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Theater community wants Tony Award for Judith Ranaletta

We are proud to republish this article about RLO’s Resident Director which was featured in the Democrat & Chronicle, Rochester, NY.

If there were ever a story worthy of film – one of inspiration, devotion, and how the actions of a single, caring individual can impact thousands upon thousands of kids – this is it.

It’s the story of Judith Ranaletta, a performing arts teacher whose influence on 30 years of students at Greece Athena High School spurred an effort to win her the inaugural Tony Award for Excellence in Theatre Education.

Former Greece Athena student Jim Augustine was present at last year’s Tony Awards when the Theatre Education Tony was first announced. He knew immediately that Ranaletta, who students affectionately call “Ran,” had just the legacy of success to win the award.

“No one else can win this. I won’t have it,” says Augustine, now a Broadway producing partner to four-time Tony winner Hal Luftig.

Augustine enlisted the help of several other of Ranaletta’s former students to create www.Tony4Ran.com, a website dedicated to demonstrating to the Tony Award committee, through a voting system as well as posted testimonials, why Ranaletta ought to be nominated to win the award.

The award recognizes K-12 teachers “who discover talented students, nurture them, inspire them, and set them off on a lifelong journey as theater supporters and professionals.”

Merely a week after going live, the site garnered more than 1,000 votes in favor of Ranaletta’s nomination.

Now that nominations are closed (March 31), those behind #Tony4Ran are awaiting news.

Finalists for the Tony Award are to be notified in the spring and a winner will be announced on the Tony Award telecast on June 7.

Testimonials for Ranaletta poured in from parents, colleagues and former students — among them Broadway stars, singers, film and television actors, theater producers and directors.

“Who does this?” asks Ranaletta’s husband, retired Hon. John C. Ninfo II, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, referring to the Tony4Ran.com site, which features an astonishing 600 testimonials, each one gushing admiration and gratitude for Ranaletta.

“Who puts this all together? With no monetary reward. Just out of love,” he said.

 

Judith’s background

Sitting on a couch in their home, Ranaletta flips through some of the site’s testimonials, which she has printed and neatly compiled in a three-ring binder.

She removes her reading glasses to wipe away a tear.

“I read some of these things and think, ‘Are they talking about me?'”

They are. Testimonial after testimonial offers a glowing tribute to Ranaletta. It’s almost unbelievable, unless, that is, you know Ranaletta.

A Penfield native, Ranaletta grew up as a lover of music and theater. She graduated with a Masters in Vocal Performance from Ithaca, and received additional training in voice at the Eastman School of Music and at the Vocal Arts Symposium in Spoleto, Italy.

She performed in theater productions, did television and radio commercials, and almost realized her then-dream of a career in New York by being cast in a soap opera, but it was canceled before it began.

Before long, her alma mater, Our Lady of Mercy, sought to hire her to teach in its theater department.

“So, I started teaching.” explains Ranaletta, her face lighting up with the memory. “And I loved it.”

Teaching by day, Ranaletta continued to perform on Rochester community stages at night, up to eight performances per year.

Then, Ranaletta was hired to run the scant theater arts program at Greece Athena, which was devoid even of an auditorium. Upon Ranaletta’s arrival in 1982, the program had a mere 17 active students.

“As a teacher, I remember saying to myself, ‘I want to instill in these kids a lifelong appreciation of the arts,'” says Ranaletta. “I didn’t at that time have any idea that I would eventually start grooming stars.”

Single-handedly, she built a powerhouse program that grew to 300 students, earned numerous national and regional awards, and took students on international tours.

She spawned a nationally-renowned model of a show choir that has been studied and copied, but never duplicated. And she initiated the performing art careers of too many students to count, helping them win recognitions that include the enviable Presidential Arts Scholars honor.

 

Beyond awards

The success of Greece Athena’s performing arts program is due to Ranaletta’s considerable energy, spirit, and creativity. But it is her remarkable aplomb as a teacher that is highlighted in so many of the tony4ran site’s testimonials.

Ranaletta teaches technique; she trains kids to be “triple threats” — singers, dancers and actors.

Yet, her skill extends beyond notes or steps.

Ranaletta coaxes forth latent abilities from her students, steering a kind of transformation in them. And at a time in their lives when kids may barely know what to do with their hair, let alone what career goals to pursue, Ranaletta offers guidance and confidence.

“She believed in me when I didn’t” explains former Greece Athena student Kara Lindsay, who currently portrays Glinda in the Broadway production Wicked. “(In High School) I dreamed of being on Broadway, but I knew the reality of this business and how difficult it can be, and it scared me.”

But Ranaletta was encouraging.

“She pulled me aside and said, ‘Kara I really do believe you’ll be on Broadway some day.'”

Ranaletta teaches kids to use performing as a vehicle for personal growth, even if their lives and careers move in a different direction.

“It’s about the life lessons that you learn,” says Ninfo. “Focus, can-do attitude, believing in yourself, having a sense of discipline, having a sense of commitment. It’s not just about performing, It’s about life.”

Former Greece Athena student Jean Paul Perez, Chairman of Homeless Services Network for Rochester, credits Ranaletta with demonstrating to him how to give people a chance, and the power of love.

In his testimonial on tony4ran, Perez explains how in helping him as a struggling teenager, Ranaletta has in turn helped him serve over 10,000 homeless people. “On behalf of the thousands of poor and homeless that you had no idea you helped Ran, thank you.”

Ranaletta retired from Greece Athena in 2011. But she has hardly slowed down, remaining an active and leading member of the performing arts community locally and beyond. And she continues to teach and inspire a new generation.

“Not only is she my vocal coach, inspiration and support, she is also an amazing confidant, motherly figure, and mentor,” says Alana Silber, a junior at Brighton High School who currently studies voice with Ranaletta. “Everyone deserves to have a teacher like Judith once…You don’t come across two Judiths in your life.”