How does a girl from a town of 100 people end up owning a performing arts studio in Westchester County, New York? Well, sometimes I wonder myself. My name is Heather Capelle and I’m the owner of Artistree Performing Arts in Mamaroneck. But I was born and raised a long way from here–in a little town with no stoplights and more cattle than people–Nash, Oklahoma. It was my grandparents that instilled a love of musical theater in me and created this strange little being who was singing the soundtrack to “Camelot” while driving a tractor. I always knew I was coming to New York and I always knew I wanted to perform. But I always felt different from everyone around me.
By the time I was 17, I’d sung for the President in an arena of 40,000 people. So, moving away from home didn’t scare me one bit. I moved to Florida to work for Disney with a job and a suitcase–no place to live and no way to get to work. But I knew I’d figure it out.
I guess that’s been my mantra all my life. I never let fear or too much thought get in the way of what I wanted. After my Disney stint, I performed on cruise ships (one of which crashed–that’s another story) and in regional theaters all around the country. I got my Equity Card at the age of 28 and moved to New York right after. I had two suitcases, $2000 and a book of checks from my grandfather to “only be used in emergencies.”
My first job in New York City (because I realized that $2K doesn’t last that long) was for Martin Charnin, the director and lyricist of the Broadway classic “Annie.” (Yes, he coined the phrase “the sun’ll come out tomorrow.”) No, I wasn’t performing–I was the assistant to the conductor for a production of Gershwin’s “Strike Up the Band” that he was directing. We rehearsed in the Columbia Artists building across from Carnegie Hall, so even though my job consisted of making copies and going to Starbucks, I thought I had MADE it. In the rehearsal process, he asked my very enthusiastic self where I was from and I told him the whole story. He looked at me and said “that’s a show.” And my one-woman show that ran for two years, Special Skills, was born and a dear friendship and mentorship was born.
When that job was over, I knew I needed another one. All my friends waited tables. Well, the thought of being a waitress in New York City was the most frightening concept I had ever envisioned. So, I decided to try something far less scary–teaching children musical theater.
Aside from farming, my father was teacher and my mother was a speech pathologist in the public schools. Therefore I was NEVER going to be a teacher. But when I saw my first cast of kids onstage having such success and SO much fun, I got a high that I don’t think I ever experienced performing myself.
I continued to teach for a company in NYC and eventually opened up a branch in Mamaroneck–where Artistree is today. We moved our family there, created a community and really made our lives in this “friendly village.” But when the owner wanted to shut down the studio, I knew the only thing I could do was convince her to sell it to me. Luckily she did. And Artistree was born.
Throughout my younger life, the only time I felt like “myself” was onstage. It wasn’t until I had graduated from college that I truly found my “people” and that sense of belonging. Friends who loved me just as I was–big hair, loud voice, lip gloss and all. So when we started to think about what we wanted Artistree to be, I knew immediately that it had to be more than a place that produced great performers. I wanted it to be the place where young artists could come and find their “people.” And when I hear them say that Artistree is their favorite place to be or that it’s their “home,” then I know I’ve done my job.
How different my life might have been had I found my people earlier. But then again, if I had, I might never have created Artistree.