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Juanita’s Statue, The Star’s Perspective

Coincidentally, the lead female role in Juanita’s Statue is being played by BFA Performance student Juanita Olivo. This has been her biggest role to date and the roller coaster of emotions she has been experiencing makes her giddy. Juanita describes the play as “the story of a woman who is forced to dress like a man to save her life. In the process, she helps other people discover love within themselves. If there is a message in this play, I think it is that we must all love ourselves as we are. Sometimes we need a little encouragement from others but once we find our wings, we shouldn’t be afraid to get out and fly. I sincerely hope that the audience will enjoy the chase that is Juanita’s Statue, but also pick up on the larger message of the show.”

Our leading lady also described her experience being a part of a collaborative effort as something that “means that your entire perception of your character can change in the blink of an eye, but we come into the space knowing that we are exploring together and we all have fun in that exploration.” Because Juanita is open-minded and understands that this is a learning environment, she welcomes the opinions of her peers and professors. She finds it fascinating that one slight change can alter her previously discovered character and bring everything together in a different way. Overall, the open communication and sharing of ideas gives the actors the feeling that they have a say in the direction of the play, which motivates everyone to work a little harder.

The complex staging of Juanita’s Statue is a challenge for Juanita who knows that it is the actors’ responsibility to ensure that the blocking of the elaborate chase scenes is seamless. She feels confident that they will be a connected ensemble by opening night. Another challenge she faces is adopting the persona of a man; she has to “talk, walk, carry myself differently AND make it seem natural. It takes a lot of work and discipline but I am getting there.”

Juanita is looking forward to opening night with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. She was a little worried about her family’s reaction to the risqué scenes in the play, but her mother’s encouraging words – “this is your art, your craft, this is what you do!” – helped to put her fears to rest.

For more information on Juanita’s Statue, please click here.

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Alumni Spotlight: Joseph Haj ’84

The Department of Theatre wishes to congratulate Joseph Haj (Class of ’84) who was recently honored with the 2014 Zelda Fichandler Award from the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC). Haj was unanimously chosen from 62 other nominated directors for this coveted accolade. According to SDC, the prestigious award recognizes “an outstanding director or choreographer who is transforming the regional arts landscape through imaginative, brave work in theatre.” The SDC chose Haj thanks to his “exemplary artistry, diverse and exciting programming choices, and deep commitment to the arts in North Carolina.”

The Haj family moved to Miami from New Jersey when Joseph was quite young. Growing up in South Florida, Joseph did not find his true calling until his senior year of high school, when he registered for a drama class. As a child of Palestinian immigrants, this passion for the theatre came as somewhat of a surprise to his family, who presumed that he would pursue a career in medicine, law or engineering. However, it was the theatre that provided a much needed outlet for his teenage anger, frustration and loneliness. Joseph earned his BFA Performance degree from FIU in a remarkably short time and went on to complete his MFA from University of North Carolina. He gained the full support of his family once they realized his talent and determination to succeed.

Haj worked as an actor for several years before shifting focus from acting to directing. When asked about the circumstances that contributed to the shift in focus he responded, “it happened fairly abruptly. For the longest time, everything I wanted to explore in the art form, I felt I could explore from the position of an actor. Then, almost overnight, acting began to feel very limiting and specialized to me. I started feeling like a punter on a football team and I wanted to have more ownership of a production, more of a say in how a piece was to be made.”

Joseph Haj is currently the Producing Artistic Director of PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He has directed and performed in theaters throughout the United States as well as overseas. He has conducted numerous workshops and been nominated for various awards, many of which he has won. American Theater Magazine named him “one of 25 theatre artists who will have a significant impact on the field over the next quarter century.” He has even directed Shakespeare productions at different maximum security prisons regionally. Elaborating on this, he explains that “those of us who spend a lot of time in the plays of Shakespeare go around protesting that Shakespeare is for everyone, even while having the nagging suspicion that that might not be true. I wanted to see if Shakespeare could be performed by those who had never come in contact with the work and for a community that also had little background with the work. The results were thrilling for both the inmates who acted in the productions and those inmates who attended the performances.”

A career in theatre for a man of color comes with certain challenges and Joe shares some of the challenges he has encountered. “It is very difficult to have a career as an artist. Ours is a field that has long supported ideas about diversity and inclusion. There are plenty of unconscious biases that negatively impact opportunities for women and people of color. I spent many years acting in the plays of Shakespeare all over the country, but I have never even had an audition for a Shaw or Moliere play. Women and people of color are under hired as actors, directors and designers.” He also offered some great advice to our aspiring theatre students; “your ambition will want to write checks that your talent cannot yet cash. Be humble, find mentors and learn from those who have gone before. Ours remains an apprenticeship game and what we know is handed down, so find great mentors.”

FIU Theatre is sincerely proud to call Joseph Haj one of our own and we wish him continued success as he strives to bring equity and inclusion to the stage in terms of stories, voices, directors and designers. It is rare to hear someone declare their love for their career and the people they work with, but love epitomizes Joe’s feelings about the theatre. It is truly inspirational to listen to someone refer to their career as a ‘calling.’

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Playwright Jacqueline E. Lawton Collaborates with FIU Theatre

Jacqueline E. Lawton writes to answer the big questions about the world. One of her questions about The Hampton Years was, “How these artists find the focus and determination to create such beautiful and lasting art when everyone around is telling them that they shouldn’t be artists?” This is a valid question that required a great deal of research to answer.

The Department of Theatre is thrilled to collaborate with talented playwright Jacqueline E. Lawton on a dramatized staged reading of her play The Hampton Years. The play’s world premiere was in 2012 as part of Theater J’s Locally Grown Festival, an initiative intended to highlight local stories by local playwrights. Since then, the script has been rewritten in development with Virginia Stage Company. On Sunday, October 19, at the first rehearsal in preparation for Monday’s performance, Ms. Lawton heard the edited draft for the first time.

