By Kris Kitto - 03/24/09 03:08 PM EDT
Petkanas, Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper’s (D-Pa.) new communications director, also sang arias as a professional boy soprano and continued to pursue opera through his freshman year at Boston University’s music school.
But during those long solo rehearsals in the school’s jail cell-like practice rooms, Petkanas found himself increasingly thinking about the news of the time, the 2004 presidential campaigns.
The then-college freshman began volunteering on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. He started spending less time in the opera world and more time knocking on doors in New Hampshire. By the end of his freshman year, Petkanas had set his singing aspirations aside to pursue a career in politics.
“It didn’t hurt at the time because I was excited about the next step, and I was really excited about pursuing this new piece of me,” he says. “But later on, as I got into the grind and I realized, ‘Wow, I haven’t been to the opera in a year,’ that’s when it really hurt.”
Petkanas showed theatrical promise in school productions, and a family friend encouraged him to sign up for professional auditions.
The CBS soap opera “As the World Turns” was his first break in the entertainment business.
“I had to go hug this woman — that was my direction,” he recalls. “I was 8 years old. I had my own dressing room.”
Petkanas also played a young Scrooge for two successive seasons in the Madison Square Gardens theater’s “A Christmas Carol” and was an understudy in the New Jersey Papermill Playhouse’s production of “A Secret Garden.”
He went international, too, landing a role as a boy soprano in an opera in Italy. He followed that with another boy soprano role in an opera in North Carolina.
Petkanas was 11 and his entertainment career was blossoming. Then his voice began to change.
“I got qualified reviews for the North Carolina opera company,” Petkanas says. “They said my high notes were not as easily negotiated, I think were the words … So that’s when I realized my boy soprano days were over.”
Petkanas’s opera career survived puberty, however. He took voice lessons in high school and was studying to be a countertenor at Boston University before leaving after his freshman year.
After committing to politics, Petkanas transferred to George Washington University. While there, he began interning for Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), who is now the Labor secretary. He continued to work for her after graduation; he also worked for Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and on Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s (D-Ariz.) congressional campaign.
These days Petkanas has little time to keep up his singing, but tries to practice where- and whenever he can.
“I do a mean karaoke,” he says, citing the classic “Danke Schoen” as one of his go-to songs.
Petkanas might have left a potentially bright entertainment career behind, but his decision to pursue politics was affirmed on his first night in Washington.
“I had my bike and I rode it down to the Capitol, and it was all lit up and gorgeous,” he says. “And I thought, ‘This is where I’m going to be.’ ”