An Intergenerational Story: Phoebe and Felix Fennell


Parents often hope to have an opportunity to share special experiences with their children. Phoebe Fennell, who was a Musical Theater student at LIHSA before graduating in 1984, will share “LIHSA Alum” status this June with her son, Felix who is currently studying Animation. From Long Island to around the world and back again, here’s Phoebe’s journey:

Phoebe entered LIHSA, then known as BOCES Cultural Arts Center, as a Sophomore under founding principal, Ava Favara. She credits the school as being instrumental (musical pun intended!) to having a career in the arts, especially citing faculty members Bert and Pat Michaels as having a profound influence on her.

Phoebe’s singing talent was recognized outside of LIHSA. At age 14 she was cast in an East Coast Tour of Sound of Music. She traveled the music fair circuit, playing the role of Luisa for two and a half months over the summer. “It was amazing,” Phoebe recalls. “It was my first experience with a real deal tour.”

In her senior year at LIHSA, Phoebe auditioned for the cast of MGM/United Artist’s television series Fame, based on the film of the same name, following the lives of students and faculty at the High School for Performing Arts in NYC. The more recent seasons of the show had been focused on featuring more modern music and dance styles. Bill Blinn, the Executive Producer and creator of the original film, wanted to return to its more classical roots by introducing a new character. Phoebe landed the job and was cast as Alicia Morgan, a young opera singer. Phoebe filmed her episodes in LA, accompanied initially by her mom, then by LIHSA’s Pat Michaels.

Looking back at her experience filming Fame, Phoebe fondly recalls her interactions with the show’s Producer. Since the show hadn’t featured classically trained musicians in a long while, they weren’t prepared for what would be needed to accommodate one. He was just as eager to learn from Phoebe about her musical genre as she was to be part of this TV series. Phoebe explained that she practiced voice 2 hours a day and would need a rehearsal room. The Producer returned the next day with a key and said, “Come with me.” They walked through the MGM lot, up a rickety set of stairs and into a studio with a baby grand piano and a layer of dust that he promised would be cleaned up. He then shared with the 17-year-old Phoebe that she had been given the key to Judy Garland’s old studio!

Phoebe also had the opportunity to work with the Producer on choosing a piece that her character would sing, guiding him to a catalogue of aria choices that with copyright permissions and could be performed with piano-only as accompaniment. Her character, involved in a story arc where the students were trying to save Sal’s Italian restaurant, performed “Vissi D’Arte” from the opera “Tosca” by Giacomo Puccini.

After graduating LIHSA, Phoebe went to college to study voice, starting at Manhattan School of Music, and completing her degree at Oberlin.

She began a 30+ year career as an opera singer, performing as a soloist in productions all over the world. Opera jobs can range from being rehearsed and staged in as little as three weeks, as was the case for her role in Maine Grand Opera’s Magic Flute, to as long as a season of several months in Europe, or 8 weeks start to finish, which she did performing the title role in La Traviata in Portland, Oregon.

Phoebe married a fellow opera singer and had two children, Felix and Evie. After having her first child, she had to get her post-partum body in shape for an upcoming production of La Traviata that included a nude scene. Her (now ex-) husband was performing in Baz Luhrmann’s Broadway Boheme and shared with Phoebe that one of his colleagues was training to be a Pilates instructor and needed people to train. Phoebe volunteered. “It was intense the first time I worked with her. I could barely lift my head.” But within a year, Pilates became Phoebe’s passion and everywhere she traveled, she sought out a Pilates studio. This gave her exposure to many methods and teaching styles, inspiring her to become trained herself. “I was in Des Moines, Iowa and realized I could do better than a lot of the teaching I had experienced. When I got back to NY a year later, I signed up for my first teacher training – beginner mat – and loved it!” By the end of Dec, Phoebe was certified for all levels of mat.

Just as she graduated from getting her Pilates certification, the family moved to Germany. She continued to do a “taste test” of all the Pilates studios she could find throughout Europe. She landed in a comprehensive program in Hamburg with Bob Liekens as a mentor. Phoebe shares, “He was one of two people who made me the trainer I am today.” Phoebe took many classes in German, making her more sensitive in her own teachings on how difficult to be to do this training if not native language speaker.  She would often accompany Liekens to Hamburg and translate for him when he taught. In 2017, working as a Pilates trainer in Berlin, she became associated with the Real Pilates Teacher Training program with the “other” of the two most influential teachers.

In August 2020, Phoebe moved back to Long Island with her teenage children. Knowing that both kids were extraordinary visual artists, she knew to move to a district that sent students to LIHSA. Additionally, Felix is autistic and she wanted to ensure he had the accommodations and support he needs. She chose Levittown.


Felix has thrived at McArthur High School and attending LIHSA for two years. “It was a life-changing experience,” said Phoebe, “He was accepted into all three schools he applied to!” After graduating in June, Felix will attend SUNY Fredonia next fall to continue studying visual arts.

Phoebe looks back fondly at her singing career but is deeply satisfied with her new career as a Senior Trainor and Lead Trainer for Real Pilates Teacher Training program, teaching teachers to teach. She teaches anatomy and pedagogy all over the world.  She cites Alycea Ungaro, the founder of the Real Pilates Teacher Training program, as the strongest ongoing influence on her work. Many of Phoebe’s Pilates clients are Musical Theater and Opera singers.

Looking back at her journey she notes, “No learning experience is a waste of time.” She’s grateful for her life and having had the opportunity to share the experience of her beloved LIHSA with her talented son, Felix!

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