When Michael Pagano started Paradoja Studios, he didn’t just want to entertain, he wanted to provide a place for people to belong.
“I want to give a chance to anyone who many may not give a chance,” Pagano said. “I try to give people a place where they can be the best version of themselves.”
And over the past five years, Pagano has helped more than 80 people (who mostly come from Hicksville) find their home on the stage as well as in roles behind the scenes. Every year, Pagano writes, directs, produces and stars in an original sketch show that Paradoja Studios (initially known as the Crat Pack from 2008 until 2010) performs at Levittown Hall.
Watching Pagano perform his original productions on stage, one would never guess that the 23-year-old used to be a shy kid with stage fright.
“I’m dyslexic, so when I was little I was afraid of showing anyone what I wrote because it would be so full of mistakes,” he said. “And I hated going up in front of the classroom to give presentations. It’s ironic that I now write shows and perform.”
Pagano attributes his transformation to his parents, who passed down a keen sense of humor and love of comedy to their son.
“I got my sense of humor from my mom and my comedy education from my dad,” Pagano said, noting influences like the Marx brothers, George Carlin and Rod Sterling. “My mom saw a version of me I didn’t. There’s a lot of people out there that don’t have that support from their families, so I try to provide that for people who join Paradoja Studios.”
More than 80 people have strengthened their artistic abilities with Paradoja. Some are Hicksville High School theatre alum, while for others, Paradoja is their first experience with theater. Word about the group spreads through word of mouth and recommendations, and with every show comes several new faces. Pagano describes the group as a family, where everyone is encouraged to shine, as well as sharpen, their talents.
“I know how wonderful it is to have parents and teachers who have believed in me and that’s what I try to do for others,” said Pagano, who has an eye for seeing talent. “If I genuinely see something within that person that I think would make a good addition to the group, then I’ll give them a chance and be supportive.”
This August, Paradoja Studios debuts its eighth show, Crossroads. The show also marks the first time writers other than Pagano will be putting their sketches into production and helping direct. Among those writing a sketch for the show is Hicksville’s Frankie Sparks, who will also be acting in and directing some of the show.
“Mine are straight comedy. One of them centers around a young woman who is graduating and is very scared of growing up and being an adult, so she calls upon her imaginary friend to get her through. It’s a silly scene but it sends across a positive message,” Sparks said. “The other is about a how crazy and boring working in an office can be, and a boss who asks ridiculous things of his employees and it all just builds up.”
Pagano said that Crossroads combines both comedy and drama, and that Paradoja shows usually have a dark sense of humor.
“It’s personal. I tell the writers and actors to bring out their pain and do something positive with it,” Pagano said. “Each sketch is at some sort of crossroads or transition. We use really strange situations to talk about familiar things.”
Pagano said that Paradoja has come a long way since 2008, overcoming a lot of obstacles and skepticism.
“When I first started, so many didn’t seem to grasp the fact that I could write, direct and act in my own show on my terms. It seemed to be a fight to prove that what I was doing was just as legitimate as shows from the school,” Pagano said. “Now I don’t have to prove it anymore because this is legitimate. I don’t even go out looking for new talent to join, because they seek us. It’s not so hard for others to grasp anymore because now they know it can be done and they know what they’re getting into. That’s an amazing feeling.”
In the future, Pagano said he wants Paradoja to continue putting on shows and would love to include performances from bands and have artists display their work at the shows. He said there’s room for everyone at Paradoja Studios.
“My dream would be to do this on a bigger scale. I would love to have this grow and have new people join,” Pagano said. “Not everyone can say they have a purpose, but this is one thing at the end of the day, that I can say I have a purpose.”
See Crossroads at Levittown Hall on Saturday, Aug. 8 and 22 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8. Find out more at www.paradojastudios.com.