Spain Times

Hannah McCarthy is a PAA alumnus who interned at La Caldera dance studio in Barcelona, Spain during the summer of 2017. The video below is the final product of Hannah’s capstone project.

During my eight week Dance Internship in Spain, Barcelona quickly became like a second home to me. After being ushered into a taxi with my new roommate, Natalia, I realized that I would be learning even more about myself than expected that summer.

First lesson: Step, or might I say, leap out of your shell as soon as possible!

PAA makes a point of mixing their students with other groups studying or working in Barcelona. I had a roommate from Virginia and flatmates from California and North Carolina. Each of us from different places, interning in different fields, yet we were plopped together in a nice apartment in Gracia, expected to become friends for life. Well…it worked. I’ve never met a more talented, interesting group of women who I could spend every waking moment with while seeing new places and experiencing new things.

Once I quickly got comfortable with the roomies, it was time to start work. An all new group of people, with even more diverse backgrounds, and a bit of a language barrier (my Spanish was a little rusty at the beginning). I interned at La Caldera, a dance and scenic art creation center that opens its doors to artists, teachers and audiences of all kinds. Here, I would be able to watch and participate in the inner workings of a dance focused non-profit, while also taking professional level classes and building an international network of dancers and artists. Needless to say I was nervous taking my first steps through the big glass doors.

All the nerves and first-day jitters vanished when Raquel Ortega, my supervisor, immediately smiled, grabbed my hands, then kissed both of my cheeks. Never have I felt more welcome in a work environment. This jubilation in meeting a new acquaintance was something I was not used to in America. I would continue to notice the accommodating nature of the Spanish culture throughout the 8 weeks of my immersion.

Second lesson:  Observe, take note, make change.

As time rolled by, I was rapidly becoming more infatuated with Barcelona and its slower-paced, laid-back tone. As a part of my internship, I got to walk around Barcelona’s various artistic districts to deliver fliers and promote upcoming shows. Some people might not be attracted to the idea of walking up to 11 miles per day and tirelessly hopping on and off the Metro, but I couldn’t get enough. Every day was a new discovery. I found exhibit after intriguing exhibit. I watched artists at work in studios. I saw street art of every color and style. I also made mistakes and got lost a few times, which only allowed me to see more of the city and its carefree people. After about the second week, I started to slow down my relentless power walk and breathe in each moment. The world around me was opening. I was speaking more Spanish to local shop owners, even ordering my coffee in Catalan. I was on a mission to adapt to my surroundings, and I was welcomed with open arms. That is when Barcelona became home.

Perhaps the most inviting community in Barcelona was the dance scene. When it came to taking dance classes, my nerves were at their pinnacle. I had never taken classes in Spanish. Do they even say ‘plie’, I would think to myself before entering the studio space. Again, I couldn’t be nervous for long. The classes I took at La Caldera were filled with new concepts and ideas. The mood was inviting, calm, less competitive than many American dance classes seem to be. I felt as if, for the first time in my adult life, I was dancing for myself. No one was judging me. There were no mirrors, so I couldn’t even judge myself. I listened intently to corrections and felt them viscerally rather than just letting them flow in one ear and right back out the other. When we did contact exercises, we truly touched each other. It was a sincere feeling that I often missed in my classes back home. It made me want to bring these lessons I was learning back to my university classes. I was being challenged to step far out of my mental and physical comfort zone…and I just didn’t get tired of it.

Third lesson: Just do it all.

When I was offered the opportunity to complete a capstone project, I was nudged by my advisers to do so. I always had the idea of wanting to choreograph while in Spain, but I wasn’t sure who to set the work on. Once I decided to do the capstone, things just started falling into place. Typical Barcelona magic. My adviser introduced me to a dancer named Elisabet Sanchez. She hadn’t danced in a while, as she was busy being the single caregiver for her young son. However, she was more than excited to learn my choreography. From there, our stories and lives began to intertwine. Together, we created a work which spoke to the female situation in society. Long talks led to the realization that our cultures shared many similarities in that aspect. Oppression and confusion were woven into both of our pasts and consequently into the piece. Out of our sharing of stories and favorite literature, grew a project that is unmatched with any of my previous experiences. I think it sums up my experience with the PAA Dance Internship in Spain. I will always be grateful for the beautiful city of Barcelona and its open and accepting people.


