Bayside resident brings Family Theater Night back to District 26 schools

family rehearsal
Photo courtesy of Marc Palmieri

Next month, dozens of students and their families will get together for a night of “acting and staging” in Bayside.

On Tuesday, Jan. 15, from 6:30 to 9 p.m., P.S. 41 will host its second Family Theater Night, an evening where children and their families perform short scenes together on stage.

The event was first conceived by Marc Palmieri, a playwright, screenwriter, actor, director and Mercy College professor who also has two daughters in District 26 schools.

In 2016, Palmieri was approached by Kim D’Angelo, the family support coordinator for District 26 schools and Mary Bow, the parent coordinator at P.S. 41, who asked him to consider coordinating an acting event as part of an art series for district students.

The three of them brainstormed ideas and came up with Family Theater Night, which was in April 2017. Participants included elementary, middle and high school students who attend public schools in the area along with their parents.

This year, Palmieri was given the green light to do a repeat of the event during his time off between semesters. The educator said that his colleagues and students at Mercy College were “so excited” that he was doing this for a second year. He added that the experience was fun for him and serves as a “teaching moment” between semesters.

Before participants perform, Palmieri does an initial demonstration and lesson of basic stage speech, movement and reading techniques — “all of which I teach at Mercy College as Theatre Club advisor and professor, and which I’ve done extensively professionally,” he said.

Following the lessons, each group breaks off into separate rooms and practiced their scripts for about an hour. He recalled the “mad writing rush” he experienced when writing the scripts, each of which was tailor-made for each group.

“The scripts should have interesting characters, comic elements and nothing too heavy,” said Palmieri. “There should also be a central conflict where the characters come to some kind of change at the end.”

Palmieri shared that he tries to confirm the ages and number of people in each group to better inform his scriptwriting. In case of last-minute dropouts, he also has backup scripts on hand.

“I try to make them fun, with material that can be relatable to students of a wide range of ages and experiences,” Palmieri said.

During rehearsal, Palmieri visits each group to provide constructive feedback on things like staging, voice projection and movement. He said that the skills he teaches the students, including the nuances of stagecraft, reading words, listening and working together, can carry over into other parts of their lives.

“They’re great skills to have no matter if you pursue acting or not,” said Palmieri.

In his experience with last year’s event, Palmieri observed parallels between the younger students he teaches and his college students at Mercy.

“They’re both willing to play because acting is play. It’s part of how we communicate with others,” he said.

He found that at all levels, there is a mix of people who have a keen interest in acting, are unsure about whether they are interested or not or are afraid when they first try it.

But when the experience is over, he said that there are always students who approach him asking if there is a theater opportunity in the district, acting classes and other opportunities.

Registration for Family Theater Night ends on Jan. 4. For more information about the event, contact Kim D’Angelo at 718-631-6905 or at [email protected].