Art that pays the bills
Ja’Duke’s diverse business model keeps it teaching theater to hundreds of children
TURNERS FALLS (October 20, 2013) — Actors rehearse "It's a Hard-Knock Life," a musical number in Ja'Duke's upcoming performance of Annie. There are 27 "orphans" in the performance, said Ja'Duke director Nick Waynelovich. Recorder/Trish Crapo
TURNERS FALLS (October 20, 2013) — Children grab buckets to use as props for a rehearsal of "It's a Hard-Knock Life," a musical number in Ja'Duke's upcoming performance of Annie. There are 27 "orphans" in the performance, said Ja'Duke director Nick Waynelovich. Recorder/Trish Crapo
TURNERS FALLS (October 20, 2013) — Ja'Duke owner Nick Waynelovich stands among backdrops his company creates and rents to other theater production companies. Recorder/Trish Crapo
TURNERS FALLS (October 20, 2013) — Director Kim Williams leads actors playing orphans in Ja'Duke's upcoming performance of Annie through a rehearsal of their musical number, "It's a Hard-Knock Life." Recorder/Trish Crapo
TURNERS FALLS (October 20, 2013) — Racks of costumes are stored in the upstairs loft of the Ja'Duke building in the industrial park in Turners Falls, on hand for a myriad of theater performances. Recorder/Trish Crapo
O n a sunny Sunday afternoon in October, one of the industrial park’s collection of low, nondescript buildings is full of singing orphans.
One of the less traditional businesses in Montague’s Airport Industrial Park, the Ja’Duke Center for the Performing Arts is hard at work building a production of the musical “Annie,” to premiere Nov. 16.
A cast of 16 little girls in the role of orphans practice song-and-dance numbers “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” and “It’s a Hard-knock Life” under the direction of Kimberly Williams. Surrendering to the chorus of “with the buckets!” Williams somewhat reluctantly agrees to the use of the prop wash-buckets, which could use a wash themselves, for the second number.
Williams leads the energetic dance routines herself — not slowed down by a baby on the way and due in a matter of days — and directs the girls in their spoken lines and songs.
“Dad is going to play along with you because you’re out of key,” Williams announces, and Nick Waynelovich sets up his keyboard.
“Now you have all the tools you need to succeed, don’t you? You all have your practice CDs?” Williams’ last question draws a chorus of yeses and one ‘no.’ Williams sorts that out and the room is abruptly filled with the silence that only the absence of a crowd of enthusiastic children can bring.
Ja’Duke Center for the Performing arts co-owners Waynelovich and Williams try for professional-grade productions.
There are auditions for the out-of school plays and kids might have multiple costume changes to master in addition to songs, dances and dialogue for full-length musicals.
“I think I admire what they do, giving the kids real-life experience in theater,” said Carolyn McDaniel, one of a handful of parents seated in the hall to watch the Sunday rehearsal.
The aim for something more than standard school theater extends to age-appropriate rolls; Daddy Warbucks, for instance, won’t be played by a preteen in a bald cap but by the father of Anna Baskowski, who plays an orphan.
Baskowski, 8, of Gill, is the youngest member of the cast. Ella McDaniel, 10, of Greenfield, is average orphan age. Both began with ballet in Greenfield and moved on to Ja’Duke, Ella at around age 4.
Both said they enjoy the acting, singing and dancing. Ella said she would pick acting if she had to choose. Anna refused to compromise. “Out of the three, I’d like to be all of them,” she said.
This is one of the differences between Ja’Duke and school theater, according to the proprietors: everyone who is there wants to be there.
Ja’Duke’s musicals and similar productions are the tip of the iceberg.
In addition to aspiring young dancers, singers and actors, on any given weekday the Ja’Duke Center for the Performing Arts is home to infants, toddlers and light industry.
On a Thursday morning in October, the building was full of the clamor of voices from three full preschool classrooms and the smell of brownies baking somewhere. At the opposite end of the hall, Duane Waters was at work designing and constructing theatrical sets in the scene shop. That evening, one of the preschool rooms reverted to a dance floor for a series of hip-hop dance classes in four age groups — from 9 to 18 — and another hosted an acrobatics class.
Once the classes ended, it was time to rehearse for the upcoming production of “Annie.”
