Growing up in Pleasantville, Tyrell "Ty" Lewis, 25, developed a strong interest in the arts. But the singer, actor and dancer couldn't help but notice that his hometown often kept the arts out of the spotlight.
Now, Lewis pledges to give the youth the opportunity to perform, using the Pleasantville Recreation Center on Brighton Avenue as a stage.
"My biggest goal with this is to really give the arts back a name," said Lewis, who doubles as a part-time recreation aid and performing arts director at the center.
Lewis, under the wing of Superintendent of Recreation Debbie Washington, has worked tirelessly to provide the basics in performance, from method acting to vocals to how to audition.
"I'm excited about it," Washington said of the program. "They'll be able to do more of the cultural arts performing rather than just sports, sports, sports."
The idea of a recreation center equally balanced between sports and performance arts may catch on. Lewis has called on dance instructor Patti Harris, of the recreation center's Move Your Feet dance program, and friend and vocal coach Chasen Charles to join him to create an all-inclusive program.
"This is the first year that Ms. Patti Harris and I have actually joined together," the Atlantic Cape Community College student said. "It won't be two separate programs."
Recently, Lewis sat in the center, where he started as a summer camper in 1995, to discuss his goals, often forgetting to stop for a breath.
The benefits, he explained, of his nearly four-year-old All STAR Performing Arts Club (ASPAC) seemed endless.
"Not every child is into sports," he said. "And so, if we left out the arts, you leave out an entire demographic of the youth to get (involved) in trouble, violence, drugs and alcohol, if they don't have anything constructive to do."
And those issues become relevant for Lewis, often becoming the focus of his community art.
"I like to start conversation (with my art) that leads to healing, motivation, inspiration," he said, referring to his "risky" artistic interpretations.
While most of his social art stems from his up-and-coming art production company, Ty Xtreme, Lewis finds himself opening up the stage to his All STAR performers, which consist of 10- to 18-year-olds. STAR, an acronym for Striving Towards Awareness and Resistance, is yet another feature of the club, he said.
"I make sure they know what that means," he said. "We are striving to resist drugs, teen pregnancy, bullying. (It's) not, 'Say no to drugs.' But why (they should) say no to drugs. Maybe they knew someone in their family that was affected by drugs.
"When you dig and dig deep, you find hurt and pain that these kids go through that needs to be said out loud," Lewis said of the themes often portrayed in his productions.
"I wanted it to be more than arts," he said. "I wanted it to be arts with a purpose."
For the parents, the club has already served its purpose.
On a recent Monday night, Lewis held an orientation for new and returning parents and children. Feb. 2 would begin the winter-spring semester.
Alex Angueira, 11, and his parents, Richard Angueira and Brigitte Muniz, were returning after two years with the program, pleased with its benefits and yearning to do more.
"He comes out, literally," Richard Angueira said of his home-schooled son. "He shocked us."
Alex was one of the first to bring a musical instrument to the program. Besides sharing his electric guitar skills, his parents saw him branch out to recite lines, sing and dance at the club's December showcase.
Richard, who is self-employed, has already composed a petition to bring to the city of Pleasantville, urging it to provide more attention and funds to the program. The center's programs are growing out of the Brighton Avenue space. ASPAC still practices without a real stage.
"I'm ready to start knocking on doors," Richard Angueira said.
The club performs in at least two internal showcases a year and other community events, including the Miss Pleasantville Pageant held each spring, Lewis said.
This year, Lewis hopes to bring the group to a Broadway performance, as a part of the ongoing venture, The Reese Project - an initiative started in the memory of Lewis' fellow artist and friend, Charis Wilson. ASPAC has plans each year to take two performing arts-related trips and one community service-related trip in her honor.
Lewis' primary concern remains to provide a consistent outlet for the youth of his community.
His only fear: "Losing voices in our community and losing people who care."
While Lewis, along with the rest of the recreation center staff, also focus on implementing new programs unrelated to the arts, such as mentoring workshops, AIDS Awareness seminars and an improved Sista Girls Club and Young Men United, Lewis' main intention is to allow the youth to be heard.
"While I have a platform, a stage, I'll let the children's voices be heard," he said. "Then, when I'm long gone, what they've said has already been cemented into history."
Contact Caitlin Honan:
To learn more
A second ASPAC orientation for interested parents and their children is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Pleasantville Recreation Center. For more information or to learn more about the All STAR Performing Arts Club, call 609-484-3608.
Signups are open to all children, 10 to 18 years old, with a strong passion for the arts. The initial registration fee is $10 plus an additional $10 per month. Registration is not limited to Pleasantville residents.