Leesville Grads Excel In Collegiate Arts

Pictured, Emily Foley acts in Blue Stockings at the Shenandoah Conservatory. (Photo used by permission of Emily Foley)

Leesville is known for its excellent arts program. Whether it’s Band led by Ms. Montgomery or Theatre led by Ms. Tarson, everyone knows that a Leesville production will be a quality performance by quality actors, singers, band members, or artists. The teachers play a large role in shaping and guiding the students to become the best artisans they can be, but what happens after Leesville? What happens to these high school artists once they reach college?

The transition from high school to college is mixed at best for most students. Amid feelings of homesickness and loneliness, there are opportunities for new and exciting amounts of independence and freedom. The new environment can be confusing and confounding, so many universities recommend that new students continue the activities they enjoyed in high school.

Two Leesville theater students found themselves entrenched in music and acting in high school. Jake Banasiewicz, class of 2016, attended his first audition solely to support a friend.

“I had no intention on joining the theater department, and somehow it became my whole life,” said Banasiewicz. From then on, he was hooked. Banasiewicz was a part of an incredible ten productions at Leesville, spanning from castings in the Ensemble for Grease and Legally Blonde to the lead roles of Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby.

“In a school that typically only cared about football, it was incredible to be able to spend almost every day with kids that didn’t always have a spot at the games. The family I made in Leesville’s theatre department is something I’ll never forget,” said Banasiewicz.

Emily Foley, class of 2016, found herself just as entrenched in the the performing arts at Leesville. Foley participated in two musicals and was a member of the International Thespian Society for two years. Foley took four years of Chorus, in addition to extracurricular acting, voice and dancing classes.

“Some nights I would go straight there after school and be there for five-plus hours,” said Foley.

Foley spent her high school time preparing to audition for special fine arts colleges but still found opportunities to participate in school activities, which impacted her profoundly.

“ITS festival was a really memorable experience–taking workshops, seeing other schools perform, and getting to compete was really fun, and having my Leesville friends there made it so much better,” said Foley.

The greatest impact on her from theatre? The hard work and effort that each member put in to make the show the very best it could be.

“It really does take a village to put a show up, and I remember everyone at Leesville putting in 110% to make the shows the best they could be. That level of commitment is something really special that still inspires me,” said Foley.

These two students ensured that their love of theatre would transition into their new colleges.

For Banasiewicz, this manifested as a major in Acting at Marymount Manhattan College.

“I think bringing life to something that starts as words on a page is an incredible challenging but a rewarding experience,” said Banasiewicz. While Banasiewicz had to take math and science-based courses at Leesville, Marymount knows no such restrictions. Banasiewicz is free to dive into theatre and acting as deeply as he wants. He finds the best part of his new environment to be the fact that he is surrounded by people who all love the same thing as him: theatre.

Theatre in college is more stressful for Banasiewicz but just as fun. He knows that he has a greater audience as a collegiate actor and uses that knowledge to push himself to perform at new heights.

For Foley, her training at Leesville opened up doors to elite music schools.

“From a more practical standpoint, the knowledge of music, sight singing and voice I got from the chorus program at Leesville has really helped me out in college,” said Foley. Her senior year, Foley ended up auditioning for over 20 music programs at a wide variety of schools, boarding a flight directly after school on Friday every week for three months. This paid off, as she was accepted to the Shenandoah Conservatory–an elite arts school in Virginia–to study Musical Theatre.

“It’s crazy to see the changes in myself as a performer from Freshman year of high school to now being a Freshman in college,” said Foley. This year, she’s participating in school productions while meeting with casting directors for summer plays. She finds the experience extremely rewarding but a far cry from the close-knit Leesville arts program.

“Regardless of whether or not I was going to pursue theatre in college, my arts experience at Leesville was something I wouldn’t give up,” said Foley.

These two students found that Leesville’s theatre program served to deepen their love of acting and singing. What about another program, like Band?

