GoAbroad Interview

Merle O’Neal - Programs Assistant

Merle ONeal - Programs Assistant

Merle studied film at Hofstra University, and has a passion for writing. She has been involved with television production, has experience screenwriting, and is an active blogger. Merle joined the Performing Arts Abroad team in 2015. Her travel experiences have had a profound effect on her writing and thinking, and she hopes to share this with other aspiring artists!

Drinking coffee in Toronto, Canada

Enjoying a cappuccino in Toronto

You have a background in Television Production, how did you get connected with Performing Arts Abroad?

I was looking through Craigslist and I saw an ad for a position with PAA. I was drawn in by the idea of combining performing arts with travel (two of my passions).

What does a typical day look like as the Programs Assistant for PAA?

Well, I have two desks, so I start in the Performing Arts Abroad office and respond to any emails I have requesting information about our programs. After my lunch break I head to my second desk where I make all of my phone calls and tell potential participants how awesome our programs are! Of course, there is a lot more that goes on in between, I love all of the people I work with, so I am constantly laughing with my co workers.

Visiting a museum in Madrid, Spain

One of the many museum stops in Madrid

Which Performing Arts Abroad program is most popular?

That is a tough question because it really depends on the season and when we are pushing certain programs. England is without a doubt the most popular destination, right now our West End Musical Theatre Training program and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) Summer Acting Intensive program are both very popular. They are both training intensive and in England; they offer participants a unique hands-on experience with seasoned professionals that you can’t get anywhere else.

Which Performing Arts Abroad program is most overlooked?

Another tough one! We have just recently begun to add film programs to our arsenal so I am looking forward to those getting more publicity on the site and appearing in more locations (of course, I am biased). Other than that, I would say that many people do not understand just how much our volunteer programs truly help local communities.

I think if students knew just how much power and creative freedom they have to change the lives of underprivileged youth while honing their art they would be more likely to sign up.

You’ve traveled much of Europe and Canada, how have your experiences abroad impacted your work as Programs Assistant?

I would not be able to bring the same level of personalization and sincerity into the process of finding people their perfect program. Since I have been abroad (accompanied and alone) I can truly relate to what our program participants are about to go through, I also know how transformative travel is for an artist. I always tell participants that going abroad was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I mean that. I get excited when I find the perfect program for someone and can get them started on the application process because I know there is a whole realm of adventure waiting for them!

Art at La Reina Sofia in Spain

Admiring some art at La Reina Sofia

You spent a couple weeks as a volunteer at the Toronto Film Festival, what Performing Arts Abroad program is the best fit for budding directors or film students?

We are still working on our film programs, it’s a new development for Performing Arts Abroad. The one that really strikes me as incredibly helpful for budding directors and producers would be our Film Internship in South Africa. I wish I could have done this program while I was in school. It is very well-rounded; students will get the chance to do everything from script work to camera operation, direction, and even be the talent! It’s an amazing resume builder for aspiring television and film producers, writers, and directors.

You have a lifestyle blog, what would an opinion piece on the value of study abroad highlight?

It would highlight the importance of unfamiliarity. I believe that the best thing for an artist’s creative flow is to be placed in a foreign situation and have to rely on the senses and intuition to make it through. It is a humbling but wildly invigorating experience.

What is your biggest goal in your Programs Assistant role for the next year?

To know all of the little intricacies about our programs so I can take my advisement to the next level. The more informed I am, the more apt I am to link participants with their dream programs abroad!

You love acting and singing, if you could go on one of Performing Arts Abroad’s programs, which one would you choose?

Like I mentioned earlier, I would certainly choose our Film Internship in South Africa. The West End Musical Theatre Training Program comes in as a close second though, that program is built to make its participants a triple threat!

Exploring El Prado in Spain

Looking for the next stop after exploring El Prado

What is your favorite part about working for Performing Arts Abroad so far?

I love talking to potential participants, it’s inspiring to hear how many people are thinking ahead enough to pursue an adventure abroad. I also love the people I work with, I look forward to going to work every single day!