Renowned Irish Playwright Returns to Seton Hill

Shawn Sturnick to Guest Direct “Little Women”
February 15, 2013
Author: Kary L. Coleman
Shawn Sturnick
Last year, Seton Hill alumnus Shawn Sturnick served as the guest director for “Bat Boy, The Musical.” This year, the internationally acclaimed Irish playwright returns to direct Seton Hill’s spring musical, “Little Women.”

“It’s inspiring for the students to work with an alumnus who has crafted his own creative path in the profession,” said Kellee VanAken, assistant professor, theatre, and director, Theatre Program. “Shawn has a great rapport with the students, terrific energy and enthusiasm for the play, the program and Seton Hill. We love having him here!”

Coming back to Seton Hill to work with the theatre students is very special to Sturnick, a Greensburg native now living on the Isle of Man which is located in the middle of the Irish Sea. Sturnick has had a varied career in film, theatre and television. “I find myself wanting to do more than direct the play,” he said. “I want to offer advice that might help them in any way at all. I see myself in them.”

Sturnick said he was lucky that former Seton Hill theatre professors Gene and Iva Saraceni saw something special in him.

As a student at Greensburg Central Catholic High School, Sturnick became involved in the theatre program. And at age 16, he attended the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts, an intensive summer program. “It was truly one of the best experiences of my young life,” he said.

As he neared high school graduation, the Saracenis, whom Sturnick had known since he was a child, suggested Seton Hill. At the time, though, he had to enroll at Saint Vincent College and be transported daily from that campus to Seton Hill to take classes. By his sophomore year, Seton Hill had decided to admit men to the fine arts program but remain a women’s college in every other department.

As his college graduation approached in 1989, the Saracenis once again helped him find his path by suggesting graduate school. “I was still a small town boy, went to a college in my hometown, so grad school seemed to be a good opportunity to transition to a more professional life,” he said. He attended the acting conservatory at New York University.

He noted that the time in grad school helped him mature, and he’s been working as an actor, director and writer ever since.

Sturnick was a member of the Blue Man Group in both New York and Boston. He was one of the actors who took over from the original cast.

He left the Blue Man Group in Boston and began working job to job with all of the city’s theatre companies, including an Irish company. Sturnick ultimately decided to more to Ireland in 2007.

In order to get permission to live and work in Ireland, Sturnick had to prove he was able to support himself. So he began reaching out to various theatre companies. The literary manager for one of them liked a short play Sturnick had written so much that he agreed to direct it.

“Here I was just off the plane already connected to one of the major Irish theatre companies,” Sturnick said. “From then on it was about hitting the ground running. I was an American in Ireland so I really wasn’t going to be able to compete with the Irish guys. If they need somebody for an Irish play it’s not going to be me. I just need people to know who I am so when they need an American they think of me.”

He began writing more, and even wrote for an Irish soap opera. And he’s continued acting, appearing in numerous productions in Irish theatre.

In 2012, Sturnick was presented with the University’s Distinguished Alumnus Leadership Award. “I like the idea that somebody who isn’t a movie star could be honored in such a way,” Sturnick said. “I’m just somebody who loves theatre, wanted to make good theatre and just did it through flush times and bad times. I just kept going at it. In my head, that’s a great thing to call distinguished.”

Sturnick’s production of “Little Women” is being performed February 22-March 2 in the William Granger Ryan Theatre in Seton Hill’s Performing Arts Center, 100 Harrison Avenue, Greensburg, Pa. Visit Seton Hill Arts for more details.