To Ecuador…and Beyond

Abi Nelson participated in PAA’s Music Internship in Ecuador in Fall 2017. She is from Edinburgh and has just begun a job at The Orpheus in Surrey just outside London, an opportunity she says grew directly out of the work she did during her PAA program. Another exciting example of a PAA participant using our program as a springboard for her career in the arts!

Getting ready to leave university is a pretty daunting thing. Will I get a good grade? Where will I be in a few months time? How will I pay for things without student finance? Will I get a job?? I never would have guessed that just 3 months after walking across that stage in my gown and cap that not only would I have travelled across the world to live in Ecuador for two months doing something amazing, but I would also get a job that I not only get paid for, but I LOVE. And who’s to thank?

Performing Arts Abroad.

Love at first sight…

In my final months of my university career, I had a lot of thinking to do. I knew I wanted to travel after I graduated. I also knew I wanted to work in the field of Theatre for Development. What I didn’t know is that I could do both those things immediately after I finished university and that one would provide a kickstart for the other. How did it all happen? Well, that’s a long story. But I’ll try cut it down for you…


Going back a few years, when I was 18 I went to study Drama at Kingston University in London. Not exactly a parent’s dream – especially when I threatened to study Law just a few years prior – but my favourite subject nonetheless. Apart from knowing I didn’t want to be an actress, I didn’t have a clue what I would do with a degree in Drama. I loved directing, teaching… anything that helped others achieve anything they wanted. But it wasn’t until my third year of university that I discovered Theatre for Development (TfD – theatre used as a developmental tool). I had finally found what I had been looking for, putting my passion for the Arts into helping others.


It was while searching for a way to combine my new found love with my old one – Theatre for Development and travel – when I stumbled upon Performing Arts Abroad, an amazing organisation offering study abroad programs, internships, and volunteer opportunities all over the world in the Performing Arts.

Skipping ahead a few months and I’m all set to head off to Ecuador! The team at PAA had made everything so easy. They had listened to everything I hoped to achieve during my time abroad and tailored a programme just for me. I was off to work in Sinamune, a school for disabled people with a focus on the Performing Arts. And although the school didn’t have drama lessons, they said I could start my own drama class. It seemed too good to be true!

As soon as I arrived in Quito I knew I was somewhere special. From the beautiful mountains and volcanos to the exquisite streets and parks, I had a feeling I was going to have an amazing two months. Arriving at Sinamune only confirmed that.

Sinamune is an amazing organisation founded by Edgar Palacios, Ecuador’s famous trumpet player. Starting as just music classes for a few disabled people, it has expanded to an amazing school with around 80 students studying music, dance and art, along with regular studies such as language skills and maths. From my second week, I was teaching 15 students drama (and 3 students Piano). It had its challenges of course, like the students having no previous drama experience and me having not too much skill with Spanish (the language I had to teach in). But with 6 hours of Spanish classes a week after school and the ever-growing confidence of my students, we very quickly got into the swing of things. And we had something to work towards! The school wanted the class to do a performance at the end of my 8 weeks in front of fellow students, the students’ families, and tourists. I remember feeling so much pride and love for every one of my students that day.

While doing some research for what to do with my drama class, I found the website for an amazing company in the UK doing a similar thing to Sinamune. The Orpheus Centre is an independent specialist college in Surrey that increases the confidence and skills of young disabled adults through the performing arts. I knew instantly I wanted to be a part of it, and there happened to be a job going in the fundraising department. I have always enjoyed fundraising and I knew it can be an invaluable way of ensuring the continuity of organisations like Orpheus and Sinamune. Although I was worried about my reasonable lack of experience, I applied. Not long after, I was having an interview over Skype. They were so interested to hear about the work I was doing at Sinamune and thought it gave me invaluable, transferable experience that I could bring to Orpheus. I was overjoyed when I got the job offer.

