New director brings artistic talents to Center on the Hill

Center on the Hill’s new director, Mariangela Saavedra. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

Mt. Airy resident Mariangela Saavedra, 45, has always had a vivid imagination. Even as a young child, she always pretended to be an actress on Broadway or the big screen. So when her uncle, Pedro Saavedra, was able to trace her family’s roots back to Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the author of the 17th century novel “Don Quixote,” Saavedra said it explained a lot – like why she loved singing the song “The Impossible Dream” from the musical “Man of La Mancha” at the top of her lungs in high school and college.

Saavedra, who became the third director of the Center on the Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill on Feb. 4, has always had a passion for theatre and an ability to connect with people. In fact, her first stage role was in “The Sound of Music” as Gretl (The youngest Von Trapp child) in a production directed by her father in 1979.

“My family is full of artists,” said Saavedra, who grew up in Washington, D.C. “My father was an actor and a director his whole life. My mother and I have performed together at coffee shops in Northern Virginia, singing together while she played guitar, and my brother and sister played guitar and flute. My brother is also a potter, and woodsmith in Virginia, and my sister is an archeologist at Monticello in Virginia.”

Saavedra, who studied musical theater at Marshall University in West Virginia, has been working in theater and film, as well as arts and events administration and management, for more than 28 years. She has performed in cities across the country, including Chicago, Illinois, Washington, D.C., Wilmington, North Carolina and, of course, Philadelphia. In addition to performing, she was the patron services manager for the Kimmel Center, the director of drama and voice at Cape Fear School of Arts in Wilmington and an employee for the Tony Award-winning Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago.

Prior to accepting the position at Center on the Hill, she was the office manager of Commonwealth Youthchoirs, an organization that involves 600 singers throughout the Philadelphia region and includes the Pennsylvania Girls Choir based at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.

She is also the founder of Casabuena Cultural Productions, a community theater and film company in Mt. Airy “that gives children and young adults the opportunity to work side by side with Performing Artists to produce theatrical productions and short films.” She currently teaches theatre classes for children at Allens Lane Art Center. As if that wasn’t enough, last year she directed the production of “I Hate Hamlet” for the Center.

When Saavedra read that the Center on the Hill was hiring a new director, she said, “I told my husband ‘I have to get this job.’ I felt like this was where I was supposed to be. When they offered me the job, I was elated!”

Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill Rev. Cindy Jarvis said after receiving more than 20 applications for the director positions, the search committee selected four finalists for a second round of interviews.

“Mariangela’s broad connections with the community organizations, her background in the arts and in nonprofit management, her infectious energy and enthusiasm, her outgoing and engaging personality as well as her excitement about spending her days with active adults made her the unanimous choice of the committee,” she said.

Saavedra said she was really taking to her new job.

“It’s rare that I walk into a job where I don’t feel like I have to learn everything right away,” she said. “I feel completely supported here. [Former director] Leslie [Lefer] was wonderful. She left me a giant book. We call it the Center on the Hill bible. It’s been a really wonderful resource. Everyone here has been so welcoming; I have never felt so appreciated at a job.”

She added that people are already giving her wonderful suggestions for classes, including a self-massage class. She said while some people might be able to go to a massage therapist to help relieve pain and tension, “having the power in the moment to help ease pain is really helpful and self-healing.”

Saavedra wants community members “to dream the impossible dream” so that the active adults at Center on the Hill can “reach the unreachable star.” Whether you dream of taking a self-massage class, singing the opera or learning to square dance, she wants to hear your voice.

To contact Mariangela Saavedra, call (215) 247-4654.