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Teaching for the stage and beyond

Performance has always come naturally to Stacy Zawadzki.

“My grandmother played piano and my great-grandfather played the viola,” said the owner and director of Zawadzki Performing Arts Center (ZPAC). “I’d put on shows in the backyard, and get my brothers in costume. We’d have everybody lined up to watch at family parties.”

Today, Zawadski owns ZPAC, a West Seneca-based company that focuses on dance, acting and singing with more than 100 members. The company is highly regarded in the local performing arts community, and her students have traveled far and wide, including gigs with the Goo Goo Dolls at Disney World and the Orange Bowl.

“Creativity is a huge focus for us,” said Zawadzki. “Any studio can teach you techniques. We help our students create, which means directing and choreographing.”

Teaching for the stage and beyond | Buffalo Magazine

Instead of recitals, for example, ZPAC students write a play, choreograph their own pieces and direct the end-of-the-year production. Goo Goo Dolls guitarist and Music is Art Festival founder Robby Takac appreciates Zawadski’s willingness to take chances.

“I can throw out a few suggestions and know Stacy will run with it and create something great,” said Takac. “Her enthusiasm is contagious. Stacy has a passion to perform and her students follow that lead.”

Takac knows he’ll get more than just a technically great performance from them.

“I can always count on ZPAC for a show they’re excited about,” continued Takac. “You can see it in their eyes.”

Zawadzki believes that commanding the stage is critical to a successful performance.

“It really has to come from your soul,” said Zawadzki. “If the performer feels it, the audience will, too.”

Her dance career launched at the University at Buffalo, where she was a principal dancer in the opera, Aida, at Shea’s Performing Arts Center and part of the World University Games. Zawadzki also spent time in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where she performed in Grease and The Lion King. She then spent six years in New York City (“I knew I had made it because I could pay my own rent”), auditioning for “America’s Got Talent” and contributing to “The X Factor”. She founded ZPAC in 2007.

Despite so many personal highlights, it’s what Zawadzki sees in others that makes her proudest.

“When students listen to direction and reach a new level, it’s great to see that growth,” said Zawadzki. “People often think our students are older than they are, which speaks to their maturity.”

Zawadzki believes that excelling at performance bleeds into other areas of life. While some of her students end up pursuing the performing arts in college or as a career, there are other skill sets to gain.

“I think the arts teach you to be open-minded,” shared Zawadzki. “Plus, developing social and public speaking skills helps kids overcome their fears.”

At ZPAC, there’s an unmistakable feeling of confidence, playfulness and camaraderie.

“The students call me their second mom,” said Zawadzki. “They’re here that much. I think kids want a sense of purpose and we give them that.”

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