Shakespeare and social justice inspire original student performance piece

Abington student performance 2022

Penn State Abington students and faculty rehearse for the interactive production “Exit: A Banquet Piece,” which is the product of linked courses in theater and English.

Credit: Zack Gething

Penn State Abington students will debut their original performance event “Exit: A Banquet Piece” on Thursday, April 21, at 6 p.m. on the Sutherland Plaza. 

“It’s an immersive performance staged outdoors. There’s not a separation between the audience and the performers, who will be leading them on a journey and through an experience,” said Jac I. Pryor, assistant professor of theater. 

The piece is inspired by Shakespeare's tragicomedy "The Winter's Tale" and the social justice toolkit "Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds" by adrienne maree brown. The two texts engage questions of rupture and repair in times of crisis, much like the challenges currently facing the world.  

The production is the product of innovative six-credit linked theater and English courses taught this semester by Pryor and Marissa Nicosia, associate professor of Renaissance literature.  

“'The Winter's Tale' is a play that both of us knew and connected to with its themes of renewal, regeneration and recovery. It felt very powerful to the two of us,” Nicosia said. 

In addition to being invested in the creative and intellectual work during the six hours they meet each week, the students committed to a daylong retreat and hours of technical rehearsals in advance of the performance. They also have been arranging music and creating original compositions with Emily Bate, a fellow at the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage in Philadelphia.  

Pryor explained that the students fashioned “Exit: A Banquet Piece” using the devised theater process.  

"It’s an approach to making a performance in which instead of beginning with a script, we begin with a question, idea, site, work of literature, or some other kind of creative prompt. The ensemble creates the performance from scratch. It is inspired by our collaborations,” Pryor said. 

The design of the course created an opportunity for an experience that is less hierarchical than the traditional classroom practice.  

“It’s a different way of relating to each other, and the students naturally responded to it. They were empowered to interact with each other. Our pedagogy honors where they are at that moment,” Pryor said of the students, whom they described as committed and engaged. 

“The model for the course is intrinsic motivation. The students are interested in this project and process,” Nicosia said. 

The group feels like microcosm of our campus with students of different races, genders, ages and countries of origin working together.

—Marissa Nicosia , Associate professor of Renaissance literature

Students Jonathan Bercovici, Madison Branch, Kyleigh Byers, Trim Walker, George Ye and Aman Zabian are enrolled in the courses and will appear in the performance. 

The students came from a variety of majors and levels. 

“The group feels like microcosm of our campus with students of different races, genders, ages and countries of origin working together,” Nicosia said. 

For sophomore Byers, the experience has helped shape some important life skills. 

“This course gave me tools related to literature and emergent strategy and how to take what I've learned into the world to help enact social change. Being weird and creative while learning with others is the best way to bring something beautiful to life that encapsulates so many different experiences and personalities,” the psychological and social sciences major said. 

Zabian, a second-year finance major, found the experience provided him with new methods to explore himself as a performer and a person.  

"It was certainly different from what I was used to, but there was never a moment of discomfort. The professors are two of the most sincere and thoughtful individuals I have ever met. To have a course that is very different and engages my creativeness is refreshing,” he said. 

If You Go 

What: Exit: A Banquet Piece 

When: Thursday, April 21, at 6 p.m. 

Where: Sutherland Plaza at Penn State Abington 


About Penn State Abington 

Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With more than 3,000 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 23 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics and more.