For 35 years, Joyce DiLauro has run Starship Dance Studio in Guilford. She grew up loving dance as her mother was also a dancer and she studied dance at the American Ballet Theater. In addition to teaching at her studio, Joyce also taught line dancing to senior citizens at the newly built community center.
“I thought, ‘Let’s put on a production’ and we made the room into a theater,” says Joyce, who hosted her first showing of The Magic Toyshop 25 years ago. “Once we worked out the room as the performance spot, it grew from there.”
The first production was held cabaret style with the chef at the Senior Center cooking up a pasta dinner to go along with the show as it is set in Italy. Now Joyce is directing her 25th annual production of The Magic Toyshop and it has grown into such a popular event that it has moved to the Performing Arts Center at Guilford High School where three shows will be held on Saturday, Dec. 3, and Sunday, Dec. 4.
“It’s better than ever and a great tradition,” says Joyce. “Everyone would go from the tree lighting to the Community Center, which was transformed into a toy shop where all the dolls come to life. It’s a cute story without any religious connotations. It’s about giving and about family.”
Another thing that Joyce enjoys about the production is how it blends many different types of dance together, including ballet, contemporary, and modern, which “works very well for this story of toys from all over the world.”
This is the first year that marks the production being moved to Guilford High School and it’s bittersweet for Joyce after the first 24 years were performed in the Community Center. The Community Center, though, is still a co-sponsor of the show and the cast rehearses there leading up the performance.
The cast is made up of many of Joyce’s students, as well as professional actors and dancers. There are 47 cast members from children to adults and they come from all over the shoreline area. The cast has been rehearsing weekly since auditions were held in mid-September. There are also many people who work behind the scenes.
“There is a huge beehive in the background making the machine work,” says Joyce. “We have a very large group of people to make it all work with advertising, stage hands, makeup, hair, sounds, costumes, lights, and more. It’s amazing. It wouldn’t happen without them.”
Joyce’s family is also very involved in the production. Since its inception, her husband, Raffael, has made the scenery, adding more pieces each year. They have four grandchildren who are all in the play with three traveling from New York every Sunday to rehearse.
“It’s nice to have the family involved,” says Joyce. “My son has been a tremendous help with publicity and I’m lucky my husband is an artist who can paint, build, and set the lights.”
Even though Joyce has always loved dance, she never imagined that she would ever be a director. After moving to Guilford in 1970, she had the opportunity to become a choreographer at Guilford High School.
“Pat Souney, the director, had a choreographer leave at the last minute and asked me if I could help,” says Joyce. “I jumped right in and I loved it. She was such an inspiration and the kids in Guilford are such hard workers.”
As the director of The Magic Toyshop, she has worked with hundreds of actors, dancers, and crew members throughout the more than two decades it has been running.
“We have adults who come back year after year and are such a great support and role models to younger people in the production,” says Joyce. “We have wonderful people who are there year after year because they love it. It gives it a nice family feeling.”
Joyce has not only gotten to know people in the area through her work at Guilford High School and as director of The Magic Toyshop, but also by teaching at her studio six days a week.
In addition to teaching classes through her studio, Starship Dance Studio has also participated in outreach programs over the years. It has worked with libraries and schools and collaborated with the Shoreline Arts Alliance.
Starship Dance Studio offers classes in ballet, musical theater, creative dance, and modern age dance and Joyce has students from age 2 to age 70.
“There’s a big adult influx now because people my age are wanting to do more physically and dance is a beautiful way to move,” says Joyce. “It’s very uplifting and you get in shape at the same time. Dance is really helpful for people getting older for balance, brain function, bone strength, and to learn something new. A lot of adults will say, ‘I always wanted to dance.’ It’s never too late.”
The Magic Toyshop will be performed at Guilford High School on Saturday, Dec. 3, at 4 and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 4 at 2 p.m. For tickets, visit tututix.com.