Acting Out

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Paradoja Studios Puts On A Show

The cast of Paradoja Studios

“I’ve always kind of felt like a paradox, and I think a lot of people in the group have,” explained Michael Pagano of how he came up with the name of his theater company, Paradoja Studios—Paradoja is the Spanish word for paradox. “I just never know where I fit. And it fits the shows too, because the shows can become anything.”

Pagano, who grew up in Hicksville, was always destined to get into theater. His father is a cameraman, and Pagano would often visit the set and admire the behind-the-scenes work. By the time he was in Hicksville High School, he took part in the school’s production of Bye Bye Birdie. But as it would turn out, Pagano was better suited writing his own shows and starting his own theater company. With the help of his teacher Dave Coonan, who he cites as his mentor and best friend, Pagano launched Paradoja Studios.

He was just 15 at the time, with four friends as part of his theater group. Now, the 27-year-old has more than 100 people actively involved, with a vast majority of those participants hailing from Hicksville as well.

Michael Pagado

“It’s as local as it could possibly get,” said Pagano, who noted that the Paradoja members range in age from 20 to nearly 40. “Every year, the younger generation is like, ‘can we invite so and so from the high school,’ and they audition for us.”

With its large cast, the studio has grown to produce more than just the sketch and improv shows it started with. To date, Paradoja includes its classic live shows, a web series, a podcast—17 mg—and, most recently in the works, a TV show.

Between maintaining all of the Paradoja ventures, keeping up with the cast, writing, producing, directing and rehearsing, Pagano is often swamped with responsibilities, but he said it’s always worth it.

“I think it’s because it’s something I genuinely care about, so I can’t go a day without thinking about it,” he said. “I think the things in life that we love the most, we can’t put words to it. I don’t know what the code is of why I like this so much, I just know I do. I think it’s important to have at least something like that in your life, that you love so much. This gave me everything. It gave me friends, it gave me life, great stories, memories—it’s hard to think about life without it.”

Aside from running Paradoja for the love of the activity, Pagano also commented that a large part of what he does stems from wanting to watch others blossom and embrace their talents that they may not have known they even had. Dropping names like Frankie Sparks, who is directing this year’s live show and does the podcast with Pagano and Scott Eisenberg; Marco Amato, who writes and makes the Paradoja web series; and Matt Miller, Kalene Speranza and Mike Themistocleous, who each have started their own band.

The cast of Paradoja Studios performs on stage

“Showing people in the group what their own potential is and then seeing them now take that potential and actually doing something with it—I’m so proud of so many of my friends,” Pagano expressed. “In the beginning, [Paradoja] was just to get all this out, the feeling of you have something to say, but there was no way to say it. Then, in 2012, I went through a lot of personal stuff, so the shows became a completely cathartic thing. I made Paradoja, but Paradoja made me, then, because it gave me a sense of life, purpose, something to do when the world you know is falling apart.”

This sense of using creative outlets to save yourself from a situation is something Pagano has influenced his fellow castmates with. As he taught his friends how to take the negative and use it to create something positive, the shows subsequently became more meaningful than the cast could have imagined.

“There’s been some really deep stuff about what they’ve gone through,” Pagano commented. “Sometimes, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry or both, and it’s really nice because that’s what art and music have always been about—that kind of community, not feeling alone.”

Moving forward, Pagano has goals of visiting “the most difficult places” and showing people how to express their hardships through comedy.

“That’s fascinating to me,” he said. “Trying to find a deeper meaning to this other than just telling jokes.”

Catch Paradoja Studios’ latest production at Levittown Hall on Aug. 23 and 24, at 7:30 p.m. To learn more, visit www.paradojastudios.com.

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