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Sewickley-area family sings praises of theater company

| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Mary Elena Savocchia of Sewickley (gray sweatshirt) looks on as fellow young actors break character for a laugh during a rehearsal for Saltworks Theatre Company's production of 'James and the Giant Peach' inside the Church of the Ascension in Oakland on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. Saltworks has a second location inside Christ Church at Grive Farm in Ohio Township.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Saltworks Theatre Company teaching artist Taylor Couch gives instructions for a warm-up game to young actors inside the Church of the Ascension in Oakland on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. Couch is the director of the group's production of 'James and the Giant Peach,' which they later rehearsed. Saltworks has a second location inside Christ Church at Grove Farm in Ohio Township.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Isabelle Davison, 14, of McCandless participates in a warm-up game with other young actors during rehearsals at Saltworks Theatre Company inside the Church of the Ascension in Oakland on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. Saltworks has a second studio inside Christ Church at Grove Farm in Ohio Township.

Charlotte Savocchia of Sewickley said she would “honestly drive anywhere” to keep her children involved in Saltworks Theater Company.

“I think that highly of the program and the benefits they get out of it,” she said of the more than 30-year-old nonprofit theater company based in Oakland.

All three of Charlotte and Tony Savocchia's children have been involved over the years, starting at Saltworks' former location at Orchard Hill Church in Franklin Park then moving to its present locations at Christ Church at Grove Farm in Ohio Township and Church of the Ascension in Oakland.

The latest Savocchia to perform is Mary Elena, 10, a fifth-grader at Osborne Elementary, who started at Saltworks when she was 4.

She will play the narrator in “James and the Giant Peach,” to be presented March 14-15.

“I've never played a narrator before. I've always been a character in the play. So this is interesting,” she said.

“I'm watching the other characters and commenting on them. It's really cool, because the whole set is a book. Each page is a different scene, and the actors flip the pages.”

Her older brother, AJ, 16, a Quaker Valley sophomore, started at Saltworks when he was 8. This is his last year at Saltworks, as students all “graduate” at age 16.

AJ is a member of the Young Actors Ensemble, a group of older Saltworks students who perform short plays at Pittsburgh International Children's Festival and other venues.

Several Sewickley area members of his comedy sketch group, AJ and the Lesser Talents, have taken classes and performed with Saltworks.

“More than anything, it's fun. It's a good place to find your strengths in theater. They are very accepting of everyone,” he said.

He hopes to be hired as teaching assistant in the summer and have a career in the entertainment field.

Their older sister, Mathilda, 19, now a freshman at Fordham University in New York, did many Saltworks classes, camps and shows, has worked as a teaching assistant for the past two summers and hopes to work there again this summer.

Charlotte said Saltworks puts emphasis on the children gaining confidence; progressing at their own rate; making new friends from all over the Pittsburgh area; being kind and considerate; taking risks; being able to think on their feet; being open to new experiences; growing as a person as well as an actor; and maintaining a “woo-hoo” attitude instead of a “boo-hoo” attitude.

Norma Alrutz of Burgettstown, Saltworks president and executive director, said the Savocchia children are just a few of the many Sewickley area students who have taken classes and performed in shows through the Young Actors Studio program, which began about 12 years ago.

About 60 students take classes each semester, between the two locations, and there are more in the summer camps, held at La Roche College on Babcock Boulevard in McCandless. The first 20 students, ages 9 to 16, to sign up to participate perform in plays twice a year.

However, the main mission of the theater company — named Saltworks because it “endeavors to flavor life” — always has been school assemblies, Alrutz said.

The assemblies feature plays performed by professional Saltworks' actors and written by Saltworks' playwrights on a variety of issues, such as bullying, Internet predators, substance abuse and peer pressure. Many have been performed in the Quaker Valley School District and at Sewickley Academy.

Frances Fetterolf of Edgeworth, an emeritus board member whose grandchildren have taken Saltworks classes, helped Gillette Elvgren of Virginia — a co-founder with Kate McConnell and the first and continuing playwright — form a board of directors.

William Roemer of Edgeworth is an advisory board member, and Laura Kronk of Sewickley Heights is on the board of directors. At one time, Christ Church interim senior pastor the Rev. John Guest served on the board.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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