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A lifetime of theater work suits Hempfield man just fine

Shirley McMarlin
| Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
John Carosella, founder and artistic director of the Cabaret Theatre based in Latrobe, poses for a portrait at the Tribune-Review, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
John Carosella, founder and artistic director of the Cabaret Theatre based in Latrobe, poses for a portrait at the Tribune-Review, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016.

Though he retired two years ago after a 47-year teaching career, John Carosella of Hempfield says he's busier than he's ever been. He's been involved in area theater for almost as long as he was a teacher, including working with high school theater productions and as a founder and artistic director of the Latrobe-based Cabaret Theatre. He's done just about all there is to do on stage and in the wings, from set-building, acting and directing to writing and producing.

Question: The planned June opening of Cabaret Theatre's permanent home in Latrobe's old Manos Theater was delayed due to code issues. Can you give an update on that?

Answer: On (Dec. 12), we're meeting with the city to try to work out a couple of legal issues. I'm hopeful we can settle it then. What happened was — and I think it was an honest mistake — the city was operating according to an older version of the code book and they told us we would not need a sprinkler system on the main floor as long as the public did not go upstairs or down.

When our final plans got to the inspection company hired by the city, the first thing they said was, “You need a sprinkler system.” Then we found out there was a new code and there were no exceptions to it. There are a couple of other issues we need to address, too.

Q: You've done a number of shows in the Latrobe Art Center. What's the status of Cabaret performances now?

A: We're on a hiatus for a little while. What I am thinking of doing is a wonderful Thornton Wilder play called “The Skin of Our Teeth.” It's wild and wacky. I thought maybe we'll do a very simple production and move it around in church basements or whatever.

The first act takes place during the Ice Age. The second act is during some other tragedy, a hurricane or something. The third act is after a war. The idea is that, no matter what the problem is, mankind will come through it, if only by the skin of our teeth. In light of this election, I thought, so many people are fearful and worried, I just want to let people know we'll get through this. Don't worry about it — even though I'm worried, too.

Q: Do you gravitate toward staging a certain kind of play — comedy or drama, classic or contemporary?

A: I'm not afraid to do anything. I really trust the audience. I'm committed to the belief that, if a play is really good, the audience will accept it. We can't give them all dessert. We have to give them some steak and potatoes and vegetables as well, so they have a balanced diet.

Q: You've done just about everything there is to do in theater. Do you prefer one task over another?

A: I don't enjoy producing as much as the other stuff, because there's all that paperwork. At one point, I really loved acting, and then once I became the definite Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” at Apple Hill (Playhouse in Delmont) one summer, I wasn't too interested in it anymore. I moved more to directing. One of the reasons I love directing young people is that acting can make such a big difference in their lives. Kids who have just been “nothings” suddenly will blossom.

With writing, nobody really bothers you except yourself. I remember when the first play I'd written was going to be produced, I thought I was going to have a child, I had such pain. I spent most of the time just bent over; it was agony. I think I felt that if people like it, they like me, and if they don't like it, they don't like me. I don't feel that anymore. Now I just have a great excitement in seeing my work come to life, and how actors find things you never knew were in it.

Q: After all these years in theater, do you have any goals yet to attain?

A: Arthur Miller's “Death of a Salesman” is an absolute masterpiece. I would love to direct that someday, but I'd have to have the right cast. I'd like to do more Shakespeare and make him more understandable and accessible to contemporary audiences.

Q: Do you remember your first experience with theater?

A: We didn't know anything about theater in my family — we were just working class people living in Penn. I saw my first play as a sophomore in high school. It was at the Civic Arena and I was sitting way up high. It was “Oklahoma,” and I was in awe.

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750 or

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