Experiential Learning at its Best

Jerry Mckinstry
February 8, 2023
close up of a video editing timeline on a computer screen

When Pace President Marvin Krislov approached Dyson Professor Maria Luskay, EdD, about helping the Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG), a renowned regional theater based in western Massachusetts that was staring into the abyss after the COVID-19 pandemic, she knew it was a match.

Professor Luskay was thrilled as she was looking for a nonprofit to partner with so that her students could work with a client that needed commercials, public service announcements, and promotional video.

It was the perfect scenario for experiential learning, she said.

Before long, BTG—whose ranks over the years include the likes of Al Pacino, Sigourney Weaver, Anne Bancroft, Frank Langella, and scores of other theater luminaries—met with students with an open call to help the organization tell its story.

BTG made national headlines during the pandemic when it became the only regional theater group in the nation to produce a showing of Godspell with professional actors before a live audience. It was celebrated by The New York Times, L.A. Times, Boston Globe, and CNN, among other media, and considered a test case for whether in-person theater could safely return.

Knowing this was a unique time in the group’s history, the organization filmed hundreds of hours of footage and interviews with an intention of documenting its journey through the pandemic.

The challenge ahead, as Executive Director Nick Paleologos told the students last semester, was that while COVID supports and aid was gone, COVID was not. BTG was staring at its biggest crisis since WWII—and fighting for its very existence. It needed patrons.

Enter students from Dyson’s Industrial Media Production Class. They broke up into two teams competing to develop program needs analyses, treatments, scripts, and a video that they pitched the leaders of BTG.

Student video

“They are working with a real client,” Professor Luskay said. “It’s not just a class—it’s taking what you learn and using it. It’s real-world experience.”

Students needed to understand the creative process while incorporating teamwork, time management, and deadlines—much like an agency competing for the project. BTG opted to use both group videos as they took entirely different approaches to the assignment.

For Caroline O’Kane, who recently earned her master’s in Communications and Digital Media, it was a great experience and resume-builder.

Student video

“We put our skills in producing to the test as we gained experience as a team—learning from personal and group strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “The most rewarding part of this project was knowing that we helped a real client showcase their hard work to the public. In so many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic is thought of as a dark time of loss and isolation, and this theater group’s will to perform provided so much hope and light.”

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