The idea for The Hampton Years came from the author’s interest in exploring the relationship between African Americans and Jewish people, two groups that have shared a history of oppression and exclusion in history. She was particularly interested in the time period when these two groups were able to come together in support and encouragement of each other. When asked what compelled her to tell the story of Viktor Lowenfeld and his relationship with students Samella Lewis and John Biggers, Jacqueline responded, “I started doing research to learn about professors who went to teach at historically black universities. I found out about Viktor Lowenfeld, this Austrian Jewish professor who choose Hampton Institute over Harvard University. He went on to establish the art department at Hampton Institute at a time when black artists were being encouraged to go into trade, become farmers, educators, nurses or do things that were considered more practical. I loved the story that revolved around creative expression and using art as a tool for social justice and advocating for racial equity.”

Ms. Lawton holds a BA concentration in theatre and dance, a BS in radio-television-film, and an MFA in playwriting. She has been recognized as one of the top 30 national leading black playwrights by Arena Stages American Voices New Play Institute. Growing up watching musicals starring Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Judy Garland, she always knew that a future in theatre awaited her. This was a difficult decision, since it was a career choice which came with the challenge of learning how to overcome the fact that very few female playwrights are produced each year and there are fewer opportunities for women of color in the theatre. This knowledge was a main contributor in her shift in focus from acting and writing to writing. In an effort to rectify the inequality she saw, she decided to concentrate on writing more roles for women and women of color. She is inspired by the next play that needs to be told, the next story out there, the next character that needs to be introduced. According to Jacqueline, “I don’t want those coming after me to struggle as much as I did in terms of finding a place for their voice. We need a greater sense of diversity in our stories that are selected, our playwrights that are chosen, in our actors, directors, designers and artistic directors. That’s what inspires me to continue doing this work. I want to create space for more artists do continue doing their work and be viable artists telling stories in the community”

Jacqueline had some insightful advice for students pursuing a degree in theatre; “first and foremost, don’t compare yourself to anyone else and always strive to be better than yourself vs being better than someone else. Be clear about your definition of success. I always encourage young people to become professionals and view theatre as a profession, not just a passion. Be your own PR person by creating your website and being in charge of your personal narrative. Educate yourself on the business side of the work you are doing and try to find a balance between mastering the art and the business.”

Ms. Lawton is excited to see how the South Florida community will respond to the play. She is always interested in learning what compels audiences to become interested in a particular production. This is also an opportunity to learn about the issues that need to be addressed in the community. This play is very special to her as it was read and liked by Samella Lewis, an extraordinary woman for whom she has great respect and admiration.


For more information about Jacqueline E. Lawton, click here.

For more information about The Hampton Years, a dramatized staged reading, click here.

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Juanita’s Statue, The Director’s Perspective

Michael Yawney, director of the Department of Theatre’s upcoming production of Juanita’s Statue by Anne Garcia-Romero, describes the play as “a lot of lighthearted fun and a little thoughtful. This production is full of frantic chases, telenovela-like love scenes and action packed fights. Audiences will feel like they are standing in the middle of a race track as characters rush, collide and whiz by each other at every possible moment.” Michael hopes that everyone coming out to enjoy the show will laugh and snuggle a little closer to the person sitting next to them. One of the things that intrigued him about the play is that it deals with topics everyone can relate to, like the feeling of crushing self-doubt after losing a loved one or the intoxicating boost of confidence as new love blossoms. Somehow, the author manages to delve into potentially painful topics in a delightful way.

Juanita’s Statue is based on the premise of a young woman who disguises herself as a man and surprisingly discovers that she is irresistibly attractive to both sexes. The play is set in an undisclosed town where Spanglish is commonly heard, not unlike Miami. It revolves around a chase with moving walls and arches, set to the beat of wonderful vintage boogaloo. South Florida audiences are going to love the fast paced, crazy, rhythmic mix of Spanish and English in which the characters speak, along with the lively music and vibrant colors. Come out expecting to have a good time!

Directing Juanita’s Statue has been a collaborative process for Michael who believes that people work more effectively when they are part of a team. The designers meet regularly to share ideas about how to make the show a success and to iron out any production wrinkles that arise. The actors are in rehearsals every night working on perfecting their characters.  Everyone is diligently working together to create an enjoyable, riveting production for theatre-goers.

The main challenge he has encountered in staging Juanita’s Statue involves timing. This play requires amazing precision because it is so fast paced that if an actor takes one misstep, they will very likely be run over by everyone else.  Therefore, the choreography must be exact while appearing effortless. It is a small obstacle that Michael is confident the actors will overcome by opening night.

For more information about Juanita’s Statue, please click here.

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Rebecca Covey Coaches Special Guest Speakers for SOM’s Wind and Percussion Arts Series

At a recent FIU event, Department of Theatre faculty members Rebecca Covey and Michael Yawney had a conversation with School of Music (SOM) conductor Dr. Brenton Alston about a possible future collaboration between the two departments. Consequently, it was no surprise when Dr. Alston approached Rebecca with an invitation to read a poem for the SOM’s Wind and Percussion Arts Series, paying tribute to the late Dr. Maya Angelou, on October 8.  Instead of doing a reading for the performance, Rebecca, the department’s Voice and Speech professor, chose to coach three of our talented students – Madeleine Escarne (BFA Performance), Krystal Aleman (BFA Performance) and Adele Robinson (BA) – so that they could participate in her place.

Preparing the students for their readings took Rebecca over a week. They began by familiarizing themselves with the acoustics of the space and selecting the poems to be read. Rebecca then worked with each student individually; after warm-up exercises, they were encouraged to allow themselves to be affected by the imagery of their poems and to find personal meaning in each piece. They worked on discovering and utilizing variety in their voices as well as maintaining energy throughout a piece.

Rebecca has been with the Department of Theatre for the past 3 years.  She has worked as a professional actress since age 14 and holds a BFA in Acting from University of California, Santa Barbara and an MFA from University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.  Additionally, she is a Designated Linklater Voice teacher, a certification which requires 4-5 years of training.  When asked why she pursued a certification that took so long to obtain, her response was, “as an actor, I have always felt that my way into character was through voice, but I always bumped into walls because of my voice. I soon learned that Linklater Voice work would make me more easily heard and understood. I could be more connected to my voice and self. Working this way is liberating for me as an actor.” Also noteworthy is the fact that Rebecca was the Voice and Dialect Director for the Department’s recent production of An Ideal Husband. She trained eleven students to maintain a British dialect for the two hour production.

The theatre students were honored to read the poetry of Dr. Angelou and pay tribute to someone for whom they have such great admiration. They unanimously agreed that it was a wonderful experience and they were most appreciative of Rebecca for her training. The department looks forward to future collaborations with our neighbors, SOM.

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The Show Must Go On!

On Thursday, October 2, the whole of The Wertheim Performing Arts Center was buried in utter darkness as a monster storm struck outside the Main Stage theatre while Act II of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband was in full flow. It was a random stroke of luck that Gaby Lopez (Assistant Events Manager), BJ Duncan (Technical Production Assistant) and Geordan Gottlieb (Assistant Technical Director) were all in the audience on a night that they were not required to be there.  Thinking quickly, Gaby immediately shone the light from her cell phone onto the stage to ensure the actors’ safety while Geordan professionally advised the audience to remain calm, stay seated, and encouraged the actors to continue. One would expect an abrupt end to the show, even an irate audience, or perhaps mass panic, but this was not the case. As they say in this business, “the show must go on!” The audience remained seated, with everyone graciously offering the lights from their cell phones to illuminate the stage. The crew, along with BJ and Geordan, found additional lights in the department and the actors finished the last twenty minutes of their performance, barely perturbed by the slight hiccup. According to Gaby, “it was the most beautiful thing to see! The way the actors took the situation in stride and continued their performance was great, the calm support from the audience was admirable and even though we had been trained for this, we had never experienced this situation before, so the outcome was pretty good!”

Department Chair and director of An Ideal Husband Phillip Church recounts Thursday night’s experience, “At least twenty phones were pointed in the direction of the stage. Audience members’ phones included!  It was, to say the least, a surreal experience, but the actors flawlessly marched on, and it reminded us, without the sound of that continual low-humming air conditioning, just how powerful pure silence and quiet can be. The voices of the actors were magnified and so sharp and crystalline. The pauses were so much more profound, aided by the suspension of alien light that gave the whole scene an eerie yet moving patina of a black and white movie. The curtain call was received with raucous cheers – even more phone lights lit up. This was without a doubt, a memorable event and one that many of our students are sure to recall with their children and grandchildren. And in this way are legend and myth birthed! Congratulations to all our students who, in an instant, stood their ground artistically, remaining in the zone of artistic inspiration. And thanks to our audience members who had the faith to remain with us.  It truly was an extraordinary theatre experience.”

Zack Myers, Danny Leonard, Allyn Anthony, and Pia Isabell Vicioso-Vila were all on-stage when the lights went off.  Pia was stunned at first, but took her cue from the audience and her fellow actors who did their best to bring humor to the situation.  She too immediately adopted a ‘the show must on’ attitude and finished her lines. Pia too was thrilled by the audience reaction.“It was truly amazing to see the front row of the audience all get up one by one and place their phones on the stage so that we would have enough light to continue.”

Lovanni Gomez describes the incident as amazing and intimate. When the show ended, he felt as though he was walking away from something special. It was a very different experience from other nights.

Waiting to go on-stage was BFA Performance student Sofia Sassone. Her first thought was concern for the safety of her fellow actors coming off-stage in the dark. She was surprised to realize that they were going to continue but glad she had the opportunity to experience this remarkable situation. She describes it as, “the best thing ever:”

After the show ended, some members of the audience actually remained in the faintly lit rotunda of the Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Performing Arts Center to greet the cast and offer their support. Overall, the actors were greatly appreciative of the encouragement and love they received. The Department of Theatre is proud of the students and staff for responding with such aplomb in an unexpected situation. Using cell phones to illuminate a stage was certainly an innovative choice and most definitely a sign of the time. The show must go on! And it did!


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FIU Theatre Performs at Gablestage

The Department of Theatre’s Phillip M. Church will be directing a dramatized staged reading of The Hampton Years, by Jacqueline E. Lawton, at Gablestage on Monday, October 20, at 7:00PM. Husband and wife team and Department of Theatre Professors, Rebecca Covey and Aaron Alpern, will portray the roles of Viktor and Margaret Lowenfeld, and adjunct professor Stephen Neal will play Dr. Malcolm Shaw Maclean. Theatre’s showing will not be limited to faculty members, however – talented BFA Performance student Madeleine Escarne will portray the role of Samella Sanders (Lewis).

The Hampton Years is a historical play; chronicling local events, it focuses on pivotal years at the Hampton Institute, Virginia, during WWII and explores the development of African American artists John Biggers and Samella Lewis under the tutelage of Austrian-Jewish refugee painter and educator Viktor Lowenfeld. The author touches on many profound topics like the discrimination Africans-Americans and Jews faced in the 1940s, war, art, and pursuing one’s dreams. Audiences will instantly take to Viktor because of his progressive thinking, open mind, and admirable passion for his work. John Biggers is bright and insightful, and Samella Lewis comes across as talented and strong minded. The play is captivating because most people can relate to one or more of the thought provoking topics explored.

Author Jacqueline E. Lawton will be coming to Miami to collaborate with the cast during rehearsals.

Performance Date: October 20, 7:00PM

Location: Gablestage 1200 Anastasia Avenue Coral Gables, Fl 33134

This is a free event with limited seating on a first-come-first-serve basis.

For more information, click here.

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Rick and Margarita Tonkinson Theatre Lobby Dedication

“No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.” Dean Brian Schriner ended his speech with this poignant quote from Calvin Coolidge on Friday, September 26, before inviting everyone gathered in the rotunda of the Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Performing Arts Center to raise their glasses in honor of Rick and Margarita Tonkinson. The Tonkinsons have graciously donated $50,000 to FIU’s College of Architecture + The Arts (CARTA), which will provide scholarships for CARTA students. In recognition of their munificence, The Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Performing Arts Center Mainstage Theatre lobby has been dedicated to them. FIU is fortunate to be included in Rick and Margarita’s philanthropic vision, which supports many South Florida organizations. Also present at the dedication ceremony was FIU’s newly appointed Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Kenneth G. Furton. Dr. Furton also expressed his sincere appreciation to the Tonkinsons for their generosity.

