Communicating Arts Department

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University Theatre alumni have posted impressive achievements

Posted on Nov 11, 2011

The list is long of graduates from the Communicating Arts Department of the University of Wisconsin-Superior who make their living on stage.  

Associate Professor Cathy Fank, in her 10th year as director of UW-Superior's University Theatre, began the inventory with Brian Matuszak, originator of Renegade Comedy and more recently of Rubber Chicken Theatre. She added Julie Ahasay, Liz Larson, Greg Anderson, and Rick Sordelet.  

Iowa-born Fank returned to the Midwest to be near her aging parents after running two theater companies in Boston. Her UW-Superior students may choose majors or minors in her department, and can earn a master of arts degree. However, any student may apply to be part of cast or crew in any of three on-campus plays produced each year.  

Prolific alumnus Brian Matuszak, with undergraduate and masters degrees in Communicating Arts, now performs and directs citywide, as well as teaches communications full-time at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is grateful to former UW-Superior theater head John Munsell, who mentored him as a young man, convincing him that communicating arts was the right place to be. Munsell instilled passion and showed Matuszak how to excel professionally in theater.  

Matuszak successfully produces hard-to-do pieces such as last year's "American Buffalo" by David Mamet.  

Julie Ahasay is almost a household word in the Twin Ports. She recently directed "Circle Mirror Transformation" at Teatro Zucconi's Renegade Theater in Duluth, and performed in the Play Ground's version of "Equus," directed by Liz Larson. Originally from Shell Lake, Wis., Ahasay graduated from UW-Superior with a major in English and a minor in theater. Her graduate work was in communications with an emphasis on theater.  

Besides her work onstage, Ahasay is an adjunct professor at the College of St. Scholastica, teaches and gives workshops at the Duluth Playhouse.  

Ahasay, Fank and Matuszak ticked off name after familiar name of University Theatre alumni: Greg Anderson, who  directed "Wait Until Dark" at County Seat Theater; Minden Hulstrom, director of Scholastica's recent, eloquent "Nine Parts of Desire"; versatile Cory Regnier, of "Rent", "The Producers", "Putnam County Spelling Bee," and Shack Dinner Theatre actor and director; marvel Chani Ninneman, playwright and creator of Duluth's brand new Wise Fool Shakespeare company that put on a "Hamlet" last season no one will forget.  

World-famous Sordelet has scores of Broadway productions to his acclaim: "Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King," and "Tarzan," to name a few. He works as fight coordinator and choreographer for events as diverse as a Super Bowl half-time show, New York's Metropolitan and La Scala operas, Disney, and "Pirates of the Caribbean." He also teaches at Yale.  

The UW-Superior list gets longer:

  • young Equity actress Meredith Sweeney, now in L.A.;
  • Kathy Laakso, playwright, actor, and director of the Douglas County Historical Society;
  • Chris Nollet, riveting in last year's "Red Moon Rising in the East," Gilbert and Sullivan performer extraordinaire;
  • incomparable Liz Larson, who directed Central High School's fabulous productions, and now "Equus";
  • funny girl Christa Schultz;
  • recently returned Victoria Main;
  • Eamon Hill;
  • Sharon Dixon-Obst, actor with Rubber Chicken, director of the Shack's "Trailer Park Musical" and teacher at St. Scholastica;
  • Merry Renn Vaughan, chair of the College of Scholastica's Communication, Theatre and Art Department, and director of the theater program.
  • There's tech guy, Stewart Platner and Dave Saffert, now in Portland.  

And there are more. Merry Renn Vaughan received a bachelor of fine arts degree in directing and producing and a master of arts in arts and theater from UW-Superior. She says the '70s, '80s and '90s produced "a great core group of people. Karmically, everything came together."  

Kathy Fank is on sabbatical this year, traveling to other universities to "steal what I can and bring back." Lighting and sound designer, Mark Spitzer (did you see Eugene O'Neill's "Moon For the Misbegotten"?) is taking a shot at directing Pirandello's "Six Characters in Search of an Author" in November.  

Fank's ideas for the flourishing University Theatre abound. She's excited about hiring students to teach in her summer camp, and dreams of Shakespeare as commedia dell' arte. She'll do a musical next year, and, for a clincher, would she like to offer a music theater degree through the University of Wisconsin-Superior. 


News Contact: Al Miller | 715-394-8260 | amiller{atuws}
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