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Welcome PAA’s New Programs Assistant, Merle O’Neal!

Merle Bio Pic
Performing Arts Abroad is thrilled to announce the hire of our newest team member, Merle O’Neal! Merle has just begun working out of the PAA headquarters in Northampton, Massachusetts and will be primarily responsible for advising those interested in our programs. She will also be helping with producing interesting and clear content related to our programming.

To get to know Merle a bit better, our Director Reynolds Whalen interviewed her about her love of the arts and why she decided to join us. Enjoy!

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Reynolds and Merle in the PAA office!

You studied film in college at Hofstra University. Tell me more about your interest in film. What is it about the medium that attracts you? What makes it an effective way to tell a story?

Film is an interesting and immersive medium; I fell in love with the multitude of components available for manipulation – lighting, music, cinematography, plot and dialogue just to name a few. I will almost always feel differently after watching a movie, feelings vary from edgy, epic, melancholy, inspired, or just awestruck. I love that film has the ability to physically and emotionally affect others and me.

There is a sense of power in holding a camera and knowing that every move, shot, and sound you make will influence your audience.

What is your favorite movie you’ve seen in the last three months?

While I was volunteering at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September I saw a movie called Life in a Fishbowl, written by Birgir Örn Steinarsson and Baldvin Zophoníasson, and directed by Baldvin Zophoníasson. It was so painfully human I could not help but relate – not surprisingly, it revolves around a writer and his personal and professional struggles. It was beautifully shot and the writing was succinct but almost musical.

Oh, and the entire film is Icelandic, I was forced to sit on the floor in the front row (long story.) Bottom line, under those circumstances I still was blown away by the experience, I highly recommend seeing this movie.

Tell me more about your experience traveling abroad. How has it changed your art? Any good stories?

Traveling has easily changed my art. As far as writing goes I am so much more comfortable being uncomfortable. While traveling I spent a lot of time alone and unfamiliar, at first this was jarring but eventually I began to love it. I would remind myself “this is why you’re not at home” and I have taken that mantra to paper in many different ways. It can be daunting to just trust whatever comes to mind and commit it to paper but with a little more faith in spontaneity I find that unfiltered thought has far more interesting pearls in it than thought laden with structure. Travelling brings me back to a more primal root, a simpler way of thinking; I take more risks and embrace the unknown. Once I experienced how incredible and terrifying being in a new country and culture can be I found a connection between why I love travelling and why I love writing– the opportunity to live a life once unknown to me.

Stories? Sooooooo many stories, too many stories. Let’s just say I have been face to face with celebrities, terrorism, crippling culture shock, falling so deeply in love with a place that I considered never returning and falling in like with a man who I was convinced was superman – ask me about it after work some time.

What artistic projects are you currently working on?

What aren’t I currently working on? A science fiction novel, a play, a screenplay, and I’m constantly churning out short stories and poetry.

What is something that most people don’t know about you that you think is important to know?

I love animals, any and all, (if you have talked to me for more than 10 minutes you probably do know this.) I once cared for an opossum. Another fun fact – I can juggle!

Why did you decide to start working with Performing Arts Abroad? How does the mission of the organization align with your personal philosophy or outlook?

I am passionate about traveling and performing art, nothing seems more attractive to me than the amalgamation of the two, Performing Arts Abroad encompasses this. A crucial part of writing is having an open mind and traveling encourages and enables this.

I believe in Performing Arts Abroad’s passion for travel and extending it to others, there is a sincerity in the way Reynolds encourages me to work with potential applicants, we really do want to know you and want you to thrive.

What is your favorite part about working for PAA so far?

Easily the people, everyone that I have met so far has been fabulous, bright and engaging. I love to look forward to going to work. I am driving my friends crazy talking about how awesome my office is but that’s not going to stop me!

In one year, what would you like to be getting out of this job? Where do you see PAA heading in that time? Five years?

I would like a better overall understanding about surrounding countries and their immersion with performing arts. The cultural aspect of performance fascinates me so I hope to explore more of that (while helping others get out there and live it!) I see PAA only going up, customer service is so clearly the pinnacle of this company, and genuine intent and experience are the building blocks of greatness.

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