Gina Powers, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, appears in a production of "School of Rock." 
Faculty Feature | 2/20/2024

From the Classroom to Center Stage: Gina Powers Gives Physical Therapy Education a Theatrical Twist

By Dana Barbuto

Gina Powers, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, appears in a production of "School of Rock."

Gina Powers, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, appears in a production of "School of Rock." 
Gina Powers, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, appears in a production of "School of Rock."

MCPHS Assistant Professor Gina Powers seamlessly integrates stagecraft skills into physical therapy teaching, enhancing student engagement and learning experiences.

Breaking a leg is an unfortunate event, but for Gina Powers, it's all part of the act—both in her physical therapy classes and on the community theater stage.

Powers, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS), is also an amateur actress, which adds a dose of drama to her educational and recreational pursuits. And the dual roles have converged a time or two.

"I'm a handy one to have backstage," Powers said, recalling the time an actress in a production of "Mamma Mia!" was dancing on stage in swim flippers, and she dislocated her toe while struggling to keep the fin on her foot. "Her toe was purple, and I taped it back in place," Powers said. "She wanted to dance, so we made it possible.” After all, the show must go on.

Powers developed a love for theater in high school, where she spontaneously joined a musical production. "Friends were auditioning for a musical, and I said, ‘sure, why not’ my freshman year, and I loved it. I did four musicals in high school," she said. The first one? "Hello, Dolly."

As her theatrical interests unfolded, Powers also competed in gymnastics and downhill ski racing. "The nuances in those techniques were where my love for the human body came from," she explained. A skiing injury eventually steered her towards a career in physical therapy.

When Powers graduated with her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in 2005, she took a break from theater to practice full-time in a clinical setting and raise her two children. It wasn't until 2012 when Powers discovered the Sterling Community Theater that her passion for acting reignited. "I needed something just for me," she recalls, and since then, she's been a regular participant in a couple of shows a year.

From playing Mrs. Mooneyham in "School of Rock" to the enchanted rug in "Beauty and the Beast," to the bubbly beautician Frenchie in "Grease," Powers' roles on stage are as diverse as her responsibilities in the lecture hall, where she finds many parallels between education and acting.

"When I started teaching, I almost looked at it as playing a role. I was nervous stepping in front of students, so I had a role to play, and that helped in those early formative years of teaching," Powers said. The skills she honed on stage, such as voice projection, eye contact, and stage presence, translate into her teaching style, whether delivering an anatomy lecture or demonstrating rehabilitation techniques.

She said teaching, like acting, is about engaging the audience, creating a connection, and conveying information in a way that resonates. For example, Powers devised an original approach in her gait analysis course using glow-in-the-dark spike tape borrowed from the theater world.

"I wanted students to tape glow sticks to themselves to see movement, but I needed to make the room very dark, and I couldn't have 40 students crashing into one another," she said. To address this challenge, Powers used rolls of spike tape, which stage crews use to spot scenery, set pieces, and actors' marks, and stuck the neon-colored adhesive to the floor, creating designated lanes for the students. "Thankfully, there were no accidents or injuries, and they learned a lot. The Glow Stick Lab is one of their favorites."

Every semester, the synergy between her roles on stage and in the classroom deepens. Last November, four of her students supported their professor by attending her “School of Rock” performance. "They even brought flowers," Powers said.

As a practicing physical therapist and a candidate for a Doctorate of Health Science from George Washington University, Powers said she sees her various roles as mutually enriching rather than conflicting. "There's a certain level of discipline, preparation, and dedication that all these demand. It's about investing time to understand your role and delivering it authentically," she said.

And, Powers said she has learned to take the old theater well-wishing phrase "break a leg" with a smile, knowing that, for her, it's all in a day's work–whether on stage or in the classroom.

"In theater, 'good luck' is considered the worst luck. You want to hear the opposite. In my everyday life, I try to prevent people from breaking their legs. It's one of those weird divides I find myself navigating," Powers said with a laugh.

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