Ten theater students took their education at Montclair State and extended it to Santiago, Chile over spring break. Thanks to cooperation between the Department of Theater and Dance and the Global Education Center, a handful of students enjoyed an adventure to South America for their mid-semester reprieve. In an intense week that combined sightseeing and theater workshops, a rare and valuable collaboration took place between Montclair State University and Universidad del Mayor.
Hiking up the tallest mountain in the city, Cerro San Cristobal, exploring the Pre-Columbian and National Art Museums as well as seeing the Santiago Cathedral were all part of the immersive experience that Montclair State students received during their trip. A full day excursion to Isla Negra, the coastal area in which Pablo Neruda stayed was also part of the trip. Neruda, the Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet, maintained an eccentric collection of art and furniture that stunned many on the trip.
Angelica Ubiera, sophomore BFA acting major, found this experience to be her favorite. “Looking at all of the beautiful stones that made up Isla Negra and realizing that nature was so amazing was my favorite experience. It was such a humbling moment that many people don’t ever experience from living in the concrete jungle.” The tropical climate made the stay very enjoyable.
In addition to this, four days of concentrated theater work were interspersed throughout the week. Students were tested emotionally, mentally and physically while they engaged with Chilean students also studying theater in Santiago. Not only did they collaborate in scene work, but vocal, acting and movement training was also completed in an integrated and immersive setting.
Kacie Layne, a senior BFA acting major, said, “I genuinely felt so connected with everyone at the Mayor. We immediately did an exercise where we had to take one another in only using our eyes. It showed me the power of silence and eye contact that opened me up as an actor. The students there value human-to-human connection and enjoy a quality of living that people in the United States don’t generally have.” Many of the Montclair State students found themselves establishing meaningful relationships with the students at the Mayor that may last a long time.
Finding such strong relationships in a foreign environment was a huge task to bestow upon these students, but this group of 10 made the most of their 10-day experience.
Rebecca DeMarco, a junior BFA acting major, felt that the program opened her up as both an actor and a human being. “Seeing a part of the world that I never thought I would experience made me see my life differently, in a more wholesome and gracious way. The gratitude I have for being a part of this journey goes beyond words, and my hope is that more students get to experience the beauty and passion of the culture in Santiago.”
Katherine Wainscott, a sophomore stage management major, said, “By far, my favorite memory was walking into Universidad del Mayor in the morning and everyone coming up to say hello. It’s a small moment, but it captures the openness and the welcoming nature of the students there. I felt enveloped in the culture and felt at home in a place so far from home.”
The students on this trip were able to discover theater in a school setting, but were also exposed to the professional theater scene of Santiago. “Ellos” at the Teatro Azares was a social commentary on the Chilean foster care system and inspired an emotional reaction from several of the students. Teatro Azares is a venue for recent graduates of theater in the city.
“Clase,” a play by award-winning Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderon, was also on the itinerary at Teatro Mori. This show was followed by a question-and-answer session with the renowned writer himself. Two students, Noah Befeler and Julian Morales, had the opportunity to speak to him in person.
Lastly, at the renowned cultural arts center known as the GAM, students were able to see the hard-hitting and emotional rollercoaster that was “Flowers for Algernon” — a production which won Best New Play in the city.
This program is brand new, and theater professors Debbie Saivetz and Heather Benton have been working for years to make this art exchange a reality. Saivetz said, “This bilingual, bicultural acting exchange that we’ve been developing over the past four years surpassed all of my expectations. It was so inspiring to watch the 10 Montclair State students and 11 U Mayor students collaborating on acting scenes in English and Spanish, dancing the cueca and spending loads of free time together. The students from both universities demonstrated such generosity, courage and kindness… and it really blossomed as artists and global citizens. This is truly global diplomacy at work.”
After the first run of this program, it is hopeful that it is continued in upcoming years. For all of the students involved, this acting exchange was something they will never forget.