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U.S. Department of State Grant Supports International Theater Exchange Program

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Chile’s capital city of Santiago is home to a vibrant cultural life – and to Montclair State partner university, the Universidad Mayor. A U.S. Department of State grant will increase and diversify study abroad between the two campuses by supporting an innovative collaborative theater exchange program.

A $42,000 U.S. Department of State Partners of the Americas 2017 Capacity Building Grant for U.S. Undergraduate Study Abroad has recently been awarded to Montclair State Theatre and Dance Professor Heather Benton and Global Education Center Programs Coordinator Wendy Gilbert-Simon.

Their project, Devised Theatre Project of the Americas, builds on a successful 2016 theater exchange program between the two universities. Led by Benton and Montclair State Theatre and Dance Professor Debbie Saivetz, Montclair State students visited Universidad Mayor where they worked with Mayor Professor Leonor Lopehandia to explore Sergei Belbel’s play Caresses during their spring break. The new award will support an innovative, sustainable, three-semester program for students from both Montclair State and Universidad Mayor, who will work together to create and ultimately perform an original, bilingual theater piece.

“The Global Education Center seeks to expand international education opportunities for all Montclair State students by creating affordable and innovative programs,” says Gilbert-Simon. “The excitement generated by the 2016 theater student exchange program with Chile clearly called out for further development. We are so very pleased to receive this award.”

Students enrolling in the project courses will explore the intersections between their diverse cultures. According to Benton, around 20 students – 10 from each university – from a variety of majors will be led by faculty through a unique, three-semester collaborative process.

During the 2017 fall semester, students from the two universities will connect online. Two phases of live collaboration and international travel will follow, with Montclair State students traveling to Chile over spring break in 2018 and with the Chilean students visiting Montclair State in fall 2018. “Each exchange will include a weeklong developmental rehearsal process, a ‘work-in-progress’ showing and an itinerary of cultural explorations in each country,” notes Benton.

Throughout the project, faculty from both institutions will lead students through a bilingual creative process. “The content and themes of the piece will emerge from the students and from the collaborative process, which will guide the creation and dictate the form,” explains Benton. “The devising process will invite curiosity, ignite deep personal reflection and provoke questioning. Through this intense process, the students will discover the theme or themes that demand exploration.”

The Devised Theatre Project strengthens an ongoing partnership between Montclair State and Universidad Mayor. In 2014, a U.S. Department of State innovation grant supported a collaborative biotechnology course between the two institutions, while the spring 2016 pilot program in Santiago laid the groundwork for the newly funded project. “It was fascinating to observe students from both institutions explore and connect to one another with such bravery and freedom through the craft of acting and a shared theatrical text,” recalls Benton. “Creating an original piece of theater together seemed like the perfect next step and we are elated to have the opportunity to bring this project to fruition over the next three semesters.”

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