After a tearful leaving party, and an incredible trip through the Cloud Forest, Andes and Amazon with my dad, I was ready to head back home. I had a few days at home to say hi to the family, then I was back down South to start my next adventure. I truly believe my experience in Ecuador not only gave me life-long friends and memories, but it also gave me a much clearer picture of what I wanted to do and a huge boost into my career.

Performing Arts Abroad Welcomes Joe Dulude II!

Performing Arts Abroad is thrilled to introduce the newest member of our team, Joe Dulude II. Joe is a highly accomplished makeup designer, best known for his designs on Wicked, the internationally acclaimed musical. His work with Wicked has taken him all over the world, and gets him to London almost every year when the West End cast changes over. We’re so excited to have Joe advising everyone who has expressed interest in our programs, and helping them take the first step on their journey abroad to pursue their artistic passion! To learn more about Joe, visit his website and feel free to contact him at or 413-341-5570 ext. 2004. Enjoy this short interview with Joe!


I have to start this interview by asking about Wicked. How did you get involved with the original production of such an iconic musical?


I had just moved back to NYC from LA to take over doing makeup for Vanessa Williams on Into the Woods.  The costume designer of that show is Susan Hilferty, who is the costume designer for Wicked.  I had read the book and loved it and when I found out she was going to be designing it, I said to her that I would love to work on it.  Not long before the cast and crew were to leave to go to San Fran for the out-of-town tryout, I got a call from her assistant about coming in to interview to design the show.  I went to the interview and was informed that they were looking for someone who had more of an editorial background rather than theatre as they didn’t want the makeup to look stereotypically theatrical.  My makeup background had been in fashion and editorial and I received a call a week later that I got the job.


What most excites you about joining Performing Arts Abroad as our new Program Advisor?


I think what excites me the most about joining PAA is that I get to help people achieve their dreams and goals of studying abroad.  I had always wanted to study abroad but due to finances, never could do it.  I also had a lot of fear about going abroad.  I had never been and the thought of going alone scared me.  I wasn’t sure I would be able to succeed.  I regret that.  So if I can help someone else push past the fear and move them into excitement, then that is a success for me.

What’s your #1 tip for performing artists who are preparing to travel abroad?


My number one tip is to research.  Find out about the city and the country you are going to.  Research local customs, foods, places of interest.  The more prepared you are, the better the trip is.  Whenever I travel I find out as much as I can.  I don’t plan my excursions day-to-day, but I make a list of things I want to see and experience.  It’s amazing when you travel, the people you will meet and the things you will see.  So I think it is important to have as much knowledge as you can and then be ready for anything that comes your way.  You have to be open and adventurous so that you can get as much out of travel as you can.



Tell us about a favorite current or recent artistic project you’ve worked on.


One artistic project that I am very proud of is my piece Project Wound.  For Project Wound, I took 30 people of different races, ages, socio-economic backgrounds, etc. and I asked them what it is that they are afraid of with the country and the world in the state it is in.  I listened to them speak about their fears and then interpreted that into some kind of wound makeup on them.  I then shot photos of them, just on my phone.  After, I asked them to condense their fears into 1 or 2 brief sentences and recorded it.  I mixed these vocals together, overlapping at times to create chaos, and then other times certain words or phrases pop out.  I showed it at a pop up art show in NYC this summer and it will be up at the Full Disclosure Festival in Amherst this month.


If you could do one of our programs yourself, which would you choose and why?


I think out of all the programs, I would choose Theatre Volunteering in the Galapagos.  I have never been to that area of the world and think it is just a magical, unique and beautiful place.  Also, one of the most important things is that it is volunteering and working with youth.  I work at a camp every year and have taught makeup to kids often.  I love working with kids and helping them to realize their dreams.  I think one of the most important things you can do is to teach children that they can be better, that the world can be better and that they can make it better.  And there is no better way than through the performing arts.  By using performing arts we can express emotions or talk about issues that might otherwise be difficult.  It is a great bridge between fact and fiction.

Memories That I Will Cherish Forever, stories from Quito

 Check out Chris’ life changing adventure in Quito, Ecuador as a music intern (and his amazing pictures!)