During his speech, Mr. Tonkinson shared his desire to make the community a better place. He acknowledged the philanthropy of Herbert and Nicole Wertheim, who brought the Wertheim Performing Arts Center to life with their altruism and emphasized his own passion for education and theatre, sharing his belief that “theatre allows a full expression of thought. We encourage theatre students to live to their fullest potential and have their passion develop into skills.”

Rick Tonkinson is the President of Tonkinson Financial and has recently been appointed Chair of the Dean’s Leadership Advisory Board for CARTA. He studied at night to earn an MBA and a Master’s degree in public administration from the University of Miami. He specializes in helping his clients achieve financial security through strategic, personalized financial planning. Rick is a man who enjoys challenges, and for his 50th birthday celebration, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, with his son! He is a devoted father and husband, who has been married to Margarita for 34 years. Moreover, he has a long history of volunteering, dating back to the Peace Corps.

Margarita Tonkinson is an integral part of the family business. She has worked alongside Rick for 20 years, relying on her expertise in administration, office restructuring and reorganization to help build the business into the success it is today. Like her husband, she is also a graduate of the University of Miami and holds a Master’s degree in public administration. A Fulbright scholar herself, Margarita was appointed by President George Bush to serve on the J William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, and she did so from 1990-1995.

This investment in our community, in the future of our students’ means a great deal to CARTA and we are indebted to the Tonkinson.s for their leadership and commitment in achieving CARTA’s World’s Ahead vision.

To view pictures from the dedication, please click here.

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FIU Theatre Faculty Designs Set for Off-Broadway Production

It was an eventful summer for the Theatre Department’s Head of Design and Production, Jesse Dreikosen. He co-authored a two-part article, entitled “Feng Shui Me: Free Yourself from Clutter-Part 1,” which was published in the September issue of Sightlines, the monthly newsletter for United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) members (Jesse is the Vice Commissioner for Education at USITT’s Scene Design & Technologies Commission). The article explores the rewards of incorporating feng shui into one’s workspace and/or life, and suggests techniques on how to do so. This was a topic of much discussion at the USITT 2014 Annual Conference and Stage Expo, held earlier this year in Fort Worth, Texas. Look out for part 2 in next month’s edition of Sightlines.
Additionally, Jesse was tapped by Peggy McKowen, Associate Producing Director of the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF), to design the set for their world premiere show Uncanny Valley, written by Thomas Gibbons and directed by Tom Dugdale. The show originally opened in West Virginia and is currently transferring to New York City Off-Broadway and opening at 59E59 Theaters this October. This was Jesse’s first major project for CATF and the opportunity came as a result of having his past work at the Texas Shakespeare Festival noticed by McKowen. The set took him approximately six months to design and complete, and he was required to work closely with a technical director and the different teams/crews responsible for building the scene.  The project involved the gradual unveiling a robot (first appearing as a talking head, then a torso, followed by limbs), all within the constraints of a desk, while on-stage.  Working for CATF proved to be a challenging yet rewarding learning experience, and the ability to create such an illusion in a small space, while being close to the audience, required a great deal of imagination and talent from Jesse. Luckily, he has an abundance of those qualities!

For Jesse’s article, “Feng Shui Me: Free Yourself from Clutter-Part 1,” click here

To learn more about the Contemporary American Theater Festival, click here

For more information about Uncanny Valley, click here


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FIU Theatre Presents Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband,” Directed by Phillip M. Church

FIU Theatre’s production of Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband,” directed by Phillip M. Church, opens on Friday, September 26.  The play revolves around a high ranking politician with a checkered past, whose secrets are exposed by an ambitious woman seeking personal gain and status.  This psychological thriller, set in Victorian London, encompasses dance, music, comedy and drama.

A a man who lived a dualistic life, married with children while besotted by the angelic innocence of the young Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde harbored his share of secrets, and as is common with many of his works, personal threads of Wilde’s life are liberally woven into the play.  The Department of Theatre invites you to come out and enjoy this psychological, literary commentary on late 19th century British social behavior while supporting the arts.

Performance Dates: September 26-28 & October 1-5

Location: Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Performing Arts Center | Main Stage Theatre
10910 SW 17th St., Miami, Fl 33199

$10 FIU Students
$12 Seniors + FIU Faculty and Staff (with ID)
$15 General Admission
Available at wpac.fiu.edu or call 305-348-0496

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Meet & Greet Session for the Leadership Staff of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Department of Theatre, and School of Music Continues Dynamic CARTA Public/Private Partnership

On September 12, 2014, Brian Schriner, Dean, College of Architecture + The Arts, hosted a Meet and Greet session for the leadership staff of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL) to meet the faculty and staff of FIU’s Department of Theatre and School of Music. It was a fortuitous opportunity for everyone who will be involved in the state-of-the-art production, rehearsal and performance facility, currently under construction at the picturesque Biscayne Bay Campus, to meet and learn more about what this endeavor means to both institutions.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has a fleet of 21 cruise ships, housing approximately 30 million passengers each year. To keep everyone happy and entertained, they offer Tony Award winning, fully licensed Broadway productions, Las Vegas style performances, and ice and aqua spectaculars. Live auditions are held in over 60 locations worldwide where only the best performers are handpicked for their guests’ pleasure. Currently, rehearsals are being held at a 35,000 square foot building in Hollywood, Florida, but there has been a need for a greater space to accommodate the training for some time. The completion of this $20 million dollar, 130,000 square foot facility on the Biscayne Bay Campus will certainly resolve that issue.  There will be 14 vocal rehearsal studios, a 20,000 square foot costume storage and production workspace and a 300-seat Black Box Theatre, where auditions will be held. Additionally, there are plans to renovate the Bay Vista Residence Hall on campus to provide housing while performers are in rehearsals.

FIU is particularly thrilled about this venture because  it is a vital part of CARTA 2020 to establish partnerships that include of training, research and internship opportunities. It will also provide students with unparalleled experience and value to the community. Both parties intend to collaborate on a custom curriculum that will be beneficial to students and performers alike, with ship tours planned for select students, master classes in design, and mock-auditions for students to get feedback from working professionals in preparation for job readiness and career placement. In addition, faculty members will be able to participate in enrichment lectures if they choose to do so.

According to Dean Brian Schriner, “as part of our CARTA 2020 vision, we will continue to create dynamic public/private partnerships like this that are multifaceted and mutually beneficial.”

Overall, the session was well attended and most informative. We are all looking forward to January 12, 2015, which is the expected first day of rehearsal in the new facility, and to a successful, continuing partnership.

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Theatre Student Participates in Goodspeed’s Musical Theatre Dance Intensive

Undergraduate theatre major Pia Vicioso-Vila always dreamed of doing musical theatre, so she was thrilled when she found a flyer for the Goodspeed Musical Institute posted on a bulletin board in the Theatre Department. After doing some research and careful consideration, Pia decided to register for their week-long Musical Theatre Dance Intensive being offered in East Haddam, Connecticut, a program “designed as a musical theatre boot camp for college age performers and young professionals.”  She was one of ten students from the entire United States to attend this prestigious workshop. Their days were spent mastering different styles of dance (such as ballet, jazz, swing, and waltz), acting, doing voice work, and attending Q & A sessions with renowned industry professionals, where they networked with aspiring actors, dancers and singers. The workshop culminated with a mock audition in front of actual New York casting directors, producers and choreographers.

Pia was honored to have met and worked with Broadway director, choreographer and performer Randy Skinner, probably most well-known for his choreography of 42 Street, which received a Tony nomination.  Additionally, Mr. Skinner choreographed the opening number for the 2001 Tony Awards. Pia also worked with Kelli Barclay, who, coincidentally, was mentored by Randy Skinner and has performed in works such as Singin’ in the Rain with Peter Gennaro, Cabaret with George Chakris, and many more.  Pia was deeply grateful for the constructive advice she received from the talented professionals she was fortuitous enough to meet.

It is Pia’s hope to work on a cruise ship after she graduates in spring 2015 in order to gain some experience in the field, and we wish her the best in her endeavors.

For more information about Goodspeed Musical Theatre Institute, click here.

To find out about the Musical Theatre Dance Intensive and other workshops offered by the Institute, click here.

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Alumni Spotlight Victoria Collado

Victoria Collado (Class of ’12) never imagined that she would be in New York City directing for a theatre house like Repertorio Español, but that is exactly what this BFA performance alumna is currently doing. When Victoria graduated two years ago, she chose to stay in Miami where she wrote, directed and performed for Micro Theatre Miami, collaborated with fellow graduates Melissa Ann Hubicsak and Michelle Antelo at The JQ Studio and worked for ArtSpoken Performing Arts Center in Little Havana.  Then, in 2013, Victoria decided to enter the New York International Fringe Festival (described as “the largest multi-arts festival in North America, with more than 200 companies from all over the world performing for 16 days in more than 20 venues”).  She hoped that her show about famous Cuban singer La Lupe would be selected. While it unfortunately was not, she was offered a job as venue manager for the festival!  The employment brought her to New York for two months, after which she received an internship with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where she had the advantage of being exposed to many companies and opportunities.  Taking the advice of her former professor Michael Yawney, she applied to the Repertorio Español, an Hispanic-based company founded in 1968 whose mission is to use distinctive, quality productions to introduce the best of Latin American, Spanish and Hispanic-American theatre to broad audiences in New York City and across the country, most especially to seniors and students of all ethnic backgrounds.

For all her hard work and perseverance Vicky was recently awarded a prestigious Van Lier Young Director’s Fellowship. The Van Lier Young Director’s Fellowship was designed with the intention of nurturing the talent of emerging Hispanic directors in New York City.  Winners direct two performances, one contemporary and one from Spain’s “golden age,” over two summers.  The Fellowship is a fortuitous opportunity for individuals to gain experience, network with working professionals in the field and develop a palate for the diversity which makes up the Latin community on the east coast.  She just finished directing her first show, El Cruce Sobre el Niagara, a contemporary piece, which received generous reviews in the Spanish community, and is about to begin doing research for the second show, which will open in 2015. Through the winning of this award Vicky has proved that perseverance and determination really do get rewarded.

Like many of our students, Victoria attributes a great deal of her success to the foundation she was given at FIU, saying that “the job that brought me to New York was not the job I was looking for, but when the opportunity presented itself, I realized that FIU taught me more than simply how to be an actor.  I took design classes, I learned how to operate the light board, I worked as a stage hand and a stage manager AND I was taught how to be a performer at FIU.  I got a complete education, which prepared me for a future in theater.”  She is particularly thankful to faculty member Michael Yawney for his continued advice and encouragement.

Victoria has also connected with a group FIU Theatre alumni residing in New York, and together they have formed a multimedia production company called 3TO5.  “The company is set on creating, developing and showcasing the work of talented artists, be it through film, theater or web based platforms.  3TO5 strives to produce original work; the kind that artists themselves want to see.”  When she is not working at her regular job, she is busy collaborating with her former classmates on a variety of projects such as short films and web series.

When asked if she had any advice for current theatre students, she had this to say, “Another person’s journey is not your destiny, so go at your own pace and don’t give up, even when you feel discouraged.  Try to make your own work whenever possible.”

The Theatre Department wishes Victoria continued success as she pursues her dreams.

To learn more about the Repertorio Español, click here

To learn more about 3TO5, click here

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Farewell to our Department Chairperson, Marilyn Skow

In today’s workforce, it is extremely unusual for someone to work in the same place for as long as 32 years, but that is just what our departing Chairperson has done.  The Theatre Department wishes our rare gem, Marilyn, a very Happy Retirement.  Her contributions to the Department have been great, and everyone is sad to see her leave after her 32 year tenure.

