Playing On Air

Stage Partners is a huge fan of Playing on Air! For as devastating as Covid-19 has been, there have been some beautiful collaborations, ideas, and offerings that have emerged in our communities and organizations. Playing on Air was inspired to start their education initiative to support theatre educators, theatre students and to ensure theatre accessibility in the classroom. Playing on Air provides a theatre experience that can happen anywhere, at any time. We at Stage Partners wanted to be sure the amazing theatre educators we partner with know about all that Playing on Air has to offer!

Meet Shelly Horwitz, the Marketing and Education Director at Playing on Air and mastermind behind Playing on Air’s education initiative. Get to know this amazing programming as you plan your curriculum for the next school year.

An Interview with Shelly Horwitz, Playing on Air:

MARIA MCCONVILLE: All of the writers and actors that Playing on Air collaborates with are such exciting talents! What has been their experience writing for and creating audio plays?

SHELLY HORWITZ: It’s such an honor for Playing on Air to work with such incredible artists, from Dominique Morisseau to David Ives! I don’t want to put words in their mouths— you can hear each episode’s playwrights and actors describe their own experiences after the play, in a short conversation with our Artistic Director, Claudia Catania.

But so many artists say that they love being able to play with rich, exciting scripts for a few hours, without worrying about costumes or audiences. Actor and playwright Jesse Eisenberg, for instance, said, “Playing on Air allows actors the thrilling experience of acting without looking in a mirror first.” So I think much of the appeal for artists, as for audiences, is working on a short sharp shock of great theater!

Playing On Air

MM: Tell us how the education initiative and programming at Playing on Air got started. What was your inspiration to engage with schools?

SH: Playing on Air had wanted to expand into education for a long time, but 2020’s quarantine really spurred us to action. After stages shut down, a friend and theater teacher told me that quarantine forced them to scrap their original lesson plans. They couldn’t bring students to a live show, they couldn’t work on the spring musical, they were struggling to keep their students engaged with digital theater.

I realized that Playing on Air was in a unique position to help. Students could listen to our plays safely and easily on their phones. So no matter where they were— at home, taking a socially-distanced walk, just trying to get away from Zoom— they could still enjoy and learn from great theater.

I began talking with teachers and spreading the word, and here we are!

MM: What are some of the resources teachers can access when bringing Playing on Air into their classroom?

SH: Well, our biggest resource is our shows! We have over 115 episodes available, across many different genres, and each episode includes both a short audio play and a brief interview with the artistic team.

Some education-specific resources include specific show recommendations for middle school, high school, and college classrooms, all available on our website. Additionally, teachers have exclusive access to select episode transcripts and analysis worksheets, so a successful lesson plan can be quickly and easily brought together.

I’m also always excited to talk with teachers! If you’re looking for additional support, please don’t hesitate to reach out (here).

MM: What are the educational benefits of listening to a play? What kind of experience does that offer students and teachers?

SH: When I was a student, finding that I could connect with plays— not just reading them, but engaging with full productions— felt miraculous. Theater gave me an escape hatch, no matter where I was or what I was feeling, to other aspects of the human experience, to times and places and emotions that I otherwise never would have had access to. That exposure to other people and communities and languages was an education in itself.

So students and teachers can use theater to begin discussions about all kinds of issues, from questions of racial and income inequality, to the nature of time and memory, to personal relationships of all kinds. Audio theater, specifically, helps students understand all the elements of performance— script, acting choices, sound design— that aren’t visual. Students have a great, engaging way to learn script analysis, character development, and sound design.

Another important aspect of audio theater, specifically, is accessibility. Even before the pandemic, there could be so many barriers to accessing live theater, from geographic distance to financial constraints. Teachers can use audio theater— or at least Playing on Air— to study fully developed plays that students can enjoy anywhere, anytime, for free.

I hope that all students— from NYC to Nebraska to Norway, no matter what their circumstances— find theater that resonates with them, and that they can learn from and fall in love with vibrant plays and top-tier productions. I hope that Playing on Air can offer that.

MM: I happily listen to plays right on your website. What are some of your favorite ways to listen to the plays?

SH: Thank you so much! I typically listen to the show via podcast— we’re on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher; I think I’m subscribed to the Playing on Air podcast on all three platforms. And, like yourself, a lot of listeners enjoy listening on our website!

We’re also on social media, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and you can sign up for our newsletter on our website. Follow us to be reminded when a new episode drops— plus we share cute photos and stories from “behind the scenes”!

Learn more about Playing on Air:

Claudia Haas – Stage Partners

Shelly Horwitz is a dramaturg and arts consultant. She has worked primarily in NYC and Chicago on both independent projects and with established theaters such as La MaMa, The Araca Group, Goodman Theatre, Court Theatre, About Face Theatre, and others. She has also worked in film and documentary production. Shelly enjoys creating and developing processes, programs, and plays that meld artistic innovation, societal exploration, and audience creation. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago.