by Jazmine Ponce
photography by Jen Newman
A 9-year-old boy performs on the center stage of Founders Auditorium at the University of La Verne, a spotlight on his face. Audience members watch intently as he sings and dances to the theme of “Oliver.” Inside, he feels the adrenaline and thrill of performing. Many years later, that same boy now stands in front of a group of performers on a similar stage in Thousand Oaks, choreographing and directing them. For Roger Castellano, theater and performing have always been a part of his life.
Roger grew up in La Verne, 40 miles away from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and 3,000 miles away from the stages of Broadway in New York City. Yet, the thriving dedication, determination and passion to perform and create theatrical work, be it dancing, directing or acting, lives in him.
At age 5, Roger was first in the spotlight while singing in the children’s choir at the La Verne Church of the Brethren. He remembers enjoying the atmosphere of being in front of an audience. At 9, he first set foot on a theatrical stage and performed. The ULV Theatre Arts Department was performing a production of “Oliver.” Roger successfully auditioned for the lead part. From that age forward, he has dedicated his extra-curricular time to auditioning and performing in theater. “My background started as a child actor. I enjoyed acting and was consumed by that for my entire growing up years going into junior high and high school. I guess I kind of knew that I was always going to be involved in theatrical arts somehow.”
Castellano’s parents were always behind him. Often, they would drive him to auditions, even if it meant the frequent long drive to Hollywood. Eventually, it paid off. At 14, he was cast in a production of “The King and I” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. “The hands-on training I got was very beneficial, I was busy just trying to do school and all. My parents told me that it was difficult, but they knew I had the desire and the drive, and they never once discouraged me; but they told me it would be a lot of hard work, and they were behind me 100 percent.”
After graduating from Bonita High school, Roger attended Cal State Fullerton and in 1983 earned a bachelor of arts degree in theater. He began working with the Disney Company as a performer. About 16 year ago, Disney gave him the opportunity to try the other side of the table as a director and choreographer. He now resides as a consultant director for Disney on special events and shows that are performed in throughout the United States and the world. Recently, he took the Electrical Parade and shipped it from Los Angeles to New York City, closing down 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue in the process. “We took that parade everybody knew at Disneyland and brought it there, and that was a big hit. It was for the ‘Hercules’ world premiere,” says Roger.
The job with Disney allows him the flexibility to direct and choreograph independently for other theater companies. He has acted in and choreographed a variety of shows, including recently directing choreography for a musical production of “The Secret Garden” for the Cabrillo Music Theater in Thousand Oaks. Having experience as an actor, choreographer and director, Roger feels he enjoys the ability to do more as a director. “They all have a gratification, but I really think that direction and choreography are more gratifying. You are creating something from ground zero, and as a director you are helping the actor; as an actor you are just developing a character, but as a director you are developing not only the characters with the actors but all the other individual characters and the lighting to help the characters and the set design to help the character feel its philosophical state. You are so much in control of that and making pictures, light, sound, music, costumes. I really enjoy having that opportunity.” Castellano often dedicates 80 hours a week on his outside productions.
He met his wife Tracy Lore while working at Disneyland. Lore herself is an actress who recently completed a production of “Into the Woods.” Their 9-year-old daughter Carin has been bitten by the theatrical bug, showing interest in the craft. Busy directing and choreographing, Castellano left acting on the back burner until fall 2000 when he performed in “On the Town,” which was exciting for him because it was the first time Carin saw him perform on stage.
Spectators go to the theater to laugh, cry or delve into an adventurous plot line. For them, it is entertainment, but to Roger, it is his life. Each day brings inspiration, perceptions and experiences that allow him to grow his craft. “I like to say I see inspiration where ever I go. There is movement and light everywhere; I’m learning that more and more. Even the stillness has the most energy behind it.”