After years as a performer with the Zodiaque Dance Company in Buffalo, N.Y., and on national tours of "Peter Pan," "Crazy for You" and Barry Manilow's "Copacabana," Michele Utzig-Philage began a transition to teaching in 2007.
In August 2010, she began another transition: She moved from an apartment in Manhattan to a house in Castle Shannon.
"My husband, Brian, and I both love New York, where we lived for 10 years, but when we started a family, we wanted to live some place a bit more family-friendly," she said. "Little did I know at the time how family-friendly Pittsburgh is."
Mr. Philage grew up in Baldwin Borough, where he still has family, and was aware of what Pittsburgh offered in the arts. Mrs. Utzig-Philage also was familiar with the region because she had worked as assistant choreographer and dance captain for four summers at the Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown.
For the first two years after their move to Castle Shannon with son, Riley, now 3, Mrs. Utzig-Philage said, she was "quite the gypsy," teaching dance at various studios and the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. But on July 1, she made yet another transition when she took the position of artistic director of the Center for Theater Arts in Castle Shannon, where she also continues to teach dance.
"It is very important for me to work at an organization that I truly believe in, an organization with integrity, one where the bottom line is what's best for the students," she said.
The newly created position heads a staff of about 30 teachers of acting, voice and dance.
The Center for Theater Arts has been in existence for more than 30 years and has an enrollment of about 400 students from South Hills communities.
"By adding Michele to our team, I am more confident then ever that taking classes at the CTA will be something a child will value for life," said Billy Hartung, executive director.
Classes are held after 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Saturdays. The center also offers an adult voice class on Wednesday evenings, and Mr. Philage often pops in to hone his skills when he isn't working as manager of the Texas Roadhouse in Bridgeville. A graduate of West Virginia University with a degree in voice performance, Mr. Philage met his wife while both were performing in "Copacabana."
"He's one of the reasons why I left the performing rat race of auditioning and living out of a suitcase and began to segue into teaching," Mrs. Utzig-Philage said.
As artistic director, she said she would love to ensure that everyone in the Pittsburgh area has heard of and knows about the center. She'd also like to increase the number of students and move to a bigger building to better serve the growing enrollment.
"As a nonprofit, student-oriented organization, we don't just focus on teaching theater arts but on teaching the child," she said. "The subject matter for each is the same, but how we relate it to each child is different. Children learn differently. Some are visual; others are aural. Our goal is not to make them a star but to enhance their lives."
The center stages two musicals each year, one in the winter and one at the end of the school year. It also schedules showcases for each of its three departments of acting, dance and vocal performance. For this year's all-school performance of "The Music Man" in May, 178 students took to the stage.
Students are now in rehearsal for "Godspell," which will feature a cast of 54 and run from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 at Mt. Lebanon High School. Admission is free.
Mrs. Utzig-Philage said her son probably will grow up at the center and is already showing an interest in music.
"Already he can sing the choruses from 'Godspell,' " she said.
Mrs. Utzig-Philage said eventually she'd like to go back to college to get a master's degree in education but isn't yet able to pinpoint her focus. As to perhaps returning one day to performing, she said she's not one to ever say never.
"If I do decide to return to the stage, Pittsburgh seems the perfect place to get back into the theater," she said. "Right now, I have a mommy hat, a wife hat, a dance teacher hat and an artistic director hat, and I love every one of them. So it's all manageable."
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: email@example.com.