The American Performing
Arts Theatre Company

How it began: from John Carosella

The Reluctant Teacher
   I never wanted to teach! And now, after 47 years in the classroom (and counting), I think I can say with the Rolling Stones, "You can't always get what you want...but if you try, sometimes you might just get what you need."  The classroom was what I needed, and I seemed to be the only person in the entire universe who didn't know that.  
​It was the turbulent sixties and I had no direction whatsoever.  After failing miserably at several things I "wanted," I found myself really liking my Psych Aide job at Torrance State Hospital.  I was convinced that majoring in psychology was my true calling in life, and in exchange for the State  paying for my final two years of college, I agreed to return to work for "X" number of years at Torrance.  I was very pleased with the arrangement and was just about ready to sign off on it when I received a fateful phone call from my mother.
    "You're going to hate me."
    "Why would I hate you, what did you do?"
    "Just say you won't hate me."
    "I won't hate you, now what did you do?"
    "I saw an ad for a small, Catholic elementary school that needed a teacher and so I called and man appointment for  you  to  interview, so just say you'll go and don't embarrass me!"
   Charlie Brown never shouted as loud an AAARGH! as I screamed that day...but I went.  Mothers have that kind of power. Sister Mary Francette was the young principal and she defined the word enthusiastic .  The interview lasted nearly two hours and by the end of it, I was almost as enthusiastic as she...and I had signed a contract for $5000.  A few weeks later when she escorted me into that sixth grade classroom, it felt like I was entering the Colosseum and I knew the lions were hungry.  To ward them off, I started to speak.  And then, the miracle!  The words kept coming and it felt as though I had been born in front of that classroom. Perhaps I was!  That's how I became a teacher


The Reluctant Actor
   I never wanted to act!  I was a teacher and I loved it!  In contrast to the years I had spent wandering aimlessly through my life, I triumphantly declared that I was finally doing what I wanted to do.  I was going to teach grades 5 through 8 for the rest of my working years.  That's what I wanted, but it wasn't what I got.  I should have known better!
   Richard Gross (may he rest) was the other male teacher on the faculty, and one day he heard me reading a story to the class.  I have always been a good reader, and he was impressed.  "Have you ever had a theatre course?"  I answered with a prompt "no" and added that I didn't want one either.  "I'm perfectly happy doing what I'm doing."  
​   Richard, the most persistent person I have ever met, hounded me until one day I promised that if the credits transferred to my English degree from Saint Vincent College, I would take "Summer Theater Workshop" at Indiana University of PA.  I arrived on the first day of class and I was, I thought, rather nattily dressed--short sleeved white shirt, black slacks--a classic look in those days.  When I walked into Fisher Auditorium, I encountered the mot sloppily-dressed bunch of people I had ever seen.  These were "techies,"and I was to be one of them.  Our first job was to scrub old paint off stage flats.  Despite my "good" clothes, I knelt down and began.  And then, another miracle!  For the first time in my life, no one cared what I looked like or talked like or what my background was.  All that mattered was that I was doing my part.  In that moment, I felt the total acceptance of genuine community, and I was hooked.  I knew that this had somehow to be a part of the rest of my life.  What I did not know wast that there was an "acting requirement" to get credit for the course.  I had to read for a part in "the apprentice play."  I resisted, but I'm a very good reader and I got the lead.  We began rehearsals and I remember someone asking:  "Where did you learn to do what you're doing out there?"  I couldn't answer, because I didn't know.  All I knew was that just as in the classroom, it felt as if I had been born on that stage.  And that's how I became an actor!

