By Paige Owens
NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. – This spring semester, students in Bill Mitas’ Production Practicum course, the Penn State New Kensington Drama Club, and local Pittsburgh actors and actresses are teaming up to accomplish an outstanding performance of “Into the Woods.” “Into the Woods” made its stage debut in San Diego in 1986 and again on Broadway in 1987. A film adaption of this musical was released in late 2014 by Disney.
Mitas has been teaching at Penn State New Kensington as the Adjunct Instructor in Theatre Arts for the last seven years. “I have always been interested in Theatre since early in high school,” said Mitas. “I wanted to go to Carnegie Mellon for Theatre Arts after high school, but I could not afford to go.”
Mitas returned to school and received his Bachelor of Science degree from Point Park University, and finally his Master’s Degree in Entertainment Technology from Carnegie Mellon University. He joined Penn State in 2008. However, he remains at the Art Institute as a full time faculty member.
Auditions for “Into the Woods” were held at the beginning of the semester and were open to all Penn State students and the local community. Mitas explained that after last semester’s production, he took requests from his students for what they would like to perform for the spring musical and “Into the Woods” seemed like a good choice.
“This is a ‘BIG’ production,” Mitas said. “The cast has 22 roles and typically I get around ten students, at most, to audition. This gives our students an opportunity to work with seasoned professionals in the area.”
Last semester, Mitas and the Drama Club put on a performance of “Beyond Therapy,” which included freshmen Jon McCabe and Laura Gensamer as the leads. McCabe and Gensamer have returned and will be hitting the stage again together. Gensamer is acting as the narrator for this production and McCabe is acting as Jack.
Gensamer is a freshman that is considering majoring in Corporate Communications or Marketing, but has been actively involved with theatre for many years. “I’ve always liked talking in front of people,” Gensamer said. “The idea of getting to play a different person every time you start a new production has always been exciting to me.”
Mitas’ students praise him for his talent, dedication, and inspiration. He encourages his students to push their talent, which brings out the best in each of them on stage and in rehearsals.
McCabe, a freshman Psychology major, states he has always been interested in theatre, and was involved in the theatre program at Burrell High School. “Bill is the second director I’ve ever had. He is caring towards his cast and is really great with designing sets,” McCabe said.
“He inspired me to audition for the theatre program at University Park and I auditioned this past week. He is a great director who can make the smallest cast and crew put on a really great performance. That’s what it takes to be a good director, using what you have to make things remarkable.”
The leading female role for “Into the Woods,” the Baker’ wife, is played by Klase Danko, who graduated from Point Park University. Danko auditioned as a member of the community and is an experienced actress. Mitas is hoping that having students, trained actors, and the community involved will create, “a wonderfully, magical production.”
“I would hope to have a positive effect on our students, as well as the community, sharing my experiences performing on stage, as well as working back stage,” said Mitas. “I have made a strong effort to integrate the community into our campus productions.”
Another freshman involved in the Drama Club, Wati Kumwenda, is studying Biomedical Engineering Technology. She explained that she loves singing and acting, which is why she first became involved in theatre. She continued to state that she performed throughout her high school career, and naturally, wanted to perform in her college career.
“Bill is very eccentric and open-minded,” Kumwenda said. “He encourages us to express ourselves fully not only in the roles we play on stage, but also as a cast and crew in our down time. He is very professional and considerate of us and goes out of his way to ensure we perform to the best of our abilities.”
The cast and crew will work diligently throughout the semester to prepare for their production of “Into the Woods,” which will open at the Forum Theater at Penn State New Kensington April 16th, 17th, and 18th at 8 p.m.