Upon receiving her BA from the University of Northern Iowa (Class of ’67), Marilyn taught high school in a special pilot program in McHenry, Illinois for five years, after which, she left to work on a Master’s degree at Schiller College in Berlin, Germany, where she earned an MA (Class of ’74) in Theatre Arts.  Upon her return to the States she spent a year as the resident costume designer at the Regent Theatre in Syracuse, NY, before accepting a position at Vassar College where she worked for five years as a professional staff designer and costumer in the Theatre Department.  She continued her education at Columbia University, earning an M.Ph. (Class of ’80).  During her time in New York City she taught classes at Columbia College, Barnard College and the University of Pennsylvania.  She also worked as a freelance designer, creating costumes for two professional dance companies in the city, the Omega Company (Carla DeSola, Artistic Director) and the New York Baroque Dance Company (Catherine Turocy, Artistic Director).  She also worked as a draper in the costume shop of the New York Shakespeare Festival, working with world class designers such as Rubin Teratunion and Santo LoQuasto and dressing such stars as Meryl Streep and Sam Waterston.  In 1982, Marilyn joined the FIU family as a visiting Assistant Professor.  After receiving tenure and promotion to Associate Professor she served as the Department of Theatre and Dance Chairperson (1989 to 1991).  This is her second term as Chairperson to the department (2010 – present).  Among her many other accomplishments at FIU, she served as the Chairperson of the College of Arts & Sciences Curriculum for several years.

During her time at FIU Marilyn has continued to design professionally, earning a Carbonell nomination for her costumes for the South Florida Shakespeare Festival’s productions of Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, as well as designing costumes for Momentum Dance Company (Delma Iles, Artistic Director) since 1986, and Dance Now! Miami (Hannah Baumgarten and Diego Salterini, Artistic Directors) since 2008, along with several other organizations over the years.

Marilyn is well respected by her colleagues and staff and loved by her students.  It is common knowledge that she expects and demands a lot from staff and students alike.  She accepts nothing but the best from those around her.  As a result of these expectations, everyone puts tremendous effort into their work and strives to perfect their productions, assignments, costumes etc.

Brian Schriner, Dean of the College of Architecture + The Arts, appreciates his dear friend’s tireless devotion to FIU and the Department of Theatre’s students and faculty.  He has great respect for her vision, leadership and management.  He notes that Marilyn was instrumental in the creation of partnerships with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Gables Stage and Coconut Grove Playhouse.

Ivan Lopez (Class of ’04) admits that he knew nothing about theatre when he decided to take a Modern Dramatic Literature class with Marilyn.  Not only did that class make him fall in love with theatre, but he is currently teaching said class as an adjunct professor in the Theatre Department.  He was particularly inspired by her dialogical pedagoge, which portrayed her own love for the theatre, and accredits his career choice to her. “I have a great relationship with her and will always consider her more than my boss.  I am grateful to her for giving me this opportunity and I feel very blessed and fortunate that she has trusted me to teach this particular class.”

Charles Sothers, Theatre Arts and Program Director of the Roxy Theatre Group, has known Marilyn since 1996.  As her student, he recalls she always expected the best quality work from her students.  “Marilyn instills fear in her students.  We are not as afraid of her personality as we are of disappointing her, because she is like a mother figure.”  At the Roxy Theatre, he finds himself referencing her when he has to make a decision, “Is this Marilyn Approved?”  Both Charlie and his wife Ana credit the structure and standards they have at the Roxy to the foundation they got from FIU, and Marilyn.

Marina Pareja (Class of ’98) has known Marilyn for almost 18 years.  Marilyn was her professor, mentor, boss and friend.  They have a great working relationship because Marina can almost anticipate what Marilyn needs before she asks.  This ‘telepathic’ connection allows her to always be prepared.  She views Marilyn’s departure as bittersweet, “Knowing that she was always close by if I needed help or advice has always been comforting, but she has paid her dues and deserves this.  Although I am sad to see her leave, Marilyn has worked very hard to help the department evolve into what it is today and I wish her the best.”

Paulette Rivera, the department’s Fiscal Assistant and Marianna Murray, the Office Manager both work closely with Marilyn on a daily basis.  They consider her to be a fair and compassionate supervisor.  Paulette will miss driving Marilyn around in the golf cart.  On those short drives around campus, they got to know each other on a personal level.  Marianna will miss their ‘special lunches,’ where they got away from the office and had the opportunity to talk about things unrelated to work.

There is no doubt that Marilyn has touched many lives and her presence will be missed.  “Farewell Marilyn. We all wish you a stress-free retirement, full of happiness.”

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Alumni Spotlight Kim Ostrenko

People often ask, “What do FIU Theatre students do after they graduate?”  Kim Ostrenko (Class of ’85) has been in the film and theatre industry since earning her BFA in Performance almost three decades ago.  Her heart will always be in theatre, according to her.  She fondly remembers being introduced to her first theatre company, South of Broadway, by Theatre Department faculty member, Phillip Church.  After working briefly as a theatre hand, she was cast in two of their productions and continued auditioning locally for films, commercials, theatre and TV.

Some of Kim’s TV and film credits include roles in Graceland, Burn Notice, Magic City, Dolphin Tale, Dolphin Tale 2, A Change of Heart (As a side note, FIU Theatre alumnus Marlene Marcos also had a role in this movie), Loving the Bad Man, Boynton Beach Club and many others.  She has had roles in films with celebrities like Morgan Freeman, Seth Green, Ashley Judd, James Belushi and Aimee Teegarden.  And, yes, she does get star struck when she has the opportunity to work with famous celebrities!

She has won 5 Carbonell Awards, (Best Supporting Actress in Blue Window, Best Supporting Actress in Sam Shepard’s Simpatico, Best Ensemble in Lend me a Tenor and two different seasons of Summer Shorts).  In 2004, she was named Best Supporting Actress by Miami New Times for her role in The Gulf of Westchester at Florida Stage and in the last month for her role as Bonnie in The Last Schwartz.
It has been a long road paved with success, challenges, disappointment and periods of uncertainty for Kim.  “In this field there is more disappointment than success.  Sometimes it can be hard and, like everyone, I experience moments of self-doubt where I question my career choices.  Although it is tough to keep my spirits up all the time, I have no choice but to keep going”.  Working in the film industry requires flexibility.  She has to be ready to work with very short rehearsal times, actors must become accustomed to scenes being shot in random order, co-actors are frequently introduced to each other on the day of shooting and they need to know how to be facially subtle for film.  Fortunately, Kim has overcome many of these obstacles and is versatile and talented enough to work in both theatre and film.

