UMD alumnus teaches performing arts at Duluth Playhouse

Nearly 40 kids fidget nervously in a jam-packed waiting room with sheet music in hand. This is it. This is their time to shine. They walk into the room, facing a panel of directors who are eying them like hawks. Hearts are racing, and there is no turning back. “Welcome everybody how’re ya doin' today?” asks Kate Horvath, the bubbly and enthusiastic education director of the Duluth Playhouse.

Everyone sighs in relief. This warm welcome to the audition seems to calm nerves.

“Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out,” Horvath yells. Giggles fill the room.

In addition to working at the Duluth Playhouse, Horvath also enjoys performing in many of the Playhouse’s theatrical productions. She loves nothing more than teaching acting classes at the Duluth Playhouse Conservatory for the Performing Arts, she said.

“The nerves in there, they sometimes get the better of them, and oftentimes if I can get them to do something really silly, it gets them past it, and they can just get over that moment,” Horvath said.

Horvath is a 2001 UMD graduate who earned a BFA in theater, with an emphasis in musical theater. She was part of the first graduating class of the Musical Theatre Emphasis program, which is a part of the UMD School of Fine Arts. After graduating, Horvath moved to New York for five years where she performed in many off-Broadway shows and classical productions.

“It was one of the most transformational experiences," Horvath said. "I can’t imagine anything that was more perspective-altering and multi-changing than growing up in Superior, Wis., and then moving to New York and living there and starting to hone a professional acting career."

Horvath's acting career wasn't the only thing she realized she was passionate about while living in New York. She moved back to Duluth to teach others how to do what she loves to do.

Cheryl Skafte, instructor and director of the Children's Theater program at the Duluth Playhouse, has been around the Playhouse ever since she can remember.

“I’ve been teaching in the program for a long time, and it’s been neat to see the energy and passion and commitment that Horvath has brought to the program,” Skafte said.

Aside from being education director and an actress for the Duluth Playhouse, Horvath oversees the administration and outreach activities that support the education programming at the Playhouse year round.

“We have a full-fledged conservatory, and we are busy pretty much 24/7 producing both the shows for the Playhouse main stage season, the Children’s Theatre, and education opportunities,” Horvath said.

Horvath also became committed to creating “Stage Play” with the Scottish Rite Clinic, which is a theater program for children with autism.

“When I saw how it gave them confidence, how it helped develop language, how it gave them a safe framework with which to experiment with their social skills and their level of sensory comfort, it totally lit the fire for the things that theater really does," Horvath said. "It isn’t about getting flowers at the end and the audience giving you a standing ovation. It’s about so much more than that. Life-changing stuff."

Jeanie Peterson, a Playhouse board member, volunteer, and mother of children who act, said she is appreciative of Horvath’s work within the Playhouse and Duluth community.

“I remember the moment that she started," Peterson said. "She brought this amazing energy to the program, and it’s just grown considerably over the years since she’s been here.

“She’s really worked hard to get more and more children in Duluth opportunities to be part of the Playhouse, whether through classes or performing," Peterson added. "I think she is an amazing mentor and teacher to youth in Duluth who are interested in acting or in theater.”

Working with children and the performing arts is something Horvath is extremely passionate about, and she can see herself teaching children with her knowledge and expertise for the rest of her life, she said.

“Once theater artists are exposed or get a chance to experience the transformational power of working with kids in theater and seeing what it can do for them, I think it's pretty easy to get hooked,” Horvath said. “I can’t think of anything else I’d be better suited to do. It’s totally my calling, and I still get to perform and do things that are for me, too.”

Those who know Horvath say that she encourages children to follow their dreams and expresses that it is OK to be yourself along the way.

“In New York, I was one of the hundreds of girls who looked just like me," Horvath said. "Maybe they sang better than me. Maybe they didn’t. Maybe they were skinnier than me. Maybe they weren’t. It didn’t matter.

"Here the stuff that I do every day matters," Horvath said. "It impacts those kids. It changes lives.”

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