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Wednesday, February 13, 2019 - 10:15am

In January, a public elementary school in Bayside, Queens, was the setting for Family Theater Night, an evening that brings children and adults together to learn the basics stagecraft and acting, followed by performances onstage before a live audience. Leading the activity was Marc Palmieri, a working playwright, screenwriter, actor and director who teaches oral communication as well as theater, film and directing at Mercy College.

It was the second time Palmieri was invited by the New York City Department of Education to coordinate a district-wide event for students and their families. But this time, he had even more relevant experience to draw on: his work with Mercy students.

“One of the gifts of theater is learning to be a good communicator,” said Palmieri, who opens the workshop with a mini-master class, demonstration stage movements and directions, standing three-quarters to the audience, projecting to the back row. “It boils down to: can you be heard, can you be understood, and can you be convincing,” he said. “That’s what I teach at Mercy, too.”

The first Family Theater Night, held in 2017, drew a handful of families but was so well-received that Palmieri was invited back. This time, he said, “We had about 60-70 people—students from elementary through high school, and a good number of parents and grandparents, too.” Working with a diverse “cast,” Palmieri divided them into 12 groups and provided short scenes he had written for each group to learn and perform. After some intensive rehearsal time, with Palmieri coaching and offering constructive feedback, all the groups got to perform for a live audience.

Last semester Mercy’s Drama Club hosted a similar type of quick-turnaround theater event for students from the Dobbs Ferry and Bronx campuses. Palmieri said such events underscore the universal importance of oral communication skills.

“What we do in our classes is not just about acting, it’s about presentation, which is a part of everyone’s daily life, even if they have no intention of going into theater,” he said. “Scene study and performance can really change students, making them more self-aware and more authentic. It can awaken feelings and perceptions they might not be aware of, helping them define their own voice and how they want to present themselves.”Mercy professor taps universal links between communication and theater