How It All Came Together
   Looking back at the course of my life, I began to see that it had been a "long and winding road" and one for which I myself had created most of the twists and turns. Rather than looking for my own talents and gifts as my parents had tried to suggest, I had spent a great deal of time wishing I had the talents and gifts of others.  The result was disastrous!  I was never quite comfortable in in anything I tried whether it was studying for the Catholic priesthood in the seminary or working retail at J. C. Penney's or interviewing patients at Torrance State Hospital or looking for community at Saint Vincent Monastery.  Nothing seemed to work for me--until the miracles.  Until I had the glorious experience of feeling "born" to do something both in the classroom and on the stage.  And so, I began to wonder whether or not some Power of the Universe was guiding me in a direction that had been planned for me since my conception. That first thought of "providential control" warred mightily against my desire to be in control of my own life, but in light of the fact that so many "accidents" seemed to be pushing me in a definite direction, I considered the possibility.  Having had many of my personal "wants" thwarted, I was beginning to realize that I wasn't as much "in control" as I had thought.  Rather I was being swept along.  And finally, I made the decision not to decide and simply to "go with the flow."  That's what I did, and the river continues to take me to new and wondrous places.
​LETTING GO    
   It's never easy to let go!  One becomes comfortable with people, places, situations.  Letting go is to step into an uncertain future, and that's always a little frightening.  In those days, however, it seemed to me that I was being schooled about how necessary it was to let go if one is ever to move forward.  And so, I let go.
   If I really loved teaching, then I knew I had to be well-prepared to give my students the best I could offer.  That meant letting go of my beloved grade school and going back to college to get my degree and certification.  It was not easy, but I did it.  I let go of all that had become familiar and I went back to Saint Vincent College.
   Essentially a shy person and by that time a person older than the other students, I did not make friends easily.  After a few weeks, I found myself suffering from terrible loneliness.  All I seemed to be doing was studying alone in my room, sitting alone in my classes, and eating alone in the cafeteria.  I was miserable, and one day as I was looking out over what was to become the Steeler practice field, I said to myself, "John, you have two weeks to find a group of people to be comfortable with or you are leaving."  It was not an empty threat.  I had dropped out of college twice already and the practice was making it easier.
   And then, another miracle!  
   ​I turned away from the window and I saw an audition poster for The Crucible.  I knew that I felt comfortable on the stage, but I was afraid of the new situation.  I didn't know anyone at all.  The auditions were that night and I decided that very moment, despite my fear, to let go.  I decided to be there for those auditions and I was.  I was shaking, but I was there.  I shook until I opened my mouth to read from the script and, once again, it was as though I had been born with those words in my mouth.  I got a part.  Giles Corey.  Often I think of that moment in front of the audition poster and I wonder what might have been had I not "let go."  As it was, however, I ended up being in every Saint Vincent production for two years and a number of shows at our sister school Seton Hill.  I cultivated a large circle of friends and, miracle of miracles, my grades soared.  I graduated happier and more well-adjusted than I had ever been.  And it was all because of a decision to let go.

Meeting Fr. Tom                            
   Every experience is life-changing, but some are more life-changing than others.  Meeting Fr. Thomas Devereus, Benedictine priest and monk from Saint Vincent Archabbey, was critical for me.  More than any other person in my life, Fr. Tom validated my existence and reassured me that I would be safe on my journey if only I abandoned myself to a Power Greater Than Myself.  And yet, Fr. Tom never spoke to me about religion nor did he ever mention the word God.  It was rather the example of his living that said everything that needed to be said.

   Fr. Tom did not direct me in The Crucible, my first play at Saint Vincent, but he recognized my passion for theatre and honored it by offering me "work study" on the stage, by trusting me with his ideas and using me as a sounding board, by casting me in my first musical (Kismet), by allowing me to see and experience his love for the art form, and finally by sharing his dream with me.
   Fr. Thomas Devereux , OSB 1932-2008
   "You know what, fat boy?"  (He always called me fat boy.)  "If you want to work in theatre, start your own.  That's what I've always wanted to do.  Start a summer theater."
   "Well then, let's do it," I responded.
   "You mean, you would give up your summer to work for no pay?
   "Sure.  And I'll bet there are a lot of others you know who would, too."  And we went back to his room in the dorm.  He made a few calls and each person he asked was enthusiastic about the plan. Subsequently, thirteen of us gathered in the summer of 1969 and we began SAINT VINCENT SUMMER THEATRE.

​   Fr. Tom was a stickler for quality, but never at the expense of another person.  He knew how to inspire people to give their absolute best without his using insults or threats.  He was a gentle soul who could sling 4X8 wooden platforms as though they were cardboard.  He was a man who hid his profound depths beneath the cover of a magnificent sense of humor.  He was a humble man who embodied the Benedictine tradition of hospitality.  He was not perfect, to be sure, but his faults were dwarfed by his great and generous soul.  It was his generosity that brought him to Greensburg Central Catholic High School to help with their first play.  He took me with him and that was my introduction to the institution that would the very next year offer me my first job as a high school teacher.  Yes, some experiences are more life-changing than others. Thanks, Fr. Tom.
 
