Those at the helm of Little Lake Theatre have amassed a lot of professional clout.
For the past 21 years, Sunny Disney Fitchett has been artistic director of the 63-year-old theater in North Strabane that was founded by her father, Will Disney. She and actor/director Art DeConciliis, who's been involved in 124 productions as actor or director, have also been teaching acting classes at the theater for the past 18 seasons.
This is the time of year when they take off their stage costumes and gear up for an 11-week series of acting classes titled "I Can Do That."
"The classes we offer nudge people into bravery," Mrs. Fitchett said. "Some would like to get into acting but are timid. By taking our classes, we give them a chance to put their toe in the water."
When prospective students call about the classes -- offered 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays from June 4 to Aug. 20 -- Mrs. Fitchett said the biggest worry they have is whether they'd fit in. However, she also said she can't think of a single person who didn't fit in.
"We've had very, very few dropouts, and those who did had scheduling problems," she said.
Over the years, the classes have drawn psychiatrists, dentists, doctors, ministers, business professionals, teachers, lifelong learners and husbands and wives. Beginning and experienced actors who want to hone their skills also sign up, as do theatergoers who want to deepen their perspective.
"The classes also give shy businesspeople a chance to speak with some level of confidence in front of bosses and peers," Mrs. Fitchett said.
The series starts with the students getting a list of 10 things the teachers wish they were taught while taking their own acting classes. As the weeks progress, they expand on these concepts.
"One of the things we wish we were taught in class is the reality that all movement on stage is motivated by two causes," Mrs. Fitchett said. "The first is task-oriented, such as walking across the room to answer the phone. The second is emotionally motivated, where the movement has to be truthful to the context."
In their classes, the teachers take a bit of technique from many different theatrical gurus, and both are drawn to the philosophy of Uta Hagen, who's written volumes on acting.
"I think what Art and I do well is break down the fundamentals, which is one of the reasons why intermediate and advanced actors get a lot of value from our classes," Mrs. Fitchett said. "Mixing students with different levels of experience in a single class can be successful because the fundamentals of acting are always the same, namely being truthful to the core."
After Kathijo Mohan of Houston took the class, she said the thing she liked best was how much fun it was.
"I learned a lot, too; techniques, exercises, doing a monologue on stage and working with another actor to put up a scene for a live audience," she said.
Bob Rak of Peters took the class in 2006 because his wife was out of town a good deal of time for her marketing business, and he thought it would be a fun thing to do.
"The classes exceeded my expectations," he said. "Lucky to be cast in three shows in the following season, I realized right away that I had been taught everything I needed to know -- blocking, character development, the rehearsal process ... they gave us all the tools."
Jen Kopach of South Fayette took the class in 2011 and said her favorite part of the class was the individual attention.
"There were 20 or so in the class, and the monologue and scene work that Sunny and Art chose for me fit my needs perfectly," she said. "They spent a lot of quality time with each scene and with individual monologue work. They knew I needed to work on my character development as well as being serious and truthful. They helped me grow as an actor."
Many have gone on to perform in theaters across the region. Some, though, find that acting is not their particular cup of tea, although they find the learning process helpful.
"One important thing that many learn is that acting is not as easy as it looks," Mr. DeConciliis said. "It actually takes a lot of discipline and hard work."
Details: 724-745-6300 or visit littlelake.org.
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org