This year the second annual Zakarak Performing Arts Convention (ZAK-PAC) has a featured guest, Monica Horan. Horan is best known for her role of Amy on Everybody Loves Raymond. She will be teaching an Improvisation Class at ZAK-PAC as well as taking part in the Opening Masters Q & A.  One of the things that struck me about Horan is her passion about Arts Education and keeping it in schools as well as the importance of the Arts to enrich the lives of young people. I had a chance to speak with Horan about ZAK-PAC as well as being an advocate for the Arts.

Kelli Curtin: How did you get involved with ZAK-PAC?

Monica Horan: I am originally from Aldan, Pa. I went to Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School, and eventually I auditioned for Upper Darby Summer Stage. I did plays there every summer through high school and college. I owe Harry Dietzler [the founder of Upper Darby Summer Stage] a debt of gratitude. Upper Darby Summer Stage is where I met Julianna Schauerman [president and founder of Zakarak Productions]. Julianna is such a wonderful person. One story I have about Julianna is we were both auditioning for the role of Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. I loved Adelaide and really wanted to play her. Julianna took me aside and said to me “You would be better playing this role.” So Julianne coached me, and I got the part!

Years later Julianna and I reconnected at a Summer Stage reunion. She told me of her idea about wanting to pass on her knowledge to young people and having the talented people she met take part in this too. I loved the idea and wanted to work with Julianna again. In addition, I really like the mission of ZAK-PAC, it really touched me. [The ZAK-PAC mission: “We want to create a positive, encouraging atmosphere where individual spirit is valued and fostered. We provide kind, constructive instruction and work together as a team to inspire the talents and passions in all of our students.”]

The mission of ZAK-PAC touched me because it reminded me of my own foundation that my husband and I started in Los Angeles, the Flourish Foundation. There is such a problem with schools losing funding for the Arts programs, so we created a foundation that “makes the performing arts available to local youth and to use the performing arts to help local adolescents discover many possible pathways and bridges towards a bright, stable, and productive future.” The Arts help enhance other classes, and without the Arts in schools, kids are not getting a complete education. I am so proud of the work we have been involved with  in Los Angeles.

Kelli Curtin: Could you tell me a little about the improvisation class you are teaching at ZAK-PAC?

Monica Horan:  I am actually a new student to improvisation. What improv teaches is to be fully in the moment. The way it works, is you have to be listening and just react, you cannot stop to think, just be in the moment and go with your reaction, you do not have to be clever, just go with your first instinct. The thing about teaching this at ZAK-PAC is that it is a safe environment for people to work in. Improv is such a great tool to have, not just for actors. It enhances the work people do, and for me, it makes me a better actor to have this skill.

Kelli Curtin: Why is a convention like ZAK-PAC important for young people?

Monica Horan: It is an opportunity for young people to meet and interact with young people who have made the Arts their life. The professionals who take part in this convention pass on their skills and knowledge. ZAK-PAC is really an interactive experience where the teachers are inspired by these young and aspiring artists, and we get to pass on our skills and advice. This convention is a place where we all get to build relationships.  For me, it is such a gift to be around young people and watch them explore; they are so inspiring.

Kelli Curtin: Why is the Arts important for children and teens?

Monica Horan: An Arts education is indispensable because culture is what carries us through and without Arts in an education it is not a complete education. For this answer I will quote my husband, “Arts education is not disposable, it is the answer.”

It is such a failure in the public school system that they are taking away the Arts in the curriculum. The result of a lack of Arts education is the kids are no longer engaged in their education, parents are not being involved and this effects kids wanting to stay in school. If kids are no longer participating in band, choir or any other Arts class then parents are not coming to see their kids perform. Think about it, when we were kids we had all kinds of Arts activities available to us, and now these programs are consistently being cut. I have seen first-hand lives changed with the Arts, it keeps kids in touch with who they are, and for some kids it helps them survive. Today, it is going to take a cultural shift to change this country’s attitude towards Arts education. There is a need to create a movement to fight to keep an Arts education in the schools, we need to make this a priority.

Kelli Curtin: You have had a very successful career. Is there anyone or anything you attribute your success to?

Monica Horan: I had to learn to confidently trust in myself. Moreover, once I learned this, I did not need to try to be someone else. I just pursued a career where I could use my gift. I started to listen to what I really cared about and did not make decision based on fear. The best advice I can give to someone who wants to pursue a career in the Arts is to be in the moment, be in touch with what you care about and just let life happen. Most of all, be nice to others.  If you work hard at what you love, things will happen.

Monica Horan will be teaching an Improvisation class as well as appearing in the Opening Masters Q & A at the ZAK-PAC convention, which is October 18 -19, 2014 at the Germantown Academy. For more information, visit their website at

Final Thought: The Zakarak Performing Arts Convention is an amazing opportunity for young people to learn from those who are seasoned veterans in the Arts. These are people who have not only made a career in the Arts, but who are full of passion and will pass on knowledge and skills for young people. 

Kelli Curtin is editor and writer for In addition, she is a contributor for the online site and is a freelance writer. Kelli is excited to share her passion about theatre and the arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on twitter @theatrescribe and on Facebook/theatresensation.

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