Immaculata Magazine Summer 2014 - page 35

Vicki Guiteras Giunta-Abbott ’68 grew up watching Loretta
Young’s TV show, seeing the movie star swirl in wearing a different
gown every time. Maybe it was the glamorous dresses that first
attracted her to acting, but gradually, something deeper captured and
sustained her interest in theater.
Despite the beauty of the campus, it wasn’t glamour that attracted
Giunta-Abbott to Immaculata. It was the tiny theater she saw in the
basement of Villa Maria Hall, outfitted modestly with green folding
chairs to seat just 60 people. “And there was no question. That’s where
I was going,” Giunta-Abbott said.
She joined Cue & Curtain Players, participating in the annual
contest to see which class could write, produce, costume, and direct
their own 20-minute plays. “That little theater was filled to the
rafters,” Giunta-Abbott said.
As a sophomore, Giunta-Abbott was cast as Phoebe in
Shakespeare’s comedy
As You Like It
. She visited Sister Donatus, an
English professor who had been the director of Cue & Curtain, for
coaching. “I
it. I didn’t just get how to read Shakespeare,” Giunta-
Abbott said. “I got how to
Phoebe, how to use the language to be
Although Immaculata didn’t offer a theater major, Giunta-
Abbott’s English classes, coupled with her experience in Cue &
Curtain, provided an excellent foundation. “The novel is all theater—
it’s the theater of the mind,” she said. “Acting just prepares you
for everything. Because if you understand people, you understand
Sister Marie Eugenie, another English professor, was “a character
and a half,” and “a bottomless well of information and education and
joy,” Giunta-Abbott said. “She did seminars for Dante and Chaucer,
and there were some racy stories, for that time. And we got ’em all!”
Giunta-Abbott also participated in Alpha Psi Omega, a national
theater honor society. The juniors had to write, cast, produce, create
a set, even compose music, for plays on various subjects as assigned
by the seniors—one play a week, for seven weeks. Write a musical
comedy on xenophobia one week. Next, do a take-off on Batman and
Robin. After that, use
Clair de Lune
as that week’s inspiration. When
she and her fellow juniors had taken their bows, and the audience had
left, the seniors would coolly say, “Eh, it was all right. Next week,
you’ll write an ode…”
Giunta-Abbott hasn’t done anything so intense since, although she
has found acting for the screen demanding. Scenes have to be filmed
multiple times, and actors often have to work until 2 or 3 a.m. Giunta-
Abbott was a nun in M. Night Shyamalan’s 1998 film
Wide Awake
and then another nun, an extra, in
The Mighty Macs
(2011). She was
thrilled to be a part of it, but it got to be exhausting to be told, “Cheer
again!” for the umpteenth take at 1 a.m. “The mind was willing, but
the body was failing!”
The Mighty Macs won their first championship when one of
Giunta-Abbott’s sisters, Jeannette Guiteras Smyth ’72, was a senior at
Immaculata. One of the games at West Chester is “emblazoned in my
memory,” Giunta-Abbott said. “Immaculata won,
and everybody just exploded … They didn’t have
to tell me to get up and cheer then!”
Giunta-Abbott’s other sister, Carmela
Guiteras-Mayo, was also interested in acting
and got a job directing children’s theater in
Philadelphia. Giunta-Abbott went to see one of
the performances, and “it was fluff,” she said.
“I said, ‘Carmela,
can do better than that …
Look at all these kids. They could be learning
something while they’re watching the show.’”
The sisters decided to found Stages of
Imagination (SOI), a theater group whose
plays explore character issues such as tolerance,
kindness, and cooperation. “We envisioned that
we would have these plays that would be fun, that
would be colorful, and exciting,” Giunta-Abbott said. Each play would “also
have an educational side … and offer teachers educational material so that
they could use our play as a springboard for discussion about these topics.”
Guiteras-Mayo became the director and choreographer and told her
sister, “You’re the producer.”
“And I said, ‘OK…what’s the producer do?’ So it turns out the producer
does what we did at Immaculata in Alpha Psi Omega—everything!”
By “the grace of the Holy Spirit,” Giunta-Abbott said, they found other
artists to collaborate with, eventually creating nine original plays. “Jim
[Comey, Ed.D., playwright] wrote the plots with wonderful characters,
then Christopher McGovern [composer and lyricist] lit them up with his
wonderful music. Then Carmela took them and put a face on them, and
then our crazy little actors came along and they created the characters.”
Another grace was the theater which Neumann College offered in
return for 15 percent of whatever SOI earned from a show, which sometimes
wasn’t very much. “Sometimes there were 30 kids, because I’m a liberal
arts major, and not a business major!” Giunta-Abbott said. But, she added,
“those 30 kids needed to see that show.”
Since SOI’s opening in 1990, the group has performed Broadway-style
shows enriched with character education for about 250,000 3- to 11-year-
olds, some of whom have never had the opportunity to see live theater.
“I could not have made SOI work for 25 years or even one day without
the directorial genius of my sister, Carmela Guiteras-Mayo,” Giunta-Abbott
said. “She can make comedy out of an ingredient list.”
What’s most rewarding? “The kids’ faces. They just sparkle,” Giunta-
Abbott said. “When you’re in a theater, and the lights go out, and the music
comes up, and the curtain opens, and you see these kids”—she goes wide-
eyed—“they’re awestruck!”
She remembers one teacher who came backstage after a show and said,
“I just wanted to tell you that I saw this when I was in school, and this is my
first year teaching, and I just had to bring my kids. And you know, it was as
wonderful as I remember.”
Giunta-Abbott grins. “Loretta Young didn’t get
Vicki Guiteras Giunta-Abbott ’68
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