Person of the Week
Joyce DiLauro: Passing the Torch on a Holiday Tradition
When Joyce DiLauro first produced The Magic Toyshop almost three decades ago, she didn’t realize she’d start a shoreline holiday tradition as beloved for many at The Nutcracker. The show returns Friday to Sunday, Dec. 17 to 19 at Andrews Memorial Town Hall. (Photo courtesy of Joyce DiLauro)
For almost 30 years, Joyce DiLauro of Starship Dance Studio and Starship Dance Theatre has attracted audiences far and wide with her annual winter production of the ballet The Magic Toyshop. Now, the show is coming to the auditorium in Clinton’s Town Hall from Friday to Sunday, Dec. 17 to 19.
“I have people who came up and said they would be upset if the show didn’t happen. There are people who told me the holiday can’t start until they see Toyshop,” Joyce says.
The show in 2020 was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but, other than that exception, The Magic Toyshop has been a staple along the shoreline for close to three decades.
“It’s a story about a toyshop in Italy in the early 1900s where people come from all over to buy the toys,” Joyce explains.
While the now-iconic production is a holiday staple for many, not everyone realizes the show is unique to the shoreline, thanks to Joyce.
“I fell in love with the story and I thought it could be a good fit for the community,” Joyce recalls about her decision to start doing the show. “It started as a one-year thing and it did so well and was so well loved and I thought it would be a good annual holiday show.”
For years the group performed at the Community Center in Guilford but the show has also been performed in other venues in the past, including the Clinton Town Hall auditorium.
“I just love that theater,” Joyce says of Clinton’s Andrews Memorial Town Hall.
It has “a great feel to it,” she adds, remarking on the history of performers who used to stop by the auditorium way back when.
What makes this particular show unique is that, for the first time, Joyce will not be directing. Instead, Sean Suozzi, Joyce’s former student who is currently a member of the New York City Ballet, will take the helm.
“He’s going to be re-imagining it and directing it. It’s the same music, but it’s his view of the story, which is different than mine, so it’s new,” says Joyce.
“In this fantastical toy shop, customers from all over the world come to buy these lifelike dolls made by Guiseppi the master toymaker. On this particular day, a family from England and a family from Russia have an appointment with the shopkeeper. The English family buys the Toy Soldier Doll and the Russian family. the prized Ballerina Doll. This is sad because they love each other and don’t want to be separated,” says Joyce.
However, in her version it was a different pair of dolls that were the center of the story.
“He says it’s his way of giving back...He fell in love with the process of the show early one and he wants to pass that on,” Joyce says.
For those who want to get an early look at the performance, Joyce says there will be an open rehearsal at the Guilford Community Center on Saturday, Dec. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m., when members of the public can watch Sean work with the performers in a final tune up for the production.
“It lets the audience behind the scenes of a working rehearsal. They get to see the director work with the dancers. They can ask questions of the director like ‘Why did you change the dolls that get purchased to be the Ballerina and Soldier and not the Can-can Dolls?’” says Joyce.
There will be refreshments served and a meet-and-greet session afterward.
The rehearsal also will be a fundraiser where the public can donate to the $2,000 scholarship that the studio, which is a nonprofit, uses to help a student who wants to further his or her education in the arts.
Starship Dance Studio is based in Guilford and features volunteer performers from across the shoreline. For The Magic Toyshop, Joyce says the performers rehearse about once a week in the Community Center in Guilford starting in September.
Guilford Park and Recreation Director Rick Maynard “has been great to us over the years,” Joyce points out.
Joyce says there’s students from as far east as Old Saybrook, as far west as Stratford, and as far north as Middletown.
“We span all ages from 7 to 70,” Joyce says with a laugh. “That’s what makes the production so special, that there’s so many people involved,” says Joyce.
Joyce’s interest in theater began as a young girl as an inherited passion from her mother who was a dancer.
“I always loved to dance. I grew into it,” says Joyce.
Over the years, Joyce has been a member of various theater groups including the Nutmeg Players, a Clinton-based theater group.
Joyce decided to start her own studio because “I wanted to give local dancers the ability to experience a professional production,” Joyce says. “At that time there really wasn’t anything around,”
Over the years, Joyce and the studio have built a reputation on quality engaging productions and classes.
“A very big of what we do is the community volunteers. They really are great,” Joyce is quick to point out.
For Joyce, that feeling of community is what she says is the best part of putting on a show.
“It’s definitely the community. So many have come back year after year for 30 years,” says Joyce.
As for the hardest part, Joyce immediately responds “Hell Week: the week before the show is set to open.”
“All the last-minute details are in your mind and you’re all over the place,” Joyce confesses.
Though the studio draws students from all over the area, Joyce has called Guilford home for decades.
“I like the strong arts community, of course,” she says of her hometown. “I also like how basically everyone knows everyone.”
Tickets for The Magic Toyshop, running Friday to Sunday, Dec. 17 to 19 at Andrews Memorial Town Hall, 54 East Main Street, Clinton, will be available at starshipdancestudio.com.