When asked if she had any advice for FIU Theatre Department students, Kim had this to say, “Create your own work.  Actors, writers and musicians are publishing themselves online and it is a great opportunity for you to write some of your own material, to get your name and face out there.  Don’t rush off to LA or New York as soon as you finish school because it is incredibly competitive and if you are not unionized, you will be wasting your time.  Florida is a great place to get your SAG card.  If you are interested in film or TV, keep in mind that many shows are currently being shot in Atlanta, Louisiana, North and South Carolina.  Always remember that you have to have a thick skin in this business.  Finally, try to learn about ‘the business of acting’: writing proper resumes, getting professional head-shots etc.”

The Theatre Department is very proud to call Kim one of our own and we wish her continued success.

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FIU Theatre Students Keeping busy with Micro Theater’s First English Season

3 4 1 52This summer FIU Theatre’s alumni and students have been keeping themselves very busy by participating in Micro Theater Miami’s first English Season.  When you see seven shipping containers, adorned with graffiti, you have arrived at Micro Theater, just outside Centro Cultural Español, on Biscayne Blvd.  Each container is considered a theatre space which seats about 15 people.  It is an intimate setting which attracts a young, artistic type crowd.  Until now, performances were mainly in Spanish.
The lineup of English shows include Frank Quintana’s Oh, Shoot featuring the Department’s own senior Nelly Torres (BA in progress) as Peggy and Rafael Martinez (Class of ’14) as her boyfriend, George.  Nelly, who has been doing some networking recently, had the fortuitous opportunity to meet Frank Quintana and was later asked to read for the show.  She is thoroughly enjoying her experience with this project, “The shows are great and it is wonderful working with so many people from FIU.  I encourage everyone to come out and see the performances; they are short, inexpensive and really showcase the talent of our students.”  Alumnus Jair Bula (Class of ’13), was unable to participate in the show, but recommended Rafael Martinez whom he worked with before and considers a talented, responsible actor.
Voyeurs and Women by Fernando Bellver, directed by recent graduate Amanda Ortega, who is also playing the part of Joy, is another performance with appearances from our talented students.  After learning about the first English season at Micro Theater, Amanda expressed her interest in directing one of the shows and was given the chance to direct and perform.  “Working with my classmates is fun and interesting.  The stand-ins, Juanita Castro (Class of ’14) and Juanita Olivo (BA in progress), are also from FIU and I am lucky to be working with these talented ladies.  It has been very challenging learning how to work in such a confined space.  The stage is 4ft x 4ft, so we each have 2ft of moving space and have had to learn how to use our spaces creatively and effectively”.  Jannelys Santos (Class of ’14) got involved in this project through Amanda, and is playing the part of Cristina, a foul-mouthed sex worker.  Jannelys has had to adjust to the audience being so close to the stage, “I thought it would be easier to perform for a smaller audience, but it was intimidating at first, because they were so close.  It took a minute to get used to it, but I am enjoying my work here.”
Pesto Pasta by Nacho Redondo seems to be the star of the season, with alumnus Carolina Pozo, playing the part of Luisa, an unhappily married woman.  Carolina has been looking forward to working in this type of intimate setting, “I realize that theatre is not solely about big venues with famous actors and actresses. It is about art and talent.  The concept of Micro Theater is urban and innovative.  I love it.” The small cast Pesto Pasta has been invited to return for an encore performance as part of Best of Micro, August 8 – 10, which includes a mix of English and Spanish shows.
The other English performances are Kill It by Nancho Novo, directed by Liz Gonzalez and Own Goal by David Trueba, directed by Issam Villamil.

The Micro Theater English season runs until July 17, every Wednesday and Thursday 8:00pm – 11:00pm.
Cost: $5.00 per play or $25.00 for all performances

For more information on Micro Theater, Miami, click here

To view article from the Miami Herald, click here


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Alumni Spotlight Damian Charkiewicz

After earning a BFA in Scenic and Lighting Design at FIU in 2011, Damian Charkiewicz continued his education at Penn State University, where he is pursuing his MFA in Scenic Design with an emphasis on Production Design.  He expects to graduate at the end of this summer.  Damian attributes much of his success in grad school to a sound foundation established at FIU, “I can’t even begin to try to explain how much both Jesse and Tony are responsible for my success in grad school.  They were never scared to put me on a project. Jesse’s scenic design classes were extremely helpful in preparing me for the future.  Tony’s 2D and 3D computer drafting class put me ahead of most people applying to Masters Programs.  Many BFA and BA programs around the country do not offer as much hands on experience as FIU did”.
As an FIU student, Damian did a ten week summer internship at the Texas Shakespeare Festival.  As a Props Intern there he was part of the team responsible for designing all set and properties elements for the show.  The Theatre Department at Penn State sent him to participate in the James Thomas Rigging Experience in Knoxville, Tennessee.  This is a weeklong training program that covers truss, rigging and roof system training.  Participants are taught the math behind rigging and load data, as well as proper assembly and loading of truss.  At the end of the program, participants are rewarded with a certificate to document their accomplishment.
One of the reasons Damian chose Penn State University is because of their Summer Study Abroad Program, which is geared towards broadening the students’ understanding of theatre and culture.  His first summer was spent in London, where he saw numerous shows, visited the major museums and completed a research paper on a famous historical artist.  His second summer was spent in Eastern Europe, where the class visited Budapest, Vienna, Prague and Krakow, Poland, Damien’s birth city.  As a side note, the trip to Krakow was added because of Damien’s ability to translate Polish and navigate the city.  Damian’s final summer has been spent visiting the cities of Rome, Florence, Venice Pompeii and Sienna in Italy.
Damian intends to move to LA soon to pursue a career in his field.  We are very proud of this hard working alumnus and wish him continued success.

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Juan C. Sanchez, author of Catherine’s Wheel and this year’s New Play Development Project winner

The author of Catherine’s Wheel, this year’s New Play Development Project Winner, Juan C. Sanchez, is thrilled to be working alongside the faculty and students of FIU Theatre Department.  As a playwright, he thinks that collaborating with a talented team is helpful and useful.  “Writing is a lonely process.  Once the writing is done, you have to recognize that the director, actors and design team all bring new dimensions to your work.  If you are able to allow the process to unfold, the finished product may not be what you started with or envisioned, but can be better”.  The team is currently getting ready for opening night by editing the script and working out any production issues that arise.

