Nineteen-year-old University of Central Florida (UCF) sophomore Hilary Pardey-Hernandez is double majoring in theater and early childhood development. You might not think those two fields of study go together, but they do.
“You have to get up in front of a class and not just talk about a subject but get students interested in it. How do you do that? By performing,” Pardey-Hernandez says.
Pardey-Hernandez has been involved in several UCF virtual shows and readings including “Mojada,” a modern retelling of the Greek tragedy “Medea” through the lens of the Mexican immigrant experience; “Dear Helena,” a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s “All’s Well That Ends Well,” and “Remnant of the Imposter,” an original one-act virtual play. She’s also a Daniel Mills Apprentice at the Garden Theatre where she educates kids about theater.
Recently she worked with first- through third graders on the “Island of Misfit Toys” and with high schoolers in an improv class. She says part of what attracted her to the apprenticeship’s educational track is that at the Garden Theatre she helps kids get out of their comfort zone. To her theater isn’t just about singing, dancing, or acting. It’s a useful therapeutic tool that can help kids improve their social skills, reduce some of their shyness, and connect with their creativity.
While there is a whole academic discipline focused on therapeutic theater or drama therapy and Pardey-Hernandez is taking courses in it, she says her dream is to open her own performance studio. She hopes to combine the social and psychological components of theater with the pure enjoyment of performance as art.
Growing up in the Westchester section of Miami, a well-known Cuban neighborhood, Pardey-Hernandez says becoming a teacher has always been something she’s felt called to do. Maybe it’s because she herself came out of her shell when she danced salsa, reggaeton, or other Latin dances. “It was fun, and I didn’t feel so alone when I danced. I felt like I fit in.”
Then when Pardey-Hernandez came to understand that theater could be a combination of movement/dance, music, and storytelling she knew she’d found her career. “For me, it’s not about getting attention. It’s more about being a part of something bigger. It’s about being included and feeling like you matter,” she says.
Pardey-Hernandez lives in Davie, Florida and takes most of her college classes online. She says one of the things she really enjoys the most about teaching kids in person at the Garden Theatre is helping them adjust to the changing and challenging environment they have been thrust into. “The pandemic has certainly changed how kids learn and play. It’s changed everything really. I think getting to move around on a stage and become different characters helps them feel safe in a world that has been perceived as anything but safe for a while now.”
Garden Theatre Education Director Nick Bazo is mentoring Pardey-Hernandez and she says it’s been a wonderful educational experience. Bazo reminds her that being a theater educator is more than just teaching kids about plays or performing. “In acting you’re told to get out of your head,” Pardey-Hernandez says. “Sometimes in life you need to do that too. Even if a student never goes into the performing arts, they will have a great tool available to them: Explore and let go.”