FINALLY...CANCER, CABARET THEATRE...AND THE AMERICAN PERFORMING ARTS THEATRE COMPANY
For six years it was Greensburg Central Catholic during the academic year and SVST during the summer!  A feast of theatre!  At Central I learned to direct and under Fr. Tom at SVST I fine-tuned my acting and learned to produce.  It was a whirlwind of learning opportunities and none of them sought:  all of them part of the constant flow toward wherever it is I'm going.
I had helped Fr. Tom help Central mount Up the Down Staircase when I was a senior in college, and once I joined the faculty 
there, I was invited to join the "directing crew."  Five directors on the same production!  I remember we all sat in a row.  In looking back, it's a wonder that anything ever got done, but it did.  I can recall prefacing every suggestion with something like, "maybe this won't work, but what if...."  The show was You Can't Take It With You, still one of my all-time favorites.  When I asked what WE were directing the next year, I was TOLD that the team had decided that I was going to be the one and only director and each of the previous directors was taking on some other aspect of the production.  I think that's where I developed my "one God, one Pope, one Director" philosophy. And so, the program expanded to directing three, sometimes four, productions at Central and producing and acting in six or seven productions during the summer.  It was a glorious time, but as with all things, it ended.  The current in the river was pushing me further downstream.
    Once again there was a clash between what I "wanted" and what I "needed."  I had no desire to earn a Master's Degree, but the authorities at the school insisted that I do it.  I struggled mightily.  I did not want to go back to the classroom and give up my theatrical summers.  I was quite prepared to give up my job if I had to, but Providence once more jumped in to rescue me.  Sister Rita Yeasted was the chair of our English Department and she introduced me to a graduate school she though I might be able to tolerate.  St. John's College (Santa Fe and Annapolis) was a Great Books Program that did not rely on lectures and tests but rather on reading, writing, and conversation.  I applied and was accepted, but I had to leave my position at SVST.  Another bitter-sweet twist!  It was during my first summer in Santa Fe that I developed cancer.  I completed my work, drove home, and was immediately hospitalized.  The 1975-76 school year started without me in the classroom.
    To make a long story short, I survived what the doctors had predicted would be "terminal." That word, however, had a telling effect on my life.  Time became more precious than I ever thought it could be, and I determined that if I did survive, I would try to use what time I had very wisely.  While trying to determine what that entailed, I heard the voice of Fr. Tom.  "If you want to work in theatre, start your own."  The message caused me some consternation, because starting my own year-round theater would mean I could not return to SVST and, in fact, during the summers I would be in direct competition with my alma mater, so to speak.  Once again, Fr. Tom solved the problem.  He said simply, "Don't be afraid of competition.  Good theatre is good for theatre.  Do good theatre."  And so, when my cousin John Rapa approached me out of the blue about using my theatrical talents in our own theater, I said yes.  He became the business end and I, the artistic.   And that's how The Cabaret Theatre came to be.  Cousin John solicited investors and we leased and renovated an old barn along Penn-Adamsburg Road in Hempfield Township.  We used cabaret-style seating and applied for and received a liquor license.  What we ended up with was a unique experience for Western Pennsylvania theatregoers, and we served them well for six years during the very worst of economic times.  In our battle with economics, we developed a not-for-profit corporation known as the American Performing Arts Theatre Company.  During the nearly 30 years since we lost our lease on the old barn, APA has been mounting shows sporadically and in various area venues, the most recent of which was a wonderful production of my own play Celibacy, produced at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA.
    And that is the short version of the peculiar set of circumstances that has brought me to this juncture of my life.  APA has recently been awarded 501(c)(3) status, and it seems everything is pointing in the direction of finally getting the chance to use in a place of my own all that I've learned.  If I'm correct about that and it's truly where Providence is leading me, I'm ready to say "yes!"

John Michael "BJ" Horanic​

Creating The Vision 


It was July, 1980.  Cabaret Theatre was in the midst of producing a summer of musicals--an exhausting and almost-impossible feat for a fledgling company.  We were, however, the classic example of a group of people too stupid to know we couldn't, and so we did.  Man of La Mancha was running and Pippin was in rehearsal.  I remember vividly the day that former student and theatre person extraordinaire Joe Milliren brought an 18 year old blonde kid named John Horanic to the theatre.  He was wide-eyed with wonder at this collection of artists and willing to do whatever it took to help.  He helped build sets; he swept floors; he waited tables.  It didn't take him long to become a "regular."
    After a few weeks, I began to piece together his story.  He had been born in North Huntington, attended Immaculate Conception grade school until he was nine years old when, through a series of unfortunate circumstances, he was sent to California to live with an uncle, aunt, and cousins.  After seven years, he was returned to Western Pennsylvania where he completed his final two years of high school at Norwin Senior High.  Shortly after his 18th birthday on June 5, he felt it necessary to leave what he felt was an unhealthy home situation.  He struck out on his own.  I shall never forget his answer to my question "where do you live?"  He said, "Some days in Joe's living room and some days in another friend's basement."  In my heart, I knew this was no way for an 18 year old boy to live and so I asked my mother:  "Mom, how do you feel about strays?" And her answer was predictable.  "Bring him home."  He never left.

 
Searching for a term to somehow describe this unusual relationship, we arrived at "foster son."  Sterile from my cancer radiation treatments and with my "blood family" is now entirely deceased, I still have been blessed with a family because of that decision made many years ago.  Not only do I have a foster son but also a foster daughter-in-law and two wonderful foster grandchildren.  Because there were five other "Johns" at the Cabaret in those days, we nick-named everyone.  I became "JC" (my initials) and he became "BJ" (blonde John).  He thrived in the theatre's creative atmosphere and his natural talents as a set designer and builder began to emerge.  I call him a "visionary," because he can "see" a set in no matter what kind of venue I ask him to design for.  He has become a prime mover and shaker in my desire to make this dream theatre a reality and I depend on his vision to give this project the direction it needs.  To quote Scripture, "God's ways are not our ways" and there is no better example of that than how John Horanic and John Carosella became a team.