The idea for this play was conceived about three years ago but never completed.  When Juan was approached by Michael Yawney, who will be directing Catherine’s Wheel, he decided to bring the plot to fruition.  A great deal of quantum physics research went into this slightly supernatural work, a genre new to Juan, who tends to produce more realistic, grounded pieces.  He liked the idea of someone working with light every day, yet having no light in their life, it creates interesting juxtaposition in the story.

Juan Sanchez is a Cuban American playwright who has been living in Florida since age six.  He is a graduate of New World School of the Arts (Class of ’92), where he studied Theatre, and Florida State University (Class of ’89), where he majored in Theatre and English.  He is currently pursuing a certificate in Radio and Television Production from Miami Dade College.  Juan has been writing for the past ten years and has had plays produced in Miami, New York, Minneapolis and Los Angeles.  Some of his theatre credits include: Paradise Motel, commissioned by Miami Theatre Center as part of The Sandbox Series and developed by The Mangrove Creative Collective; Buck Fever (Terranova Collective, The Promethean Theatre, Carbonell nominee for Best New Work; and Red Tide, The Promethean Theatre, The Minnesota Fringe Festival, also nominated for a Carbonell in the category of Best New Work.  Additionally, he is a 2013 State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship winner and a Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council Playwright’s Development Program grant award

The Theatre Department is honored to be collaborating with a talented, hard-working playwright like Juan and we hope that you will be equally as happy on opening night.

For more information on Alternative Theatre Festival 2014, please click here



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Workshop at Coral Reef High School

On May 19, FIU Theatre Department faculty member Phillip M. Church, along with theatre majors Danny Leonard (BFA Performance) and Zack Myers (BFA Performance) and Spring 2014 graduate, Charles Sothers, did an acting workshop for Nicole Quintana’s production class of juniors and seniors at Coral Reef High School.  The workshop involved performing two scenes from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey, which Phillip is currently directing for his What If Works Theatre Company.  The scenes were performed by the three actors, then Phillip gave his acting notes and they redid the scenes using Phillip’s suggestions.  The students had the opportunity to see part of the process that goes into perfecting a performance before opening night.  They were interested in learning about how actors get into character, what it feels like to be a performer on stage and the different careers available to someone with a degree in theatre.

According to Nicole, one of the things that engaged her students was the “theatre-in-the-round” seating, where the audience surrounds the stage.  The seating structure facilitated great interaction and dialogue between the two groups and they discussed the different types of theatre, seating arrangements and configuration of stages.

Another topic they explored was the idea of community theatre and reaching out to others interested in the arts and culture.  This topic is particularly dear to Charles Sothers, Theatre Arts & Programs Director of the Roxy Theatre Group.  “One of our goals at Roxy is to expand our programs and have a greater influence over the theatre community in Miami.  Although theatre has a presence in Miami, we want to encourage more people to bring their talent home and to see that opportunities do exist to use their skills in Miami.”  As someone who has been working in the field since 2001, Nicole feels very strongly about this topic as well.  In addition to being a drama teacher since 2001, she has a BFA Design degree from FIU and has worked as a paint charge, a set designer, a performer and even teaches Improv.  “People think that big theatres only exist in New York and Chicago and LA, and it is wonderful if you have the opportunity to go to those places to see and work in theatre, but we have to remember to come home and nourish our own community with our talent and experience, because that is the way to establish a greater theatre presence.”

Overall, the workshop was well received. The students were engaged, entertained and interested.

For more information on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, click here

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FIU Theatre Alumnus Writes an Award Winning Play

Juan Espinosa (Class of ’08) is a teacher at South Dade Senior High School. He recently wrote an original, award winning one act play entitled, Amygdala, which has been selected to represent the state of Florida at the Education Theatre Association’s Thespians Festival, this coming June, in Lincoln, Nebraska.  The play was first performed at a district competition, held at Hialeah High School, along with thirty other participating schools.  South Dade Senior High and five other schools were then selected to continue on to the Florida State Thespian Festival in Tampa.  This state competition was attended by over seven thousand students and is considered the largest theatre festival in Florida.  Amygdala received numerous accolades from the judges and was the only play chosen from about 50 productions screened at the festival.  At the conference in Nebraska, attendees will have the opportunity to experience other high school performances, attend workshops/master classes, have their work reviewed by working professionals, participate in student leadership programs, and attend auditions for college admission and Thespian scholarships.

After graduating from FIU Theatre in 2008, Juan began his career as a substitute teacher.  In 2009, he joined North Miami Senior High School as a full time faculty member and remained there until he accepted another faculty position at South Dade Senior High School in 2013.  When he wrote this one act play, based on an idea he conceived in a play writing course he took at FIU, he had no idea that it would receive such great reviews.  Juan is extremely proud of his work, his students’ achievements and the cast, which he chose based on acting ability and the talent they brought to auditions.  So far, Amygdala has won an award for Best Play in Florida and a Best Actor Award at the district theatre competition.  Two students, Marco Guerra and Mary Maturana, received superior ratings for their monologues and will have the opportunity to perform them and get feedback from experts in the field at the national conference.

As a side note, this is the second FIU Theatre alumnus to have received the distinction of having their production selected to represent Florida at the national Educational Theatre Association’s Thespian Festival in recent years.  Two years ago Paul Lobeck (Class of ’97) and his Miami Southridge High Spartan Players Troupe 1641, with their production of The Serpent, in the category of one-act plays, was selected for this honor.  Juan’s accomplishment is just further evidence of how our graduates are making a difference in the community.

Despite the stellar reviews and praise the play received, there is a possibility that the students of South Dade Senior High School Theatre Magnet Program will not attend the national conference in Nebraska.  All the schools funds and resources were invested into getting them to the state competition in Tampa, leaving the program with insufficient funds to go to Nebraska.  For the entire cast of 36 to attend, they must raise $31, 000 in a short space of time.  This event is a fortuitous opportunity for these hard working students, and it would be most unfortunate if they could not attend due to a lack of funds.  If you would like help this very deserving group of students and wish to make a donation, click here or send a check payable to South Dade Senior High School Theatre Program, in a sealed envelope, to the attention of Juan Espinosa.

For more on this story click here


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