Socially-Distanced Children Connect through Virtual Theatre Experiences


Sisters Leah and Hannah Payne log on to Zoom for a virtual children's theatre workshop.Young actors had a chance to get in character with their socially-distanced friends while PBA Theatre students added hands-on teaching experience to their portfolios, thanks to virtual children’s theatre activities.

Students from professor Allen McCoy’s Theatre for Young Audiences course led two free workshops for students in grades 3 through 12. The workshops were in addition to a Facebook Live performance of “The Tempest” presented by homeschool students in professor Kyle Schnack’s “I Will Shakespeare” masterclass.

Sisters Hannah and Leah Payne relished the opportunity to engage in theatre games online. Previously, Leah played Olaf in “Frozen Jr.,” and Hannah served as the stage hand.

“I love acting, and now no one can really get together,” said 11-year-old Leah, who is finishing the 5th grade. “I really like that I got to do what I love.”

McCoy’s students designed the activities based on Florida standards for teaching theatre. For one workshop, students brought an item from their house and acted out a commercial advertising it for something other than its intended purpose. One youngster, for example, peddled a video game controller as the ultimate head massager.

In another game, one person pretended to go to the grocery store and the others had fun guessing silly items the shopper was looking for – all starting with the same letter of the alphabet. In yet another, the children created a humorous story as they took turns delivering good and bad news.

The exercises revealed to Hannah Payne, 13, that a lot of times during acting, “You have to be able to improv quickly.”

One of McCoy’s students, sophomore Mary Workman, said the experience taught her a lot about how to keep classes engaged. In a “freeze” activity she led, two people acted out an improv scene and anyone from the audience could yell “freeze” at any time. That person could take the place of one of the actors.

“It’s important, especially for the younger classes, to involve all the students, no matter what you’re doing,” Workman said.

Ben Zetouni, 13, said knew he wanted to act out a scene in the “freeze” game and realized he only had one chance. So he went for it. The exercise taught him to be more confident.

Zetouni likes entertaining, but a big part of the workshops’ draw was seeing his children’s theatre friends. Ever since he participated in a production of “The Addams Family,” he’s been hooked. He played Alonso in “The Tempest” and has a part as a policeman in the upcoming production of “Footloose.”

When the pandemic upended schedules, virtual “Tempest” rehearsals every Tuesday became an anchor for the family, mom Rachel Zetouni said. The additional children’s theatre workshops were a positive outside influence after weeks of social distancing, she said.

“He loves children’s theatre,” Zetouni said. “They’ve really been a positive influence and like family to him. He’s always so happy afterward.”

Photo: Sisters Leah and Hannah Payne log on to Zoom for a virtual children's theatre workshop.