Other days see other classes, including tap, jazz and contemporary dance, ballet, acting, chorus and musical theater.
From a rented basement in the Colle building on Avenue A and a gamble that they could attract the 22 students they thought could keep the nascent business above water, Waynelovich and Williams have built Ja’Duke Center for the Performing Arts into a three-pronged business that attracts hundreds of students, employs 10 people full time, staged 11 theatrical productions last year and rents equipment to others across the country.
Waynelovich is a retired high school music director, Williams is a former world-champion tap dancer with a degree in accounting.
Waynelovich began Ja’Duke while working for Mohawk Trail Regional High School, as a personal business incorporating the two bands he played with at the time.
In 2004, the family sat down to a dinner-table meeting to discuss sacrificing his steady job and salary and jeopardizing retirement income and the home to start a performing arts center.
“For me it was a no-brainer, I’ve been working toward this all my life,” Waynelovich said.
Williams was in college at the time, but came on full time in 2006. Soon it was time for another dinner table meeting and the new building followed in 2007. Now they’re up to 260 performance students and 100 preschoolers a year.
The preschool and scene shop grew in the new space to keep the building fully utilized and profitable. When not in use by the after-school dance and theater programs, the dance studio serves as a preschool classroom. A room initially intended as a small store is permanently re-purposed for day care and what was meant to be a small set workshop now builds and maintains rental sets. Need 30 typist’s desks for a production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a man-eating plant puppet or an elephant? They’ve got those, as well as an industrial printer for cloth or vinyl backgrounds and structures to mount the sets without filling the client’s stage with nails.
The scene rental business is designed for the middle school and high school market, with sets for “Little Shop of Horrors” — featured in the Franklin County Technical School’s recent production at The Shea Theater — “Annie,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Les Miserables” and others.
The diversified business model is a reflection of Williams’ accounting and business administration background and Waynelovich’s belief that “starving” and “artist” shouldn’t go hand-in-hand.
Waynelovich sees the starving artist stereotype alive and well in theatrical productions produced beyond a company’s means and without any practical expectation of making money.
“You really can’t have art unless you pay your bills,” he said. He is proud that in nine years as the Mohawk music director, he routinely spent $10,000 on the all-school musical and only once failed to break even.
Breaking even is the goal with the frequent Ja’Duke musicals in various venues around Franklin and Hampshire counties. Waynelovich said people assume the shows are hugely profitable given the attendance, but they aren’t.
Just the rights to perform a musical can cost thousands. Permission to stage “Les Miserables” this year cost almost $3,000, Waynelovich said.
“If we’re in the black, we’re happy; our solace is that we’ll be able to rent the set,” he said.
Hence the multi-pronged business model to sustain the central idea — practical art education.
If things go well enough, there may even be a Ja’Duke theater someday.
“We have a phase two to our plan, which is a theater next door, but that’s a big, big pipe dream,” Williams said.
In the meantime, Ja’Duke’s smaller productions are staged in the dance studio and the bigger ones everywhere from the Northampton Academy of Music to, as of this year, the Turners Falls High School theater.
“Annie,” an upbeat tale of neglected orphans, runs Saturday Nov. 16 and 23 at 6 p.m. and Sunday Nov. 17 and 23 at 2 p.m. in the Yankee Candle Theater, 25 Greenfield Road, South Deerfield.
General admission is $12, $10 age 65 and over or 12 and under, at the door or online through jaduke.com.
To reserve tickets for payment at the door, call 413-863-9901.
What’s in a name?
Nicholas Waynelovich’s father John Waynelovich was a first generation Russian immigrant who lived in Greenfield and attended the prestigious New England Conservatory on a full scholarship, until war interrupted his violin studies. Subsequently, he worked and raised a family, but continued to keep his hand in the arts with sculpture, music and painting. Most of which is irrelevant. John Waynelovich’s name was popularly abbreviated to John Wayne-O, easier and a reference to the Hollywood western star John Wayne — born Marion Morrison — who was himself nicknamed “The Duke.” By some process of synthesis John Waynelovich began to sign his paintings Ja’Duke, as a joke.
Staff reporter Chris Curtis started at The Recorder in 2011. He covers Montague, Gill, Erving and Wendell. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 257
Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. She can be reached at email@example.com.