My time spent in Ecuador turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life! Everything from interacting with the people who live there, working there, traveling, and just experiencing life as an Ecuadorian citizen for four weeks helped to shape this life-changing endeavor.

The first weekend in the city spared no time acclimating me to what my life over the next four weeks was going to be like. My first weekend was spent in a hostel. The women who ran the hostel were my first introduction to the people of Quito. Even though to them, I was simply a customer staying in their place of business, they treated me as family and were very helpful in making me comfortable and calming my nerves for that first day. Since I teach in the public school system in Phoenix, Arizona, I knew a little bit of Spanish traveling down to Ecuador. However, I quickly found out how much Spanish I didn’t know when people started talking to me and I couldn’t understand them.

Once I got to my host family’s home, I started to become more acquainted with what my life was going to like there in Quito. My host family experience was very special. I became quite close with my host mother and the rest of her family. They even celebrated my birthday with me with a nice dinner, a cake, and a special gift. When it came time for me to leave Ecuador, leaving that home was very difficult because it’s almost as if they accepted me as one of their family members.

SI.NA.MU.NE was the school where I was working during my time in Ecuador. The school was originally opened as a school of music for students with special needs and disabilities, but, then transformed into more. One man, who is a renowned musician in Ecuador, had a dream to open this school and provide these students with an exceptional education and musical experience. Over the last twenty-five years, this school has grown to include more arts classes including visual art, media art, and dance. There are also services available for occupational therapy as well as general education.

The staff at SI.NA.MU.NE was exceptional. From the first day, everyone there was so welcoming and so grateful for our (the volunteers) help. What made it even more special was that we weren’t necessarily treated as volunteers. We were treated as equals; as employees of the school. Not only the staff, but, the students were exceptional as well. Every student came with different experiences and a different story. Getting to know these students, work with them, laugh with them, and make music with them created memories that I will cherish forever.

Finally, the last aspect of my trip that I wish to speak of is the people of Ecuador. I’ve never been to a place where people are so willing to help out anyone that needs it. There were times when I was lost, missed my exit on the bus, or didn’t know what I was ordering to eat and the people were so unbelievably helpful. One gentleman even got out of his seat to stop the bus for me because I missed my exit. Also, there was a woman who set up everything for me down in Ecuador. Her kindness and her assistance during my time went above and beyond anything I would have ever expected. She made all of us volunteers feel welcome, comfortable, and got us to fall in love with the country. I’m grateful that I can now call this woman a dear friend of mine.

Thank you to Performing Arts Abroad for setting up this trip for me. Everything worked out exceptionally well and I did not have one single bad experience during my time. It was also very comforting to know that if something were to happen while I was down there, I had connections both in the country and back here in the United States to contact. Even when I was down there, PAA consistently checked up on me to make sure I was having a fantastic experience. All I can really say to sum up this trip is that I absolutely cannot wait to go back and live in Ecuador again.

Never Wake A Sleeping Sea Lion

Kayla Mernoff stops by to let us in on her summer music volunteering in the Galapagos!

             Within minutes of arriving on the island of San Cristobal for my music volunteering program in the Galápagos, I had already seen a beach, a few sea lions, and probably got a little bit sunburnt. It was an incredible feeling, to say the least. At that point in time I didn’t know how quickly four weeks could go by, and how much of an impact this trip would have on my life.

I arrived at my host family’s house and was immediately greeted by my host parents who were waiting to help me carry my suitcases to my room and introduce me to the rest of the family. I learned pretty quickly that they spoke almost no English, and while this seemed slightly intimidating at first, I was excited to improve my Spanish. After a trip to the office and a tour around the town, I discovered that I would spend my time teaching beginning English, and then working with a teacher at the local music school. While I was not expecting to teach English, I was up for the challenge and excited for what lay ahead of me.

The first few days of work took a little adjustment, but I soon got into a routine. At the time there was one other volunteer working with me at both the office and the music school, and she showed me how everything was laid out and how she went about teaching. The group of five year olds I was working with in the English class liked to run around, climb on top of me, and pretty much do anything except do their work. Though they seemed very against productivity at first, I soon learned how to have fun and teach them the alphabet at the same time. As I do speak Spanish, the language barrier was not a huge issue, but I did learn that it is sometime difficult to understand little kids, no matter what language they are speaking.

At the music school we helped with the violin and beginner music classes, along with teaching private piano lessons. The kids were very interested in learning, and even though they were only between the ages of 3 and 6, I could tell that some of them will grow into talented musicians if they continue with their teacher, Alva. Teaching 3 year olds about the musical staff and treble clef was no easy task, but by the end of my four weeks, they even knew a few notes on the piano. My piano student also improved each week, even though he was always tired and I am not the best pianist, and this was definitely an encouraging feat for me. I was also given a chance to play trumpet (my primary instrument) at a local church, thanks to Alva! By the end of my trip I had two other volunteers working with me at the school, and we are now fluent in what I like to call “Spanish for musicians.” I connected so well with Alva that I am now working on a project to send her students more instruments, as they do not have very many. I look forward to keeping in contact with her and the students, and hope that I can provide them with the instruments that they need to teach more kids the joy of music.

As amazing as the opportunities to volunteer on the island were, I cannot leave out the incredible people that I met and places that I visited. Going into this I was unaware of how many different countries were represented by the volunteer staff. While I met volunteers from the United States, the majority of my friends were from Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, and even Australia! We met up most afternoons after work, and sometimes again after dinner. We took daily trips to nearby beaches, went snorkeling with sea turtles and sea lions, saw the Giant Tortoises, and even got to travel to two of the other islands to explore, swim, shop, and just spend time together. I’ve mentioned sea lions a few times now, so I should probably mention that they are EVERYWHERE. They lie on the benches, play in the sand, ad make a lot of noise. We were advised not to go near them, and I saw plenty of people try to pet them, unsuccessfully I might add. Beware of the Alpha Male! One of my favorite memories of this whole trip was taking pictures at sunset on one of the nearby beaches, Playa Mann. I was able to bring my trumpet, and take an incredible picture right next to the sea lions. That picture is surely the best representation of my trip.

            Overall, this was one incredible experience. The kids I taught all hugged me on my last day, and one of them even drew mea picture called “La Fiesta de Cumpleaños de Las Profes” (birthday party for the teachers). Between the kids, my host family, and all of the friends I made, I have people all over the world that I share these special memories with.

As much as learned on this trip about music, Spanish, and myself, I learned two major lessons that I will never forget: Glue and glitter do not mix with five year olds, and more importantly, never wake a sleeping sea lion.



Julia Perry Alum Spotlight Interview: RADA

We had a chance to catch up with PAA alum Julia Perry, and she offered us some insight about her experience on our RADA program!

1. What skills did you pick up that most helped you professionally?

The skills I picked up that helped me the most were most definitely those I developed when I was thrown into living and studying with a completely new group of people. Not only was it my first time living on my own, but it was my first time living in another country, and so immediately we all learned how to live and function as a little family. Additionally, I learned how to navigate and stay focused during a long school day! Although the classes are quite enjoyable, they are very long days, and so I learned how to stay energized and focused through long classroom days!

2. What is your fondest memory from RADA?

My fondest memory by far is the last day of classes. Doing our mini performance we weren’t focused on anything but doing our best and having fun, and without a doubt, I look back on that and smile because it was simply a wonderful day.

3. What impressed you the most about the program?

What impressed me most about the program was how knowledgeable the professors were on Shakespeare. Every question we had was answered intelligently and in a way that we could understand, making learning about Shakespeare not only easy, but truly fun.

4. What advice would you give to someone going on the program this summer?

Go with an open mind! Be ready to learn and work hard, but also have a lot of fun. My days were filled with text break downs and dance classes, and my nights were filled with delicious dinners!

