Downtown Studios sprout

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 10, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — While playing one of the most romantic couples on stage and screen, Caroline Firczak and Mark Stephenson fell in love themselves.
Firczak and Stephenson portrayed Maria and Captain von Trapp in a 2009 production of “The Sound of Music” by the Uwharrie Players of Stanly County.
They plan to marry May 6 at the Rowan Museum.
Their on-stage collaboration has grown into a professional partnership. The couple have opened a dual art-and-music studio in downtown Salisbury over the Literary Bookpost, 110 S. Main St.
Firczak’s studio, Music With Caroline, offers instruction in piano and voice. Stephenson creates commissioned portraits and other artwork at Mark Stephenson Painting, Portraiture and Fine Art.
Bill Greene, who owns the Literary Bookpost building, said he spent a long time looking for a compatible tenant.
“When you put a lot of love and effort into renovating one of these buildings, you want to make sure it’s utilized to its fullest potential,” Greene said. “They are a great fit.”
Literary Bookpost employees and customers are sometimes treated to the sound of singing coming through the tin ceiling.
“It’s fun to be in bookstore when the operatic voices go off,” Greene said.
Greene and Stephenson worked to renovate the spacious, open loft to accommodate both a place to paint and a music studio.
Natural light pours in from large windows, so Stephenson paints in the front half of the loft. A mobile, partial walls divide his workspace from the interior room he built for Firczak’s studio, located at the back of the loft.
“We weren’t sure how it would work with spillover noise from piano lessons, but it has worked quite well,” Firczak said.
The space offers privacy but flexibility and turns easily into a gallery. The couple hosted an open house and grand opening in December and plan an art show and piano and voice recital in May after their wedding.
Firczak said they love the convenience of working downtown. When the windows are open, they hear the sounds of the city.
Stephenson is an established painter and portrait artist originally from Misenheimer, where the couple now live. He played American Legion baseball for Salisbury from 1979 to 1981 and has performed with Piedmont Players Theatre.
He moved to New York City to pursue opera but, after seeing an exhibition of paintings by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot in 1997, decided to begin “dabbling in oil a bit.”
Inspired by works by Rembrandt, John Singer Sargent and Velazquez, Stephenson joined the Art Students League and studied the fundamental elements of painting with Frank O’Cain, portraiture with Leonid Gervitz and the human form with Leonid Lerman, a sculptor.
Stephenson moved back to North Carolina in 2006 after living in New York for 10 years. He has a solo show hanging at Artifex studio in Troy called “Déjá Vu All Over Again,” featuring original portraits and copies of Old Master paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
His second show at Artifex beings March 16 featuring landscape and still life.
Firczak, a Concord native, earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in vocal performance from Winthrop University where, she was a Founder’s Scholar and studied piano as a secondary instrument.
Serving as an adjunct faculty member at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, Firczak teaches music appreciation and American music. She has taught voice, piano, and drama for Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, Winthrop’s ST-Arts program, Matthews Playhouse of the Performing Arts, Gray Stone Day School and more.
In 2009, Firczak was nominated for awards from the Metrolina Theatre Association both as performer and musical director. She’s worked with Theatre Charlotte, Theatre Matthews, Carowind’s Theme Park, CPCC Summer Theatre and Fort Mill Playhouse, in addition to the Uwharrie Players.
Having Firczak and Stephenson establish their studios in Salisbury was a win for downtown, Greene said.
“They are the type of people we want to recruit,” he said.
The couple, whose relationship started on the stage, has just completed another theatrical collaboration.
The Uwharrie Players completes a two-week production of “The Fantasticks” today. Stephenson starred in the musical, and Firczak served as director.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.