MAMARONECK, N.Y. – Leon Schwendener will start his college career with 100 percent of his focus on acting, which he fell in love with during his formative years at Mamaroneck schools.
The Mamaroneck High School Class of 2014 graduate is attending Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama this fall, where he will pursue a BFA in acting.
During the last four years, he participated in Mamaroneck High School’s PACE (Performing Arts Curriculum Experience) and Shakespeare programs.
“What you get from learning the language of Shakespeare and performing Shakespeare plays is amazing,” he said. “Not many high schools offer this kind of experience.”
The Semi-Royal Shakespeare Company in Mamaroneck is one of the longest running programs in the country, now in its 40th year. Retired eighth-grade English teacher Dee O'Brien founded it at the age of 27. She used to recruit students in her class until she retired from teaching in 2007. Student interest has kept the company going.
Schwendener said he valued the exposure to different forms of theatre, which included the four-year PACE program.
“People who otherwise wouldn’t feel confident enough are able to express themselves,” he said. “It’s a great place to explore yourself creatively.”
The PACE program's curriculum has been nationally recognized as one of the ten best public school art programs. For more than two decades Martie Barylick and John Fredrickson built the program into what it is today. They retired in 2011 and were replaced by theatre teacher Zach Moore and dance teacher Allison Parsley.
Schwendener described Moore as compassionate and intelligent and said he allows actors to discover their characters on their own.
“He’s a fantastic director,” he said.
Talking about PACE as a whole, the incoming college freshman said it was a place where everybody could be themselves and have no fear.