The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


November 25, 2012

Performing arts | 'There is nothing else quite like performing on the stage'

CRESSON — Nathan Magee is responsible for directing and producing all of the plays at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson.

But in the bigger picture, Magee, 30, wants to instill the love of performing art in his students.

“There is nothing else quite like performing on the stage, and I think once people get a taste of it, they are loath to give it up,” he said. “It’s not just about a love of performance, but a respect and passion for the arts in general. Many people do not appreciate just how important the arts are to our lives, and part of my job is to help them gain that understanding.”

This is Magee’s first year at the Mount, where he is a faculty member of the English department.

As a teacher, he understands the influence educators have on students.

Magee’s high school theater director was his biggest influence.

“He gave me a chance and encouraged me to try it at the next level,” he said. “Without that encouragement, I probably never would have auditioned for college theater programs.”

Great for all people

He first became a champion of the stage when he discovered that theater is great for all people.

“I realized I was never going to be any good at football,” he said. “(Theater) grew into a passion in college and I have never really looked back. I don’t believe that there should be any difference between those that play sports and those that do the arts, especially in smaller schools.”

Mount Aloysius has quite a few theater courses in its curriculum. Magee hopes to expand that in the future.

“We are a small program, but there is so much potential for growth,” he said. “As our student population grows, so, too, will our course offerings. Right now, students can get a great foundation in theater and we can begin to build on that for those that want to pursue more in-depth training.”

The college offers a bachelor of arts degree in English with an emphasis in theater. The degree gives students a theater foundation.

Introductory classes

The Mount offers introductory classes in acting, theory and technical theater.

“I believe a lot of people want to do theater, but they are scared or intimidated,” Magee said.

“An introductory class is a great way to get a feel for theater in a safe environment.”

For most students involved in performance arts, the biggest benefit is building confidence.

Magee said if a person can get up in front of people onstage, they can do just about anything. But it requires hard work.

“People who have never done theater do not understand just how difficult it is,” he said. “Theater helped instill the importance of focus and hard work in me at a critical time in my life and those skills don’t go away when you aren’t on the stage, they stay with you.”

Fostering creativity

Theatrics also spawns creativity.

“Working in the arts helps to foster that creativity that will have a big impact in the future of our country,” he said.

Magee said every teacher will say they see dramatic changes in students involved in the theater arts.

“You watch as a student goes from shy to outgoing,” Magee said. “You see people make friends and connections that they wouldn’t have made otherwise. Theater friendships are lifelong friendships.”

To meet the goals of his students, Magee tries to pick plays that students produce but offer challenges.

“I tend to lean toward plays that are more dramatic,” he said “I love the American classics: Williams, Miller, O’Neil, Albee and people will see a steady stream of classics in the department because of my love for them.”

First production

Magee’s first production was “Almost, Maine.”

He liked what he saw and credits his students in that show who worked hard.

“Some of them had quite a bit of experience, and for others, it was a first time,” he said. “They pulled together and really became an ensemble that believed in the show and each other. I couldn’t have asked for a better first show here at the Mount.”

He is pleased with the talent level of Mount’s theatrical department, saying he is impressed with what the students are capable of doing.

“We are small right now, but the students we have are dedicated, smart, hardworking and talented,” Magee said. “I believe their influence will only help us grow.”

He doesn’t want Mount Aloysius Theater to just be something that is for the college crowd, but for everyone.

He will continue to work to build a presence in Cresson and the surrounding area. Magee wants to focus on doing great works by great authors and give the students and the community a chance to see remarkable theater.

Educational theater

He is using local community members to help with the designing of the plays.

“I have made it clear to everyone that this is educational theater and opportunities will always go to students first,” he said. “I also want the community to be involved, but if I am not taking care of my students, I am not doing my job.”

His philosophy of choosing and directing a play is basic.

“The first criteria is always pick a great play,” he said. “A good friend once told me that there are too many great plays to do bad ones.”

He then looks at the students to determine if the department can manage the production.

His goal is to find a balance between new and old, comedic and dramatic.

Being a small college, Mount Aloysius does have its limitations.

“But I think the advantages far outweigh any shortcomings,” he said. “We are a family here, and we are very close knit. I think that builds a bond that is very special.”

Magee plans to do one musical a year. This year’s offering will be “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.”


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