BY TOM LAVIS
For students who want to get the most out of their college experience, many turn to the performing arts to expand their horizons.
Area colleges and universities have a rich tradition of offering students an opportunity to be a participant in theater arts.
Kenny Resinski, former artistic director for Cresson Lake Playhouse and an assistant professor of fine arts at St. Francis University in Loretto for 45 years, understands the value of students being part of the theater.
Resinski also helps with designing the sets for his productions.
His wife, Bonnie, designs the costumes.
“Art must come out of the individual and not imposed on the individual,” Resinski said. “If they want to learn directing, costume design, lighting design, scene design, sound, makeup, stage management or theater management, the opportunity is there in our curriculum.”
Theater at St. Francis always has been a combination of “town and gown.”
The “town” element is provided by the people who live and work in the region and the “gown” refers to the academic regalia worn by university professors and students.
“It came about because area residents expressed an interest in becoming a part of the unusual offerings we were presenting,” Resinski said.
He prides his STAR Productions on trying things that other theater groups don’t have the people or budgets to do. STAR stands for Students Theatre Area Residents.
Resinski, a Philadelphia native, received a bachelor’s degree in English in 1963 and a master’s in theater in 1965, both from Villanova University outside of Philadelphia.
He entered Villanova with expectations of becoming a high school teacher.
College was a crossroad for Resinski. While a freshman, his father died.
He had to go to summer school to take a math class and failed the course. He also took a course in directing because he anticipated directing the high school play.
“I switched my major from math to English and theater, and I have never been the same since,” he said.
He credits Villanova professor Bernie Coyne with nurturing his blossoming involvement with the stage, and his wife for developing his maturity.
Resinski’s goal is to instill that love of performance art in his students.
“It’s an experience that is live, three-dimensional and very human,” he said.
Alan Zajdel of Lilly, a 1972 graduate of St. Francis, said participating in theater during college years lead to a lifetime love of performing.
“After graduating from St. Francis, I went to Villanova for a master’s in theater arts,” he said.
While Zajdel had a desire to do film and stage and pursue a performance career, his career path led him toward teaching.
“I discovered by performing at St. Francis, it opens up so many creative opportunities that translate to the classroom and life in general.”
Zajdel continues to participate in St. Francis productions and last appeared in “12 Angry Men” in 2011.
A theater curriculum only is as strong as budgetary concerns allow.
“We try to do good work as far as we are able with the available funds,” he said.
Through the years, the productions of the theater department have been known by several names. Initially, it was called Entr’acte Presents, followed by The New Theatre and now STAR Productions.
“The different names signaled a change in the nature of the experience,” Resinski said.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the venue the students use.
In Resinski’s view, the JFK Center is too large, seating 550 people.
“For our purposes, the venue lacks intimacy,” he said.
St. Francis has become known for producing “the unusual play” under Resinski’s guidance. He enjoys giving his audiences something different.
“Why do what has already been done?” he asked. “If we do present a familiar piece, we stage it in a manner that gives it a feeling of the brand new.”
These plays are sometimes difficult for amateur actors to get their heads around.
“We want to turn their heads around and think outside the box, he said. “Audiences have been accepting of these productions for the most part, but depending on the material, it does vary.”
His favorite production is the one he is working on at the moment.
“I do have a warm spot for the several plays we have presented that deal with St. Francis of Assisi,” he said.
He and his wife have designed and directed approximately 40 musicals.
When asked if he had a particular favorite production in his four decades of experience, he said: “Each production has special meaning to Bonnie and me or we wouldn’t have staged it.
“All we ask of our actors is to try to go further than their last time on the stage and work to improve themselves,” he said.
If the arts can touch only one student, Resinski views it as a success.
His philosophy of directing is trust the playwright because the character of a play is derived from the writer’s words.
“Let the play be the source of philosophy and inspiration,” he said.
Resinski has seen some dramatic changes in students who have grown in self-confidence because of their participation in the theater arts.
“I worked with a young lady beginning in eighth grade all the way through her high school years and college years here at St. Francis,” he said. “She now holds a doctorate, and is teaching on the university level and abroad.”
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