The energetic and effervescent Cathy Fiorillo, assistant professor of theatre at Penn State Schuylkill, coordinates an annual trip to New York City where her students have the opportunity to see a Broadway play. On a rainy, crisp Sunday morning in late October, they took off by bus to see “A Bronx Tale.”
This time, the excursion to the Big Apple included a special educational component that complements classroom theory and practice: an actor’s workshop led by actor Chantal Maurice. “Chantal focused on the business of acting and spoke about conservatories, one- and two-year programs and training centers in NYC, such as the American Musical and Dramatic Academy,” Fiorillo explained.
Maurice also spoke to the importance of generating your own creative work with a website, social media, videos and even a script. For instance, she said that she both wrote and starred in a short film titled, “The Edge of Harmony.” She added, “If it gets down to two actors for a role, it may go to the one who has the most followers on her social media accounts.”
“I hope I inspired at least one Penn State Schuylkill student to pursue a professional acting career.” And, just as Fiorillo emphasizes in class, she explained you have to exercise your voice, body and imagination—the three tools of acting.
During the workshop, the students participated in an improvisational scene in which one student acted out the role of a manager and the other that of an unsuspecting employee who was about to be fired. They each knew something that the other did not and simultaneously had an obstacle to work through. This is a typical warm-up scene, and it played out beautifully by Penn State students Javé Davis of New York City and Diane Morgan of Schuylkill Haven.
“Javé was super animated in the scene and Diane’s expressions were right on target,” Fiorillo said.
Matt Stockburger, currently pursuing a major in communications, enjoyed the visit to NYC. “We learned about the various roles of agents, talent managers and casting directors and the hard work it takes to make it in show business.”
Professionals behind the scenes need to be entrepreneurial as well. For instance, makeup artists, primarily for TV and film, create realistic special effects, such as prosthetics, bruises, scars, burns and more. This is an area of interest to Penn State student Brooke Gregory who has posted videos of her creative work on Instagram. She will continue her work at University Park through the 2+2 Plan with a self-designed major in special effects.
Fiorillo teaches method acting combined with a heavy dose of improv. “First and foremost I want to expand the imagination of my students.” Along with improv, she said the students in her beginning acting class perform monologues and then move on to acting in scenes.
Restarting Penn State Schuylkill’s drama club and coining it the Nittany Players, Fiorillo has directed 15 student plays since starting at Schuylkill in 2001.
An actor as well as a teacher, Fiorillo said, “I am typecast as the quirky mom.” In real life, she is the mother of two. And, yes, her kids think that their mom is quirky and fun.
With five episodes in the can, Fiorillo stars in her own web series with fellow actors called “Aged Fruit.” The series addresses the many differences between getting into the business from knocking on doors in the 80’s, to becoming a social media sensation today—think Justin Bieber who went from obscurity to pop phenomenon when he was discovered on YouTube in 2008.
Several of Fiorillo’s past students currently work in some aspect of show business from coast to coast, including Randy Troy, director of Conviction Studios in New York. He said, "I was a part of Schuylkill and Cathy's production of Peter Pan almost ten years ago now. I played Smee. Captain Hook, traditionally played by tall imposing actors was-- in a stroke of great casting, played by Patrick Kerwick, who was hilariously and purposefully unimposing standing at what I imagine to be 5'1" or 5'2" in height." Troy found the experience interesting and added, "Expectations were flipped and altered-- leading to fresh new takes on the play and character dynamics."
The times, they have been a changing—it used to be that you would knock on doors to create your opportunities, send out your resume and then knock on some more doors. Now, you create your own work, open your own doors and make sure you are seen.
For more information about Penn State Schuylkill’s theatre minor or how to become involved with the Nittany Players, contact Fiorillo at (570) 385-6195 or email [email protected].