Peter Marino, class of 2014, was fully connected to many aspects of Leesville during his time here, including being a four-year member of both the cross country and lacrosse teams. In addition to this, he played the trumpet in Leesville’s marching band. All of these activities swallowed up most of Marino’s time, but he did them because he enjoyed playing and being a part of a team. Marino found the business to be key to his success.

“The structure was what I needed at the time in order to be successful and keep momentum–basically, with being so actively involved, there was never a great deal of downtime, and that constant foot-on-the-pedal prevented me from getting into a lull,” said Marino.

Marino enjoyed playing the trumpet on his own and as part of the band. By himself, he could improvise and create his own music; as an individual in the band, he could help create something larger than himself.

Laura Lisowe, class of 2014, was entrenched in band at Leesville during her tenure at Leesville Middle and High Schools. At Leesville Middle, Lisowe learned to play the alto saxophone, which added onto her eight years of piano lessons.

“While I enjoyed band in middle school, it was nowhere near as impactful as my time playing in an ensemble of as a high caliber as Leesville’s Symphonic Band,” said Lisowe.

Lisowe found her experience in the high school band to be extremely formative. As a member of the Symphonic Band for four years, Lisowe found great friendships and a greater appreciation for music.

“While I did make a few close friends through this process, what has lasted longer has been the appreciation and love of truly good music–music that will give you goosebumps in a hot auditorium,” said Lisowe.

Leesville’s band program is very strong, with over a hundred members each year. The groups go on multiple trips, which help the students bond–later in the year, the band competes at regional and state competitions. As these students transition into college, it helps to have a new community of people that speak the same band-language and share the same interests.

However, for Marino, balancing a business degree, lacrosse, clubs, and band was not an option at Appalachian State. TIme management, a skill he learned at Leesville, became vitally important.

“I had to figure out a way to balance everything, so I looked at the root of what I was interested in,” said Marino. He found his basic interests to be exercise, teamwork, and music. He continued to play the trumpet on his own, but joined a yoga group for exercise and an acapella group called “Higher Ground” to continue his love of making music with a group.

“I have been able to balance and manage my time in a doable and enjoyable manner, where I stay busy, but not too swamped or overwhelmed,” said Marino.

Unlike Marino, Lisowe dove headfirst into music at UNC-Chapel Hill. She chose to focus on music while getting a degree and has been a part of the Marching Tar Heels for all three years. Further, she found that this wasn’t enough to satisfy her crave for music, eventually joining the UNC Saxophone Ensemble–an orchestra of just saxophones that plays alongside the North Carolina Saxophone Ensemble. Even after this, she still sought out more opportunities for music.

“However I found that after my first year, this level of music alone was not stimulating enough to feed my passion. I began taking individual lessons with Professor Matt McClure,” said Lisowe. McClure has an undergraduate degree in Music Education, a graduate degree in Conducting, and has won numerous awards from North American Saxophone Alliance National Conference.

Lisowe has found a passion for music in college, strengthened by her solid base of her experience at Leesville.

“The passion that Leesville instilled in me has propelled me to new experiences in the music world and in reflecting on all of this, I know I will always crave to play and perform with other musicians,” said Lisowe.

Marino has found a way to continue his passion for music, while balancing his time with other activities. He specifically credited Leesville with preparing him for the collegiate experience.

“Leesville does a fantastic job of preparing its students for their next step in life–but the ability to plan and manage time, as well as the will and drive to work hard, are also important,” said Marino.

Foley loved how Leesville set her up to find a school that fits her well. The Chorus and Theatre experiences allowed her to perfect and fine-tune her skills in order to perform well at auditions. Now participating in Musical Theatre in college, she sees a large number of differences between the high school and collegiate programs.

“They’re two very different worlds, but I really appreciate having had the opportunity to be a part of both,” said Foley.

Banasiewicz made an incredible off-chance decision to audition for his first play, which has become his life and future career. One thing he credits his success to is the community that helped him at Leesville.

“The family I made in Leesville’s theatre department is something I’ll never forget,” said Banasiewicz.


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