ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Just hearing that smooth, rich voice helps you understand why Joe Svitak has achieved so much success and acclaim in forensics and drama during his four years at Marion High School.
Svitak is the defending state forensics champion in the prose competition and was a first-runnerup with partner Timothy Schuler in duet acting.
On the Warrior stage, Svitak has played a variety of roles. Most recently he was the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz” and has a key role in the upcoming production of the melodrama, “It’s Greek to Me.”
Janet Killough, Svitak’s coach in both forensics and drama, calls him one of the best actors she’s ever worked with during her years at Marion High School.
“I mean, I have had a lot of good ones, and he is one of the best,” she said. “He’s very good.”
When she describes Svitak’s strengths, she begins with the voice, too.
“He has a beautiful voice, and he can take on many other voices-he can change his voice to fit different characters,” she said.
But there’s more.
“Also, his facial expressions are fabulous,” Killough added. “He really communicates with an audience and sort of draws them in.
“I think another great strength of his is that he takes direction well-which is sometimes not always the case for kids who have been in productions for three or four years. They begin to think they are ‘the one.’
“But Joe is always anxious to follow the directions-although he’ll make suggestions on his own, too. I really respect that a lot.”
Svitak acknowledges those same strengths, but with no trace of arrogance.
“I’m a good character actor, I think,” Svitak said. “I do voices- voices would be a really cool thing to get into, like with cartoons. I always thought that would be really fun to do.
“I also think I’m easy to work with. I’m a people person, I guess you could say. I get along really well with almost everybody. Other than that, I’m no different than anybody else.”
Maybe, maybe not. He’s a relative late bloomer in the drama field.
“A lot of my peers have been involved in plays since first grade,” Svitak said. “I lived in Florence most of my life, so I wasn’t involved with much of anything in Marion if it wasn’t with the school.
“Once I moved to Marion, which would have been the summer before my seventh-grade year, that’s when I heard about drama and decided to take it up.
“What threw me into it was watching my first musical/play Marion High School did, which was ‘Crazy for You.’ Actually, watching Joey Smallwood on stage really inspired me to at least try it.”
Svitak’s been inspired to keep trying it ever since. Once he got into high school, forensics seemed to complement his interest in drama.
“Some of my older peers had kind of suggested forensics because it was in the same field, pretty much,” he said. “So I tried it my freshman year, got hooked on it and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Svitak’s contributions have exceeded the high ratings he has received in competition, and his assets extend beyond his voice and facial expressions, Killough said.
“He’s also a real force in setting a good example by his hard work and his dedication to the program,” Killough said. “He encourages the younger kids-the novices-and really sets a wonderful example for them with his performances.
“And he’s always willing to perform. When I ask him to perform he never says, ‘Oh, do I have to?’ or ‘I’m too tired.’ He’s always ready to follow through.”
Svitak said success in forensics and drama, as well as his cooperative spirit, all spring from one overall desire.
“I love satisfying people,” he said. “That goes beyond the stage. I’ve always strived to make people happy. Just seeing people laugh, smile, what-not, is just a really great feeling.”
In addition to his upcoming performance in the melodrama, Svitak has his eyes on a return trip to state in forensics.
“I’ll probably end up doing improv and duet at state,” he said. “I’ve got a duet this year with Megan Whitaker that we’re working on. And then I’ll do an improv duet with Timothy again.”
Does he feel some pressure to meet the high standard he set last year?
“I do kind of-like I’ve got to come back with an even better prose and do even better,” he admitted. “That’s a lot to expect. But just as long as I get to the state tournament.”
Svitak said his involvement with forensics and drama has made a practical difference in his life.
“It helps your communication skills and your public speaking-that sort of thing,” he added.
“It makes it a lot easier to talk to people you don’t know. I know a lot of jobs where you have to get up in front of people, and a lot of people aren’t really comfortable with that. But this kind of helps and gets you started in that direction.”
Svitak may also make a future career out of it someday. Last week, he auditioned for a drama scholarship at Butler County Community College, where he plans to major either in drama or radio/television broadcasting.
He said he plans to follow that experience with two or four years at a state university-and then he hopes to find a professional venue for his skills.
“I would love to do something with TV, films or something to do with the theater-something acting-wise,” he said. “I know that’s a far-fetched career (goal).
“I used to think, ‘I can do it, I can make it.’ But now that I’ve wisened up, I know that may not happen. It still could, but if it doesn’t happen I’ve chosen radio and television broadcasting to kind of fill that role.”