Meet Our Faculty and Staff

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Dr. Michele Pagen

Artisitic Director


Michele is a professor of theatre in the Department of Culture, Media, and Performance at California University of Pennsylvania. A native of southwestern Pennsylvania, Michele knew that if given the opportunity, she would build a place where area youth could study theatre and musical theatre in an environment that was safe and nurturing, yet challenging and professional. The Mon Valley Performing Arts Academy is just that place. She received her B.A. in Theatre from California University of Pennsylvania and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Directing and Staging Pedagogy from Bowling Green State University. Michele teaches the acting sequence, directing, and voice for the actor courses at the University. She is an Estill Master Trainer with Estill Voice International. 

Esther Benack-Spadaro



Esther has been with the Academy since its inception. She attended music school at Carnegie Mellon Univeristy, Duquesne Univeristy, and Morehead State University, where she was selected to be a member and President of Sigma Alpha Iota, an honorary music fraternity. She is retired after 36 years from Ringgold High School, where she directed award-winning choirs, musicals, and an opera. She is an Estill Master Trainer with Estill Voice International. In 2009, she was recognized and received the prestigious Estill Lifetime Achievement Award for her educational contributions to vocal pedagogy.

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John Wagner



John is a graduate from New York University with a MA in Performing Arts Administration and a graduate from Shenandoah University with a BFA in Musical Theatre. He is an Adjunct Faculty member at Cal U and is the Artistic Director for Summer at the State. John is also the Director of Musical Theatre Company at Class Act Performing Arts Studio, a pre-professional musical theatre-training program in South Orange, NJ. His directing and choreography credits include: Newsies, Mamma Mia, Spring Awakening, Chicago, Peter Pan, Annie, Sweeney Todd, The Music Man, Carrie, Gypsy, Mary Poppins, Hairspray, The Producers, 42nd Street, The Nutcracker, and Cats. He is a proud member of the Actors’ Equity Association and his performing credits include: Spamalot, La Cage Aux Folles, Gypsy, All Shook Up, A Chorus Line, Anything Goes, Chicago, 42nd Street, and Footloose.


Christina Bordini


Christina, a Pittsburgh native, is an alumna of Cal U Theatre (Dec. 2011) with a BA in Theatre and Musical Theatre minor. Christina is also a Master of Education, certified in PreK-4th grade (Cal U, May 2021). Christina worked for City Theatre in Pittsburgh for 7 seasons, mainly serving as the Company Manager. Christina has had a lot of experience working with children & teens, especially in the arts, in association with MVPAA, Geyer Performing Arts Center, and private instruction/coaching. She was a virtual camp counselor for MVPAA's Summer Experience 2020, "The Show Must Go Online". Most recently, Christina served as the Acting Teacher and Co-Director for MVPAA's Summer Experience 2021, "Musicville". Christina is so happy to be back "home", combining her love of theatre and education together.

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Alexandra Wilson


Alexandra is a 2020 alumna of California University of Pennsylvania where she received her B.A. in Theatre with a Concentration in Musical Theatre, as well as her Estill Voice Training Figure Proficiency Certification. She began her dance training at the age of three, and not long after fell in love with the world of musical theatre and performance. Alexandra is also the choreographer for Uniontown Area High School's spring musicals, as well as the director of their dance team and auxiliary. She has performed in a variety of musicals over the years, some of her favorites including Mamma Mia, Elf: The Musical, and Edges. She is excited to teach and share her love of dance and performance with younger generations.

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Destiny Cumberland


Destiny is a senior Theatre major at California University of Pennsylvania, whose ambition lies in teaching acting and theatre as her career. She is working with the MVPAA Acting classes for the 2020-2021 year. Destiny has previously worked for Camp Uncommon in Poyntelle, PA, as the primary Theatre Activities Counselor, where she learned to teach theatre in a classroom that is focused on personal growth and entertainment. She also worked as a Counselor for MVPAA’s The Show Must Go Online in the summer of 2020. Destiny is excited to continue inspiring students of all ages this year!