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Theater Students Use New Tech — And A Centuries-Old Play — To Connect During The Pandemic

Katherine Galvez FIU leading breathing exercise.png
Screenshot from Zoom
Florida International University acting student Katherine Galvez leads a breathing exercise during a virtual Shakespeare workshop with Miami-Dade County high school students on Dec. 8.

A Florida International University acting class held virtual Shakespeare workshops with high school students in Miami-Dade County.

Field trips and classroom visits aren’t happening right now, because of COVID-19. But three public schools in Miami-Dade County are experiencing live theater anyway.

A Florida International University acting class zoomed into the high schools, located in Doral and Kendall, to deliver live Shakespeare workshops earlier this month. Some of the younger students participated from their classrooms, wearing masks and sitting in desks spaced apart for social distancing. Others joined remotely from home.

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Phillip Church, associate professor of theatre at FIU, said he expects the benefits of the experience to be mutual for the high school and college students.

“Actors are taught to take direction,” Church said. ”But when do we give them the opportunity to give direction?”

After his students gain the experience of giving direction to others, “they’re going to have the ability to make stronger choices in what they do on stage — and hopefully in life, as well,” he said.

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Screenshot from Zoom
Nicky Quintana, who teaches at an arts magnet school in Kendall, helps both her in-person students and the ones learning from home connect to a virtual Shakespeare workshop.

At the end of a Dec. 8 workshop with students from Miami Arts Studio at Zelda Glazer, an arts magnet, the FIU students reflected on what they learned.

“I’m feeling pretty empowered right now, as a person,” Luigi Perez said. “I’m not the greatest teacher, but I could definitely get used to being around kids.”

“I really got your perspective. I felt how you felt,” Clarissa Fleurimond said to Church, her professor. “That ‘aha’ [moment] was like, ‘Oh! I can see their minds, like, thinking!’”

“And it’s pretty thrilling, isn’t it? When you know that you’re the one who triggered their thought, their capacity, to actually think it through,” Church responded.

While the two classes connected using newer technology, the material they studied is centuries old: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

In one of the exercises, FIU acting student Katherine Galvez told the students to write letters from the perspective of their characters speaking to other characters in the world of the play — “to delve into the mind of your character, to think how they think, how they would write.”

She shared her own examples: a letter from Helena to Hermia — two of the lead female characters in the play — and then a response.

Nicky Quintana, the high school theater teacher, said the letter exercise was her students’ favorite part. It was a perfect fit for her class, she said, because the students are learning improvisation. In order to do improv, an actor has to explore how a character thinks, feels and communicates.

“I have a lot of those kids in other classes. We have a production class where we're doing, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’” she said. “And the kids were like, ‘Miss Q, can we do letters to each other, while we're doing our scenes?’ And I'm like, ‘Yeah! Let's do that, too!’

"So that was pretty cool," she said.


This story is part of “Intermission,” WLRN’s series looking at how South Florida’s arts community is coping during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve also been hearing from people who are NOT artists by trade, but who are tapping into their creative side during COVID isolation.

If you’ve got a story for us, please send an email to talktous@wlrnnews.org, with the word “Intermission” in the subject line.