VPCC students (from left) Samantha Stegall, Travough Lane, David Salmeron, Amanda Moon, Hannah Southers, and Matilyn Burnette participated in an acting workshop with The American Theatre in Hampton.
Without a theater to call its own, the Virginia Peninsula Community College fine arts department has to find creative ways to provide instruction and experiences to its theater students.
In the spring 2022 semester, the College collaborated with The American Theatre in Hampton to provide students a hands-on learning experience. An eight-week class was developed in which students were taught what happens behind the scenes to make a successful production. Those students were able to shadow the theater’s tech staff when a professional company visited.
This year, there was a different collaboration. Theater and acting students were invited to a matinee performance of “Romeo and Juliet” by The Acting Company at The American Theatre, a Q-and-A session following the show and a workshop with the actors the following day.
“Our acting students were able to work with professional actors,” said Sandra Calderon-Doherty, an assistant theater professor and chair of the liberal arts department, marveling at the opportunity.
For her students taking acting classes, as well as those in Introduction to Theater, it’s important to watch live theater, which the College has been unable to provide since a portion of the roof on Templin Hall collapsed April 5, 2021.
“That was pretty important for us to be able to do that,” she said.
Danny Devlin has been the arts education manager of Hampton Arts since September 2022. He said part of the theater’s mission is to provide educational opportunities.
“What we’re offering is arts exposure, which is probably the next best thing to the ‘doing’ of the art form,” he said. “I think that’s the real value.”
What the theater was able to offer the students was a different way for students to experience it.
“I know Sandra works very hard in the classes to give them meaningful experiences, but without being able to be on stage, we try to do the next best thing for them,” Devlin said.
Calderon-Doherty has 18 students in her Introduction to Theater class and seven in her acting class. Just the latter were invited to participate in the workshop since it was an acting workshop. However, all were invited to the live performance.
“The American Theatre is helping us fulfill the learning outcome for our performing arts students,” she said. “That’s the important bit of this because we simply can’t offer that right now. It’s helping us fulfill those learning objectives.”
Some of her students had never been to a live performance.
“That’s important to have that experience,” she said.
She said the students enjoyed the opportunity to be in the presence of working, professional actors.
“Even when we had a full program, it’s rare for our students to ever have the opportunity to have a workshop with professional actors,” she said. “It really gave them the opportunity to see that what we teach them here is in line with what people do at the professional level.”
Alongside VPCC students at the workshop were students from Hampton University and Christopher Newport University. Calderon-Doherty said that was important because it allowed her students to see they are no different from those at a four-year college.
“They were able to be on par. That’s really great to see,” she said.
Devlin said it was a couple of intense days, and he was impressed with the effort the students put into the workshop.
“We had students from VPCC, and CNU, and Hampton University, and they were all giving it their all, which is always terrific,” he said.
He noted it was not the last step in the relationship between the College and the theater. Calderon-Doherty said her performing arts students have been invited to attend a performance by the Second City Touring Company at The American Theatre on March 21.
“We’re thrilled the City of Hampton can provide these opportunities to VPCC students in keeping with our educational and artistic missions to encourage participation in the arts through community outreach,” said Richard Parison, the artistic director of Hampton Arts.
For more on information on the College’s Fine Arts program, go to https://www.vpcc.edu/programs/pathways/arts-and-humanities.html.
For more on The American Theatre, go to https://www.hamptonarts.org/.