Local television host Toni Sipka, who formerly portrayed Marvel Comics' Spider-Woman, will be offering a free studio production program in February. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Local television host Toni Sipka, who formerly portrayed Marvel Comics’ Spider-Woman, will be offering a free studio production program in February. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — Biddeford’s own local superheroine has a new mission: teaching the ins-and-outs of television.

Biddeford resident and local television host Toni Sipka will be offering a free studio production program in February in collaboration with Public Access for any and all interested in television and studio work.

Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, Sipka has a history as a successful model and talent agent, and is known for her time spent in the 1980s traveling the country making special appearances as Marvel Comics’ Spider-Woman.

For years she donned a costume made specifically for her, touring with the brand’s other characters, including Lou Ferrigno, known for his role as The Incredible Hulk. Among her many appearances, Sipka often appeared with her Marvel cast at fundraisers for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“We made a lot of children happy,” she said, “Until I was killed off in my comic book.”

But in 2006, Sipka moved to Maine to escape the busy life of the big city. 

“I moved here to become a recluse. I was burnt out, done with life, done with people. I had my three dogs, and for two years I didn’t talk to anybody.

“Then I realized i had to pay my bills,” she joked.

Now residing in Biddeford Pool, Toni hosts her own talk show, “Toni Time” on Biddeford Public Access, where she interviews people about community-focused topics.

But now, she says, it’s time to share her knowledge with those who also want to break out in the industry. Three Saturdays in February, Sipka will offer a free program for those interested in producing their own television programs, focusing on set design, hosting and personal growth and communicating ideas with directors.

She said anyone, regardless of where they live, is welcome to attend.

Sipka said she knows of many talented people who are either intimidated by taking the chance to reach for their dreams, or who may not be financially able to take the plunge. 

“I’m amazed at the people I’ve met so far living here in Maine. There are a lot of talented people of all ages, but they always think it’s a pipe dream,” she said.

“Everyday people in our life here in Biddeford, in Maine, who may not have money, who are struggling  — who may be on welfare or food stamps — it doesn’t matter. If you come to my class, then you want something, you want a change.”

“You’re not going to devote that time unless you do,” she said.

What’s critical, she said, is that the program will come at no cost to those who wish to join in.

“People have a theory that anything that is free doesn’t have value. I don’t think so,” she said. “I’m coming to these people from Manhattan (New York) with a wealth of experience that I’m going to hand you. All I want you to do is use it.”

She also said the classes will help boost the local television station, which she feels doesn’t the attention and credit it deserves.

“We have so many producers here. We have so many different shows. We have a wealth of talent here,” she said. “What I’m kind of offering here is to help the studio because I don’t think people know all we do here.”

For Sipka, the experience will be cathartic. Having undergone surgery to treat scoliosis in her younger years — the scars on her back still visible — she understands the pain of rejection when it comes to making it in the industry.

“I’ve been through the ringer. I’ve been knocked down more than I can even think of. But I got back up. I can’t see why somebody else can’t,” she said. “There are people who have been told they’ll amount to nothing. But all it does is take one person to say, ‘We’re going to get over this.’ And I’ve done it 100 times over with my talent. I see it changes a person.”

For her, the program is about “bringing out the best in people,” inspiring confidence in those who can’t see their true potential.

“I see fear in people. I see lack of confidence,” she said. “I’ve got to start somewhere, all of this stuff in me, this knowledge — what I want to give, not sell —  is to give you a chance.”

The class will be held in three sessions for three hours at a time on Saturdays Feb. 4, Feb. 11 and Feb. 18 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Classes will be held at the Public Access Building, located at 15 Columbus Way, Biddeford, and are free of charge.

Sipka asks those interested let her know in advance by emailing [email protected]

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]

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