HANSON — They say if you love what you do, you’ll never “work” a day in your life. For Whitman native KathyJo Boss, that is true — to a point.
She’ll also tell you it takes work and dedication to make dreams in the performing arts come true, especially when one of those dreams is helping the next generation of dreamers achieve success in dance, voice and acting.
“I love doing what I do,” she said. “I love inspiring people. This is what’s most important. I want to leave a positive impact on as many people as I can.”
This year marks Boss Academy of Performing Arts’ 15th anniversary, and third year at its current location of 782 Main St. in Hanson. Founding a studio has always been her “end goal.”
The New York University graduate has more than 40 years of experience on Broadway, in national touring theater, television and film. When her eldest daughter Kaylee was born Boss and her husband, now-state Rep. Geoff Diehl decided to move back to her hometown.
“We felt Hanson was a great town in which to open up a business,” she said of the studio, which used to be in a storefront at the 1280 Main St. plaza in Hanson. “My landlord was awesome, but we just outgrew our space.”
Still, she said it doesn’t seem possible that those 15 years have come and gone.
“When you’re in business for 15 years — and I’m sure it will only get greater — you go through great times,” Boss said. “It is truly a family here.”
Like any parent, she has watched her students grow and move on after graduation — whether or not they seek a performing career.
“I see a lot of awesome memories with kids that started when they were little [and] I just went to one of their weddings,” she said. “Both my children were in the wedding.”
A lot of her students who want to pursue a stage or film career are doing that, holding Actors’ Equity and/or SAG-AFTRA cards. Others have celebrated marriage and family or are dealing with the loss of a parent.
“To me, the biggest thing is making the connection with the kids and seeing them grow into young people doing great things,” she said. “Whether that’s in the performing arts, which a lot of them are doing, or just in other things. … The common thing is that they take the structure and the discipline — just to have the courage to get up and speak in front of someone — and use them.”
Some of her students have gone on to do well in the military, and another is going for her doctorate. Hanson students Melissa Ford and Darren Bunch are among her alumni now working in film and theater in New York. Former student Hillary Keefe is now working in production.
The accomplishments of her students are her proudest achievements, but when her students cheer on not only each other, but other participants at competitions, she really enjoys seeing the growth in which she’s had a hand.
“To see my alumni come to my shows is the greatest gift for me that day,” she said. “I’m proud of the family that has been created here.”
Boss herself has come a long way from the shy 2 1/2-year-old whose mother brought her to dance class to help bring her out of her shell. Her teacher didn’t think KathyJo would want to go on stage for the year-end recital.
“I did go on stage and, obviously, I never came off,” she said.
She was later selected as a company member of the Boston Ballet. After graduating from NYU, she has continued to stay in contact with several of her teachers. She has performed on Broadway in a revival of “Cabaret” and as Lambchop in “Shari Lewis’ Lambchop.” Some TV and film work as well as commercials that have aired in Japan, eventually moving to California where she ended up doing production work, including live shows — and met Diehl who was then a writer.
Diehl still writes productions for Boss Academy, and her mom, who is a professional artist, does the scenery.
“I can give [students] the real story,” she said. “I can let them try it all … it only gives them more opportunity when they go to New York or LA.”
While there are several dance studios in the area, Boss said there is room for all of them in a state known for dance — it all depends on the kind of instruction a student is seeking.
She also sees a lot of change in the arts over the past 15 years. Dance, for example, involves more gymnastic moves than before, leading to the studio’s offering tumbling for the past four or five years. But there is always a need for the basics.
“I truly believe in the roots of the discipline,” she said. “With voice, they need to train in a classical way in terms of the technique.”
When students come in demanding to sing like the hottest pop artist on the radio, however, instructors have to help them take a realistic assessment of their vocal chords. Are they strong enough to sing a song like the over-produced recorded performances they hear?
Hip-hop has also made a difference in what students want to learn, affected by the success of the Broadway smash “Hamilton” and the reality show “So, You Think You Can Dance?” Boss pointed out.
“It does go with the trends,” she said. “It used to be the boy band style and then that swung around to what we see now. You stay on top of the trends, but you also stay true to the training.”
That is her aim for the future. She is also planning to give back to the community in a big way this year, the details of which she is not yet ready to disclose.