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Theatre Wellness

Health + Wellness

Dedicated to the physical, mental, nutritional, and vocal well-being of musical theatre students, the Wellness Center continues its path toward a fully realized support system for Musical Theatre students.

Physical Health

Performing arts physical therapist and new faculty member Aliza Rudavsky, PT, DPT, PhD, has started an on-site physical therapy clinic for students in the School of Theatre. The aim of this clinic is to keep performers healthy, pain free, and at their peak performance. The clinic is intended for both preventative and recuperative care.

Services include:

  • Manual physical therapy (soft tissue and joint mobilizations)
  • Vocal unloading treatment to maintain optimal performance voice
  • Therapeutic exercise
  • Movement pattern re-training
  • Ergonomic modifications for performances
  • Coordination with production staff
  • Emphasis on injury prevention and maintenance of peak performance

Performing Arts Clinic will treat:

  • Vocal fatigue or discomfort
  • Headaches
  • Jaw tension
  • Breathing difficulties (poor endurance, support, or ribcage stiffness)
  • Neck and back pain, instability or stiffness
  • Shoulder, hip and other musculoskeletal pain, stiffness or instability
  • Faulty posture
  • Overuse injuries

New in Fall 2019 is Dr. Kiyomi Goto, a family medicine specialist with an interest in performers. Dr. Goto provides on-site evaluation and care. Services include injury and illness evaluation as well as ordering of imaging and appropriate treatment and referrals to specialty care. Recommendations for activity modification and return to activity will be made in consultation with the performer, and she will coordinate care with other healthcare providers involved in the care of the student. We think of her as our “medical liaison” to health care needs of musical theatre students.

Mental Health

For much of their time in classes and rehearsals and character preparation, our student-artists function within an intense, highly focused mental space analogous to what athletes call “the zone.” They are frequently critiqued in their process to prepare them for the extremely high professional expectations in their field. And they know they will be entering an arena so competitive that rejection will be the norm – even a daily occurrence – when auditioning for roles. All of this is enormously taxing mentally and can result in stress and burnout.

The psychological services offered are developed by Dennis Heitzmann, former Senior Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Penn State, along with his colleague Leann Diederich. Musical Theatre students are able to confidentially seek consultation, referrals, and treatment for a variety of counseling and psychological services. Dr’s Heitzmann and Diederich are becoming specifically acquainted with our students and programs so they can best consult, refer, or provide services to our students.


Nutritionist and Associate Research Professor Kris Clark heads this initiative. The key component is a fueling station, developed over her time as Director of Sports Nutrition for Penn State Athletics. It is a collection of foods available and provided to students throughout their day in order to fully maximize the nutritional health of our students. The goal is to connect nutritional behavior to the training in musical theatre. The fueling station seeks to position students to optimize energy levels before and after workouts, dance classes, rehearsals, and other physically strenuous components of musical theatre training. It provides foods that are rich in nutrient requirements that are supporting the physical exertion the program requires with nutritional preparation and recovery.

Dr. Kris Clark is also available to our students for private or group consultation about all things Nutrition – including cooking on a budget, cooking for the week, and other areas specific to Musical Theatre students.

Vocal Health

Though essentially a subset of physical health, vocal health is so crucial to the careers of our students that it deserves separate treatment. Musical theatre students use their voices so strenuously that their vocal cords should be regularly monitored to ensure no damage is being done.

Dr. John Paul Gniady is a laryngologist specializing in the care of singers. We begin our relationship with Dr. Gniady in Fall 2019 by providing “scopes” for our musical theatre first year students. This baseline vocal cord imaging will allow our students to know their own vocal cords – making it much easier if care is needed for fatigue or other issues. Along with this imaging, Dr. Gniady will provide education to our students in vocal care for singers and be a resource to us in the specifics of vocal issues for singers.

Meet our Wellness Center Colleagues

Kris ClarkKris Clark, Ph.D., RDN, FACSM

Dr. Kris Clark recently retired as Director of Sports Nutrition for Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics after 26 years in that position. During those years she counseled the over 800 varsity athletes from 26 teams on nutrition issues that ranged from energy needs, eating before and after workouts to recovery strategies and muscle growth. Her work at Penn State led to working with four United States Olympic teams including women’s and men’s soccer, men’s volleyball, and women’s lacrosse. She was the exclusive nutritionist for US Women’s Soccer for ten years.

Kris currently holds an adjunct position in the Kinesiology Department as Associate Research Professor along with managing a private local consulting practice. She is thrilled to be connecting with the Musical Theatre Department as a Sports Nutrition volunteer consultant. After 36 years in clinical practice, working primarily with serious athletes in sports, she is enthusiastic about working with serious athletes in musical theatre!

