by Nancy Duffy photography by Kelly Heck
Standing center stage in the Eichelberger Theatre on Stock Street in Hanover, Brittany Stevens appears right at home, complimenting and guiding young dancers whose eyes are fixed are their role model. Founder of Pennsylvania Theatrical Arts and The Vault Theater Company, Stevens displays professionalism beyond her years. She has not only garnered top awards because of her business savvy and dedication, she has also helped shape the lives of young people by giving them a place to express themselves through the arts.
Stevens’ devotion and accomplishments were publicly recognized recently when the Hanover Area Chamber of Commerce named Pennsylvania Theatrical Arts the Small Business of the Year for 2017. She sat down with Hanover Magazine to talk about the honor, her plans for the future — including the pending relocation of of her studio space to Carlisle Street in Hanover — and her approach to life and the arts.
Where did your inspiration for a theatrical arts studio in Hanover come from? I opened the company when I was 19 years old (it seems like such a long time ago!) I directed my first show when I was 16 years old, and I loved seeing each student thrive and grow as a performer on the stage. After the first show had ended, I knew that directing was going to be a part of my future. When I opened my company, I wanted to always make sure the program focused on a family atmosphere while encouraging each individual student to work in a creative, cooperative and collaborative manner, and giving them the tools to succeed toward their future goals.
What drives you? Each and every single student. Their desire to learn, improve and grow as individuals and as performers challenges me to improve and grow the company. It’s amazing to think that our first year there were 30 students, and now we have grown to over 150 students.
Take us to the moment you heard your business was named the 2017 Business of the Year. I was speechless. I am so thankful and humbled to have received the honor. The success of the company would not be possible without our amazing students and their families, our volunteers, and my wonderful staff. None of this would have been possible without the amazing support of my husband [Douglas] and my family.
How has the chamber been your partner in this dream? The Hanover Chamber of Commerce has been a wonderful resource for my company — especially the initiative of Main Street Hanover and the Main Street Hanover manager, Justine Trucksess. Our area is so fortunate to have such an active Chamber of Commerce that has programs geared toward small and big businesses, especially with efforts that focus on downtown Hanover.
What impresses you most about the students you interact with every day and have gotten to know and have watched grow? I love each and every moment I’m able to spend teaching — seeing a student achieve a skill after working so hard or seeing the students truly work together as a team — those moments are priceless. I am so blessed to have been a part their lives and help shape them into becoming amazing young adults.
Where do you want to go from here with your company? As I’m finishing up the company’s sixth year, I’m looking forward to starting new programs to offer further training and more opportunities for my students. Though it’s still under wraps — I can tell you the best is yet to come.
What are you looking most forward to in your new studio space? I am thrilled to be able to offer more programs to our community and to achieve the next set of goals for the company!
What advice would you give your 15-year-old self? Set goals — set five-year goals — work toward them, and remember that not all goals will be achieved the way we planned them. However, everything works out in the end.
Who is your inspiration in business? In life? In May of 2016, I founded The Vault Theater Company, a not-for-profit community theater program, and asked individuals to sit on the board of birectors. Each person that is on the board of directors inspires me not only in the business, but also as a person. I am so thankful to have each and every member be an amazing part of the program.
What is your favorite Broadway musical? This is such a hard question! I love so many musicals, however, one of the first musicals I saw and have always loved is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. As a young dancer, I fell in love with Victoria and wanted to portray her if I ever had the opportunity to perform in the show (which I did). I have so many wonderful memories of going to the theater with my parents.
What re-energizes you? How do you “take five”? My students truly inspire me and motivate me to keep going, to keep improving and to keep growing. However, on the rare occasion that I find downtime, I enjoy spending time with my family, eating Oreo cookies and living in the moment.
What advice would you give someone who is hesitant about pursuing the arts? Never doubt your talent and never stop nurturing
What have you learned most about yourself during the growth of your business? As with any growth, I’ve learned the importance of patience. Life doesn’t always go as planned — it’s important to adapt and to constantly strive to achieve your goals. I am so thankful that the company has grown beyond what my 19-year-old self had envisioned, and I cannot wait to see what’s in store.