Skip to Main Content
College of Arts and Sciences
twoColumn twoRight

UNF Student Emma Avros Journey with UNF Shakespeare

Founded in 2019 by Dr. Maureen McCluskey with backing from the Department of English, the University of North Florida's Shakespeare program is renowned for its innovative and original interpretations of William Shakespeare's timeless works. This initiative has not only earned acclaim within the local community but has also drawn national interest, particularly for its pioneering rendition of "Othello" which showcased a diverse, multilingual ensemble. At the heart of this program's success lies Emma Avros, a senior at UNF, who plays a vital role as a tech and intimacy coordinator.

Emma's journey to UNF Shakespeare is a testament to their passion and dedication to the arts. In high school, they were a part of a competitive theater program that, unfortunately, did not prioritize the well-being of its students. Consequently, Emma initially shied away from joining any theater clubs when they entered college. However, their life took a dramatic turn when they enrolled in a Shakespeare-focused creative writing class with Professor Will Pewitt.

This class rekindled Emma's love for Shakespeare. Emma's connection with the material led to them becoming the unofficial teaching assistant, helping fellow students grasp the nuances of the text. Their engagement with the subject matter caught the attention of Professor Pewitt, a long-time collaborator with UNF Shakespeare, who invited them to work on scriptwriting for Much Ado About Nothing. This initial involvement with UNF Shakespeare opened the door to a series of diverse roles and responsibilities within the program.

Emma's journey with UNF Shakespeare was not linear; they wore many hats along the way. Their path evolved from scriptwriting for Much Ado About Nothing to taking on the role of production manager for Othello. However, it didn't stop there. Emma found themself contributing to various aspects of the production, from costumes to choreography and even makeup. One of their most critical roles was as an intimacy coordinator. Intimacy coordination has gained prominence in the theater and film industries in recent years, and Emma's unique blend of skills and background made them an excellent fit for this crucial role. Their undergraduate degree in psychology, combined with a deep interest in the psychology of actors and the concept of dissociation in high-stress situations, proved invaluable in shaping the way intimate scenes were handled in the play.

The introduction of intimacy coordination to the production aimed to create a safe and supportive environment for the actors, particularly given the intense themes present in Othello, including racism, misogyny, and spousal abuse. Emma's approach prioritized the well-being and emotional safety of the actors, discouraging the use of personal experiences as a basis for their performances. Instead, they encouraged the actors to focus on their craft and artistry to portray these challenging roles authentically. The role of an intimacy coordinator extends beyond the production itself. Emma emphasized the importance of post-show support and addressing the issue of burnout, which can be especially pronounced in Shakespearean productions. Their unique blend of skills and dedication to the well-being of the cast created a dynamic and supportive environment that enhanced the overall quality of the production.

Emma's experience in the UNF Shakespeare program is characterized by her deep appreciation and respect for Will Pewitt, as Othello marks his inaugural directorial endeavor with the UNF Shakespeare ensemble. They acknowledge that Pewitt's dedication to his students and their mental health has been a significant influence on their work. The faculty’s continued efforts to secure funding, support students' well-being, and create a nurturing environment have paved the way for the program's success. The program has not only been a platform for learning but also a place where lasting connections and friendships have been formed. This speaks to the sense of community and camaraderie that has been fostered among the program's members.

UNF Shakespeare is not just another student theater group; it is a testament to the power of faculty support and student passion. The Othello production has already garnered national attention, with an invitation to the Shakespeare Association of America's annual conference in Portland. This invitation signifies the unique and groundbreaking nature of UNF Shakespeare's production, showcasing the program's commitment to innovative theater. However, to make this opportunity a reality, the program is fundraising to cover the costs of attending the conference. The chance to present Othello at this esteemed event is a testament to the program's excellence and the recognition it is receiving on a national level.

The commitment of students like Emma and the leadership of Maureen McCluskey, Will Pewitt, and other English department faculty make the UNF Shakespeare program a beacon of inspiration and artistry. As it gains national acclaim, it stands as a testament to the remarkable achievements that can be accomplished when directors prioritize the well-being and artistic growth of their students. Emma's journey and their appreciation for their faculty’s leadership serve as a poignant example of the positive impact that dedicated educators can have on their students' lives and futures.

Story by: Karina Miller