Participant Highlight: LeeLee Hunter

12142513_913201015439211_1764365258_nWhat’s more inspiring than a music volunteer on our Philippines program?  A music volunteer on our Philippines program who raised money to purchase dozens of ukuleles to bring to the school where she is volunteering because their entire musical instrument supply was destroyed by a typhoon…AND she’s teaching the teachers how to play them too so they can continue instructing when she leaves.  Her name is LeeLee Hunter and she is just one of our amazing participants abroad right now.  Here’s a video of her class on the first day:

Keep it up, LeeLee!  And way to go to all of you out there making a difference through the arts.  We can tell you with absolute certainty that you are not alone!

2015 Summer Video Contest!

Last week we posted the results of our photo contest, and now we get to share some fun videos!  Most of our video contest entries came from Instagram and other social media, so they’re just little glimpses into the life of PAA participants on their programs.  We didn’t break these down into categories, so here for your viewing pleasure are the winner, runner up, and honorable mentions.  Enjoy!


Congratulations Laura Christensen!  Laura volunteered teaching Dance in the Galapagos Islands, and this piece of cuteness is just the tip of the iceberg of awesome, beautiful, and adorable videos and photos she sent our way.  Thanks Laura, and congratulations again!


Lorena Abreu, West End Musical Theatre Training Program.  Lorena is, according to all the evidence at hand, a freaking firecracker.  In this video she shows of some serious stage combat, movement, and comedy chops all at once.


Crista Guthrie, Music Volunteer in Costa Rica.  Crista puts on a little disney-inspired concert for her students.  You can just tell they’re crazy about her.

Hannah Harris, BLAS Summer Music Intensive Program in Ireland.  The video title pretty much says it all.

Kiana Lum, West End Musical Theatre Training Program.  Lorena showed us some hard core stage combat, now here’s Kiana busting out some Book of Mormon: the Musical.

Emily Eymundson, Dance Intern in Spain.  If you saw last week’s winning photo, you’ll recognize the location of this video.  Emily Eymundson films as fellow PAA intern Beverly Diaz gets into the show from backstage.

Tiffany Ruizo, BLAS Summer Music Intensive Program in Ireland, films a bit of her tutors’ concert.

Beverly Diaz, Dance Intern in Spain.  Beverly pieced together a collage of moments to give you a sense of being in the middle of the action after Barcelona won (what we assume is) a soccer match.

Maxwell Sandberg, Music Volunteer in Costa Rica.  We’re pretty sure this is Uptown Funk…Costa Rica style.

West End Musical Theatre Training Program: My Experience

Courtney Widgerson participated in the West End Musical Theatre Training Program in the Summer of 2015Courtney editedA few weeks ago I got back from London, I was there for 3 weeks, participating in the West End Musical Theatre Training Program. Before leaving for this trip I was already excited because I had always wanted to go to London and experience what West End has to offer compared to Broadway. I am so glad that I got to go, it was one of the BEST experiences I have ever had (and I’ve done a lot of pretty cool things).

First thing is, if you have interests in theatre and want to learn something new and improve your skills, this program is for you. Why? Because you are surrounded by so many different people you can learn from. From the other participants to the teachers, there is no shortage of talent. Every person brings something different to the table that you can learn from, and the able to be versatile is a very good skill to have in theatre.

The classes were pretty awesome. We would have 2 classes in the morning, a lunch break (when almost everyone would sit and have lunch together), and then a workshop with a cast member from a West End show.

Just a few highlights from classes: The 3rd week we did a puppeteering workshop (not as easy as I thought it would be). Also the 3rd week we did a Fosse workshop. We did a workshop on one of the Saturdays where we performed a song for an agent, then the other Saturday we did an audition technique workshop. We did much much more, that’s just a tiny little glimpse.

We had some scheduled events that were a lot of fun. We went on the London Eye (so cool!!! And got some amazing pictures!)

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a West End Haunted walking tour, got to see backstage and go on the Les Mis stage, and more. As part of what you pay for the program you get to see a show once a week (3 for me since I was there for 3 weeks). We saw Wicked (and did a workshop the 2 days before seeing the show so that was pretty awesome), The 39 Steps (a play), and Sunny Afternoon (the Olivier Best New Musical Award Winner). And besides those 3 shows I saw 6 others. Theatre is so much cheaper (despite the sucky exchange rate) then in New York I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to see the shows I wanted to see.