PAA RADA Shakespeare Acting Intensive

Amy Abrigo did our RADA “Shakespeare at Large” Summer Acting Intensive last summer, 2016. We caught up with Amy as she was applying to MFA Directing programs, and here’s what she had to say:

1. What skills did you pick up that most helped you professionally?

Remembering to breathe! This is a skill that can be used in any profession or stressful situation, but it was really wonderful to be shown so many ways to get connected to our breath.

The professor who taught us voice (not singing) shared with us plenty of stretches, warm ups, and ways to get our voices connected to the text. We learned new ways to breathe and were also heavily reminded to keep breathing while onstage. There is so much that can really come alive onstage when you are fully connected to your breath.

2. What is your fondest memory from RADA? 

  1. One of my fondest memories from RADA was watching the other members of my class visibly grow in their skill-set as the course continued. We learned so much in a short amount of time, and it was beautiful to see those changes come alive when we were asked to redo our monologue at the end of the week that we originally did on the first day.
  2. There was a time when the entire class went out to a pub after class to get to know each other and have a good time. We were all talking about practicing lines and working hard and it was great to be in a space where everyone was there for the same purpose and really enjoyed what they were doing in the program.
  3. Every day, Tim would sit us down during rehearsal and just talk to us. Tell us about theatre, share stories of his past with us, and teach us these beautiful overarching lessons through one story. I really enjoyed when he shared his wisdom with us, and it reminded me of how although we live in different countries and focus on specific disciplines, all of my fellow students and professors are part of this larger lovely community of theatre artists who just love making art and that really excites me.

3. What impressed you the most about the program?

The level of training we received was nearly equivalent to master’s level in the United States, in my opinion, which was fantastic! All of the professors treated us as professional artists. We were given high expectations and expected to follow them and that was it. I loved that we were actually pushed to challenge ourselves and learned so much along the way.

4. What advice would you give to someone going on the program this summer?

Arrive earlier or stay later if you can so you can really explore London, the theatres, etc. If you can, save up or fundraise extra money so you can make a longer trip out of the program. You’re going to London, why not take a train to Scotland? Or stay a few more days in London just to explore?

I would also highly recommend getting most of your food from the grocery store instead of eating out or PRET-A-MANAGER, which can be much more expensive and not necessarily as healthy. There are so many grocery stores on almost every block in London, so it is easy to find a Sainsbury’s, where you can get a 3-5 pound meal deal, which means you pay about 3-5 pounds for a full lunch. This is a great option for RADA lunches, is much cheaper, and actually quite healthy as they use all natural ingredients and have healthier options in London compared to America.

I would also recommend carrying cash instead of using a card as there are transaction fees every time you use your card. Take money out in waves with your debit card if you need to, and then just use cash. It’s so much easier and doesn’t cost you more.

Try out a few of the local pubs! Alcohol actually tastes much better in London, is much cheaper, and there are so many more options! Also, the bartenders actually let you try something before you buy it, so try something new!

Theatre is much cheaper in London and every West End theatre has rush or lottery tickets, so try for those! They are the cheapest tickets and also the best (usually front row)! Don’t forget about the other off-West End theatres in London. I’d recommend the Almeida Theatre, but ask your professors! They know the area, they might even be working on a show, and they can let you know what shows are open and good to see! So bring extra money for tickets! Be sure to see any ‘Broadway’ shows you want to see as well because – you guessed it – they are actually cheaper in London.

Be sure to check out the local museums – I recommend the Victoria & Albert museum, but look up when you are walking around or taking the tube because you will see posters everywhere telling you what exhibits are currently out, etc.

Also, take the Tube! You have an Oystercard for a majority of the program, but there are some days that aren’t covered, and if you arrive early / stay late for the trip, you can order a visitor’s Oystercard online ahead of time for a lower cost. If you can get day passes instead of individual rates it’s great because you can take the Tube/buses as much as you want whenever you want and not have to worry. Use the Tube! Yes, you can walk everywhere, but you will get a lot more done if you use the Tube to explore all the areas of London. Don’t be afraid! You will make it, and you will feel so much better once you get a hang of the system – and then you will ask why every country doesn’t have this much accessibility.