Go! Perform: The Arts for All

From singing and acting to twirling, a school in Middletown offers a little something for every kid. On with the show.

    With Somebody’s School of Dance in almost every strip mall and as home to a renowned school of painting, you would hardly think Delaware ever lacked for arts education.

The brother-and-sister team of Fred Munzert and Lisa Munzert Bonacquisti saw things differently when they decided to open Premier Center for the Arts in Middletown.

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“We looked at the growth of Middletown, and it was clear that the area needed something for students to continue their education,” Munzert says. “We liked the idea of bringing all the arts under one umbrella.”

The pair renovated an old warehouse into three dance studios, eight private music studios, classrooms, a black-box theater space and school store, and it’s here that PCA students find classes in all disciplines at all levels.

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“It’s unique to have all the arts—fine arts, performing arts—together,” Bonacquisti says. “It creates a synergy between the arts,” adds Munzert. Students at PCA interact on projects. Recitals can include dancers, twirlers, musicians and singers performing one after the other or, sometimes, together.

Of course, before a recital comes class time. PCA’s students participate in dance including tap, jazz, ballet, baton and hip-hop, from introductory classes for three- and four-year-olds to the audition-only competitive dance troupe. Private instruction is available in piano, voice, guitar, drum, brass, woodwinds, music theory and composition, plus group classes for beginners in guitar, drum and music theory. The center also has art discovery classes for three age groups, ranging from 3- to 16-year olds, and a series of theater arts classes that cover everything from improvisation to makeup application.

When they say all arts under one roof, they mean all the arts. The inclusive approach makes things easier for families. Instead of carting kids to different lessons all over town, parents can go to one location and find a variety of activities, and a friendly waiting room for any impatient siblings.

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PCA’s faculty also appreciates the variety. “Once you get involved in one thing there, there is so much else to do,” says Missy Vestal, who teaches movement and art classes, performs in many PCA shows and hosts themed birthday parties. “When in one place, you can sing your heart out, walk 10 steps and dance, turn around and design a show. It’s pretty special. There’s nothing I want to do there that I can’t do. I love that they’ll let me try anything.” That energy and enthusiasm keeps classes exciting for the students, too.

PCA’s Main Stage Season includes four shows that combine a cast of professional actors with students and community members, creating a learning environment for all involved and giving students the experience of working with seasoned performers.

Last season included adult-themed offerings like “Pink Floyd’s The Wall” and an original Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre play, plus child-friendly shows “Annie” and “Schoolhouse Rock Live!” based on the 1970s TV series. Theater workshops include instruction from a staff director and a performance during the last week of class. Last fall, 4- to 7-year-olds presented “Disney’s 101 Dalmatians” and 6- to 17-year-olds performed in “Music Man Junior” in March. 

One of PCA’s more popular classes has been the School of Rock. Students in guitar, bass, keyboard and drums are placed in bands that work with an instructor throughout the year, learning to function as a group while playing covers and original songs. The end-of-year battle of the bands allows each band to show off what it learned during the season.

The School of Rock is one way PCA appeals to students with various interests. “We’re trying to find ways to keep students involved in the arts as they get older. Keeping it relevant is the best way,” Munzert says.

The center offers classical training in all disciplines, but also wants to react to what’s happening in the arts world today. “It makes it real to the younger student who may quit because they don’t understand the classic form,” he says.

Reacting to student need is another PCA hallmark. One of the faculty’s goals is to help each student figure out what he or she wants. Even for those who are just enjoying themselves, a background in the arts gives them self-esteem, discipline and the ability to present themselves well. But, as Bonacquisti says, “We have the opportunity to take students from the area and get them to New York City or Los Angeles,” and if that’s what a student wants, PCA will teach them what they need to know.

Munzert cites PCA’s organizational structure as another reason it is able to adapt. Unlike many arts schools, Premier Center for the Arts is a for-profit business.

“There is a trend for arts organizations to set up [limited liability companies] as opposed to non-profits,” Munzert says, in part because arts funding isn’t as available as it once was. In addition to class fees, PCA’s funding comes from ticket sales and sponsors. Without a board of directors to answer to and grants to apply for, PCA can quickly implement new programs and classes.

More than 800 students have passed through the doors since PCA opened. Munzert and Bonacquisti may have different specialties and different personalities, but they have enormous respect for one another.

Bonacquisti, a trained emergency room nurse, is a champion baton twirler, gymnast and dancer who wore the crown as the 1990 Miss Delaware (she also won the non-finalist talent competition at that year’s Miss America Pageant). Munzert, who graduated from West Chester University with a degree in music, is a musical theater veteran who has taught voice and piano for 25 years. (He also worked for a few years on the Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World.)

Between the two, there’s a wide expertise in arts education. “They both have strong backgrounds in what they do,” Vestal says. “It’s obviously an equal team.” And neither hesitates to point out the other’s strengths. Their easy rapport doesn’t hurt, either.

“This is much larger than the two of us now,” Munzert says. “We just come in each day and try to catch the wave.”

PCA’s 7,500-square-foot facility is at

27 Anderson St.

in Middletown. Upcoming events include the “Jungle Book Kids” theater workshop and show November 10-12, the Mainstage Production of “Beauty and the Beast” December 1-3 and 8-10, and the “Into the Woods Jr.” workshop and show in spring. For a full class and performance schedule, call 378-1384, or visit www.pac-de.com. 




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