A few last words. If you do end up doing this program (or happen to be in London) go see a show at Shakespeare’s Globe (and stand, it’s worth it) and don’t wait till the last few days to go to the museums. This program was better than I had expected it to be and I would definitely recommend doing it. It doesn’t matter where you are with your training it will help and you will grow as an artist immensely. The person in London who runs the program (Rachel) is pretty awesome! I could not have imagined spending my summer (before heading off to college) any other way!!


Teaching Theater with Circus Group in Costa Rica

Here at Performing Arts Abroad (PAA) we are so proud and excited to send individuals and groups on unique and fulfilling international performing arts programs around the world.  Whether on trips for study abroad, internships, volunteering, or career workshops, PAA believes the experience of cross-cultural collaboration is invaluable for performing artists. Today we are thrilled to feature a blog post by Emily, who traveled to Costa Rica to volunteer and improve her Spanish. We are thrilled to share her experience and provide a more global perspective for all of our participants.

After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I decided that instead of sitting around waiting to hear back on my application to graduate school, I should do something meaningful with my time. I searched the internet making countless bookmarks, trying to find a volunteer program that would both suit my interests, and make an impact on at least one other person’s life. Eventually, and thankfully, I discovered Performing Arts Abroad.

Volunteering in Costa Rica

After a few e-mails and phone calls with their staff, I found myself sending in an application for a Theater Arts volunteer program in Costa Rica. There was only a short time before I left, but PAA made sure to prepare me with the necessary physical aspects (i.e, a timeline of my trip, information about my homestays, documentation about health insurance, etc) and the helpful emotional aspects (i.e, information about potential culture shock, that I kept very handy in my “don’t freak out” folder).

Soon enough, I landed in San Jose, Costa Rica, where I stayed for a week and studied Spanish at the Costa Rican Language Academy. Looking back, the only regret I have about the trip was that I really should have been honest with myself about my Spanish speaking abilities. I was sure that I would recall everything I learned in high school and I’d be just fine when I arrived – taking my placement test for class proved me to be terribly wrong. Luckily, CRLA was great and put me in a class appropriate for my ability, or lack thereof, and for the next week I was able to learn and remember the language in a comfortable, friendly, and really quite fun environment. In addition, no one in my host family spoke English, so I didn’t really have the option of not practicing after class. At first, this had me digging through my “don’t freak out” folder, but later proved to be quite helpful.

 Volunteering in Costa Rica

Here is Emily with her host mother, Luz.

After I finished classes, I got on a bus to San Isidro and was greeted by Luz Marina, my next host mother. She took me to her home and got me settled in, and the next morning I was beginning my placement with Circo FantazzTico. The group I worked with was made up of other volunteers mostly from Germany, who all had some kind of performance background, be it in circus, dance, or theater, and each week we traveled to different neighborhoods where we gave workshops or trainings for the local children. A few places we visited were orphanages, or homes for children, and a few were community centers where kids of all ages came and participated.

Because I have such an extensive background in theater, I went with the goal to teach theater. I was able to play theater oriented games with the kids – with help translating rules from other volunteers – and found that even if we didn’t speak the same language, we could communicate and express ourselves through movement, which was a truly beautiful thing to experience. Some days, the kids were much more interested in doing acrobatics, or juggling, and though it would be initially frustrating they didn’t jump at the opportunity to learn theater, it was still incredible to watch – and I felt it important for me to simply be there to say “Good job!” when they did something well, and help the children find a positive, creative outlet, no matter what it may be.

 Volunteering in Costa Rica

It may be cliché of me to say, but there is no better way to describe my experience than saying I went to teach and I am coming back having learned even more. These children, though many of them coming from unfortunate circumstances, were filled with such optimism and will to learn that truly inspired me on a different level than anything I’d ever felt before. I met so many incredible people, and made so many memories that I know I will carry with me through my personal and professional life. If nothing else, this trip truly solidified I am following the right path by pursuing the performing arts, something I knew was certain when I told a little boy I was there to teach him theater and his eyes lit up with pure joy.

 Volunteering in Costa Rica

Written by Emily Murphy, PAA Volunteer in Costa Rica

To see more of Emily’s trip watch her highlights video:

Thank you, Emily, for choosing Performing Arts Abroad!