UNI student shares joy of theatre with Omaha youth

When senior Drama and  Theatre for Youth major Hannah Smith was selected for a summer internship at The Rose Theater in Omaha, the Waterloo native was thrilled to get the chance to live in a bigger city while pursuing her passion of teaching a new generation the joys of theater. 

The COVID-19 pandemic changed those plans but the internship for Smith, whose professor has dubbed her a theater-teaching “rock star,”went virtual. It wasn’t what Smith had planned, but the internship has been a  beneficial — and unique — experience, she said. 

“I’m learning so much. Even after our first week of orientation, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I need to prepare my brain to be filled with so much new knowledge,’” she said. “I think one of my weakest points as a teacher is working on the fly. So definitely the improv skills — I've been strengthening those as much as I can.  Also, I’m such a nerd, so I'm very excited to redo my resume.”

Smith is  co-teaching classes — one- to three-hour morning and afternoon sessions of creative drama games for groups of about 12 kids, ages 6-12 — which sometimes call for fun makeshift costumes that help her get into character and keep students engaged. (Pictured above is Smith dressed as a cat mummy for a Hotel Transylvania class.) She also participates in professional development opportunities with staff from the Rose, learning how to build a strong resume and working on her audition skills.

She’s in good hands — she’s overseen by the experienced teaching artists on staff at the Rose, including UNI alum Maddie Grissom ‘19. The two first met on campus at UNI when Grissom was still a student, and have co-taught several classes together this summer.

“Hannah always struck me as so professional and so mature and so good at what she does. It’s been a privilege … to see her really thrive within this job,” said Grissom. “She has an ability to modify games and even the most experienced teaching artists are having trouble with that online. So her being able to very quickly adapt and learn how to on-the-spot change [a game] to best serve the students was very impressive.”

UNI gave Smith the skills she needs to be successful in her internship. She said assistant professor Amy Osatinski’s classes helped her learn about dramaturgy — the research side of theater. According to Osatinski, dramaturgy is just one of Smith’s many skills.

“Hannah is a dramaturgical rock star! She is constantly seeking to make connections and to deepen her understanding of complex topics,” she said. “Hannah is incredibly resilient. She is able to face a setback, like this pandemic, and instead of giving up, finds a way around the obstacle. I think Hannah's fortitude makes her well-suited to being successful at her internship. Of course, that combined with her extensive expertise in theater for youth, directing, and dramaturgy.”

In addition to enjoying dramaturgy, Smith’s experience in this lesser-known area of theater helps her stand out among students from other schools, and she’s enjoyed sharing her expertise with her classes.

“I have found through college that dramaturgy is so incorporated into every single aspect of the production. The big thing that I’ve been able to pull out that sets me apart is that dramaturgy element,” she said. “ I've been able to introduce dramaturgy earlier to these young people that love theater, so they don't have to wait to college to figure that out.”

Smith will complete her internship at the end of July and then head into her senior year at UNI. While she’s not entirely sure what she wants to do after graduation, she’s confident that her UNI education will serve her well wherever she goes.

“This internship is such a resume builder and UNI’s theatre department has prepared me so heavily for everything I'm going to do,” said Smith. “UNI truly is setting me up for success after graduation.”