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Homeschoolers invited to join Latrobe-based theater troupe

Shirley McMarlin
| Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, 10:12 a.m.
From left: Members of the inaugural fall 2017 class of the Neighborhood Arts Troupe included (front) Jessica Evans, Mary Grace Federline, (middle) Ben Couchenour, Sarah Barkley-Mastalsky, Kelsey Gerhard, Kirstin Essig, (back) Angelina Syphan and Carolyn Jerz..
From left: Members of the inaugural fall 2017 class of the Neighborhood Arts Troupe included (front) Jessica Evans, Mary Grace Federline, (middle) Ben Couchenour, Sarah Barkley-Mastalsky, Kelsey Gerhard, Kirstin Essig, (back) Angelina Syphan and Carolyn Jerz..

The Latrobe-based Cabaret Theatre recently joined with a group of homeschooled students and their families to create an affiliated theater organization called the Neighborhood Arts Troupe.

The troupe is now inviting other area homeschoolers in grades K-12 to participate in a spring semester of weekly classes that will culminate in May performances of “Disney's Alice in Wonderland Jr.”

Classes are from 10 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Tuesdays in the Latrobe United Methodist Church, 440 Main St. Performances are planned for May 18 and 19 in the church, according to organizer Jennifer D'Souza of Murrysville.

The classes include acting, singing and dancing. Fee for the semester is $200 per child, with a discount for families enrolling more than one child.

There is no geographic restriction on membership, D'Souza says. While most students are from Westmoreland County, one family travels from Punxsutawney.

Plans are for yearly spring and semester classes.

D'Souza says that she and Kathleen Essig of Ligonier came up with the idea for the theater group as a means of providing their homeschooled children and others with practical theater experience to increase self-esteem and self-confidence.

The inaugural fall 2017 class included 18 students who in December performed “The Stranger,” an original Christmas play by John Carosella , founder and artistic director of the Cabaret Theatre.

Following the production, D'Souza and Essig approached Carosella and John Horanic, Cabaret Theatre's chief financial officer, with a proposal to be incorporated within the theatre's structure. Carosella and Horanic agreed as long as D'Souza and Essig continued as producers for the troupe and to conduct its business.

Carosella will teach the classes and direct the May production, along with vocal instructor Cindy Baltzer and choreographer Nicole Paluzzi, who also were involved in the fall classes and December production.

“We wanted to come up with a program where everyone's time was used well and effectively in a safe but fun environment,” D'Souza says. “John is just as enthusiastic as the kids, but so professional as a teacher and a director. He senses when they have more to give and gently but firmly draws it out of them.”

For information or class registration, contact D'Souza at 724-448-0765 or, or Essig at 724-995-8264 or

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750, or via Twitter @shirley_trib.

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