the types of losses over that period of time,” Fanelli explained. “A couple of months, maybe even six months, but a year is too much.”
He said over the winter he began inquiring about sharing any available space with another theater, dance or music company, martial arts operations and gyms and health clubs to cut expenses. Fanelli had been rebuffed numerous times when he approached the Saw Mill Club, which welcomed them to their facility.
The move into the space at the site of the original club at 77 Kensico Drive is expected to be finished by Thursday, with programs ready to resume next week after the spring recess, he said. They will also hold classes at Saw Mill East at 333 N. Bedford Rd. one day a week.
“They were really happy to have us and they operate the family type of business that we’re running,” Fanelli said of the Saw Mill Club.
Saw Mill will be Lighthouse’s fifth home since Fanelli founded the youth theater program in 2006. It originally operated out of Westchester Broadway Theatre, before moving to Memorial Plaza in Pleasantville and then to Thornwood before settling in Armonk.
It still has its arrangement with the Chappaqua Performing Arts Center and that will continue, Fanelli said.
Lighthouse will also be partnering with The Studio School of Dance and its owner and operator, Vanessa Gutierrez, not only to share instructional and rehearsal space at the health club but to provide youngsters from both programs the opportunity to cross over into dance or theater.
“Everything happens for a reason, and I get to team up with a great dance studio, called The Studio, so now my kids, the theater kids, will have a dance studio in house, and her kids, who are dance kids, will have a theater studio in house, so it makes for a full and local performing arts school under one roof at the Saw Mill Club,” Fanelli said.
Last week, Fanelli was emptying out the Standing Ovation Studios, conducting a sale of sets, ballet bars, equipment and his sprung professional dance floor. The departure from Armonk is bittersweet, but despite the disappointment of leaving a facility that Fanelli spent years cultivating, he looks forward to his company’s next chapter.
“It was literally a dream realized, this type of a studio, and to have this type of a facility for my operation, was something I worked on for 25 years,” he said.
The goal of Lighthouse Youth Theatre has always been to provide a creative outlet for kids and the self-confidence for them to perform with their peers.
“It’s not about making Broadway stars – and we have – it’s about people and it’s about kids having a place to come and express themselves,” Fanelli said. “It’s more necessary now than it’s ever been because these kids have been cooped up for a year and they haven’t had a chance to be around people and to express themselves.”