Dr. Clark has a Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences from Penn State, a Masters degree in Health Education and a B.S. degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of WI. Her research interests have included food choices for recreational exercisers and athletes, eating for energy and recovery, dietary supplement use, and muscle growth. Clark, a registered dietitian, is currently on the Board of Directors of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, past president of the Practice Group in Sports Nutrition and past president of the Practice Group in Weight Management. She is a Fellow in and past Trustee Member of the American College of Sports Medicine and a Fellow in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She holds a position on the U.S. Olympic Sports Medicine Advisory Board. Clark is a nutrition resource for numerous popular magazines and is regularly quoted in Shape, Self, Real Simple, Readers Digest, Men’s Health, Glamour, and Good Housekeeping.

Dennis E. HeitzmannDennis E. Heitzmann, Ph.D.

Dr. Heitzmann received his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Texas (Austin). During his tenure at Penn State University, Dr. Heitzmann served as Senior Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, Special Assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs, and Affiliate Professor in both the Clinical and Counseling Psychology training programs at Penn State. In addition he has served as the president of the International Association of Counseling Services, and as president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, from which he received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to university student mental health. He is a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania, a member of the American Psychological Association, the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, and past president of the Central Pennsylvania Psychological Association. Dr. Heitzmann has presented lectures and workshops on a variety of mental health topics, provided organizational consultation to various executives and agencies, and is the author of a book and several articles on a variety of mental health topics. Dr. Heitzmann is currently in private practice with Child, Adult, and /Family Psychological Center in State College, PA. His areas of specialization include the treatment of adults from diverse backgrounds with concerns related to depression and anxiety; life transitions; career, school and work-related issues; marriage, divorce, and adjustment to each; and the developmental concerns of young adults.

Leann T. Diederich, Ph.D.Leann T. Diederich, Ph.D.

Dr. Diederich received her PhD in Counseling Psychology from Indiana University (Bloomington). She was a Staff Psychologist and Group Therapy Coordinator at the Counseling and Psychological Services at Penn State prior to moving into independent practice in 2014. She is a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania, a member of the American Psychological Association, and the Pennsylvania Psychological Association. She has served as a Board Member-at-Large for the Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy (Division 49 of the American Psychological Association). Additionally, Dr. Diederich maintains an active academic focus as an adjunct instructor at the undergraduate level in Human Development and Family Studies and in the doctoral program in Counselor Education at Penn State. She presents nationally on a range of topics, including co-leadership development, multicultural competency in group therapy, and the impact of visible/invisible identities. Her areas of specialization include working with young adults and early career professionals on improving interpersonal relationships, reducing anxiety and depression, and fostering wellness through living a value-driven life.

Aliza RudavskyAliza Rudavsky
Physical Therapist

Aliza Rudavsky is a physical therapist and Assistant Teaching Professor at Penn State University. She earned her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Washington and her Ph.D from the University of Copenhagen. Prior to becoming a physical therapist, Aliza was a professional modern dancer and brings her knowledge of dance and the performing arts into every PT session. She has specialized training in vocal unloading which treats the maladaptive voice cycle in singers and professional voice users. Her research at Penn State involves understanding the relationship between the vocal folds and the pelvic floor muscles. Aliza is thrilled to be involved in the School of Theatre’s Wellness Center and hopes to continue promoting wellness initiatives in the arts.

J.P. GniadyJ.P. Gniady, MD, FACS

John Paul (J.P.) Gniady, MD, FACS – Dr. Gniady was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. He attended Louisiana State University for college and medical school and then went on to complete his residency in Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Upon completion of his residency, Dr. Gniady travelled to Boston for a year of additional training in Laryngeal Surgery at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital with the world-renowned Dr. Steven Zeitels. Dr. Zeitels is best known for treating famous singers; ranging from The Who’s Roger Daltry, Steve Tyler of Aerosmith, Adele, and numerous operatic stars. He is however best known within the medical community for advancing the science and art of voice preservation and restoration for a variety of both benign and cancerous diseases of the larynx through the development of new surgical instruments and techniques.

Dr. Gniady helps patients with vocal cord paralysis, spasmodic dysphonia, and voice and swallowing disorders associated with Parkinson’s disease. He has recently joined the Penn State team at Hershey Medical Center and will work with us in Musical Theatre after spending years in Sarasota working with professional singers.

Kiyomi GotoDr. Kiyomi Goto
Medical Liaison

Dr. Kiyomi Goto is a family medicine doctor in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She received her medical degree from Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed a fellowship in Sports Medicine at Hershey Medical Center and is now a family medicine specialist in State College.

With Musical Theatre, Dr. Goto will provide on-site evaluation and care of students. Services will include injury and illness evaluation as well as ordering of imaging and appropriate treatment and referrals to specialty care. Recommendations for activity modification and return to activity will be made in consultation with the performer, and with consent, will coordinate care with other healthcare providers involved in the care of the student.