The Centene Center for the Arts, owned and operated by the Arts and Education Council, is home to a number of arts and arts education organizations. One of the nonprofits that calls the Centene Center home is Gateway Center for Performing Arts (GCPA). GCPA seeks to strengthen, enrich and shape St. Louis communities by providing performing arts exposure, education and expression through summer camps, private lessons, workshops and the GCPA Youth Theatre. 

A&E sat down with GCPA Executive Director Paul Pagano for a brief conversation about the history of the organization and tis role in enriching the arts in our community.

What inspired you to start GCPA?

GCPA was founded in 2013 by me, my wife, Lori Pagano, Stephanie Fox and Ashleigh Blevins. We all lived in the city, and we had been working in arts organizations in different corners of the community and recognized there was a need for arts inside the city limits. There were kids who wanted to take classes, to perform, but they didn't have the ability to get out west or to the University City area. Being city residents, we wanted to bring those opportunities to the city.

How does GCPA bring these opportunities to children living in the city?

We offer classes for grades K-12. We offer an array of performance classes - musical theatre being the core of what we do, but also recognizing what makes up musical theatre is singing, dancing and acting. So, we offer private voice lessons from faculty, and we have formalized dance classes that are specific to different genres, particularly for our mainstage production. Stephanie Fox, the artistic director and head of dance, puts together classes that are not only based on musical theatre technique in general, but also tailors classes so kids have an opportunity to learn from us and learn the technique itself, and then see the application of that when they come to the auditions.

I'm director of the acting program as well as executive director. I find that we can tell stories through song and through dance, but if we forget the human element it's all just a show. So, we have to learn how we act as human beings and then find that in all of the stories. Acting is a big focus because that's the element of performance I've seen neglected the most. If you want to be able to perform and you don't want to just train to be in the ensemble, you have to take acting classes. 

What do you see for the future of the organization?

We want to be a place where kids who are novices, as well as stage veterans, come to us in order to explore the world beyond themselves. Part of our mission with our Youth Theatre Company is to explore stories that not everyone is telling. We don't want to copy what everyone else is doing, instead we try to choose shows that tell great stories but don't have the opportunity to be produced.

We want the kids to know that whether they are great at what they do or are just getting started, they're going to grow, no matter what their experience is.


Gateway Center for Performing Arts is a tenant of A&E's Centene Center for the Arts. To learn more, visit