A Short Prologue

My life has been spent in theatres. When they were younger my mom was an actor and my dad designed lighting for plays. That was how they met, and made most of their friends, so growing up I went backstage in theatres before I ever sat in the audience. Maybe that is why, for me, theatre cannot be watched as just a series of people walking across a stage. I always watch for the things the backstage crew hope you never see: subtle lighting changes to shift mood, mics dropping in and out to prevent feedback, or corners being cut on set design to save budget. It is the process of putting together and running a show that has always intrigued me about theatre, and why I am hoping the workshops and talks I attend in Destination Theatre will show me more of that world.

British theatre has especially influenced me, so I want to learn more about their own style of theatre production. Shakespeare is undoubtedly my favourite playwright, and I have seen near a hundred productions of Shakespeare plays, but none had the same impact on me as the production of Romeo and Juliet I saw the last time I was in England. It was such an overwhelmingly emotional experience, not only just watching the play but watching the rest of the audience in the theatre. The show was produced so skillfully that the entire pit of drunk audience members was struck silent, except for a few of them who were sobbing. That is the kind of theatre I want to experience again, and to learn how it can be made.

I have been to Britain before, visiting family and seeing tourist attractions, so I am looking forward to experiencing parts of London I missed the first time. Having seen the conventional sights, I plan to spend time just wandering the streets and finding out-of-the-way places that most visitors would never notice. Also, I look forward to getting some decent British food, because it is a pain in the ass to get a full English breakfast in our London. The only issues I think will come up will be learning the tube map, because that will be essential to getting around. Messing up the tube can waste massive amounts of time, and I want to squeeze in as much as I can. My wallet is too empty to take even an emergency taxi, so transit will be a must. The other issue is safety, because I plan to spend a lot of my free time between classes and shows by myself. Not that I want to avoid my friends, just that I want to skip anything tourist-y, so getting lost while wandering away on my own will be a risk. Thankfully the frequency of chain coffee shops means I will almost always have a wifi signal to pull up a map on.

Advertisements

I’m going to England, and getting a Credit for it?!

Although Destination Theatre in-class portion is coming to end, I thought I’d speak about the reasons why I’m more excited than ever to be a part of this wonderful course. I’ve always wanted to travel abroad during my four years of undergrad, but I could never find an opportunity that really spoke to me or what I wanted to do. I was then exposed to the idea of destination theatre, a two-week program of traveling England to learn more about the wonderful world of theatre (I’m sure you know that already, but I really enjoy hyping up this course). So not only do I get a credit towards my theatre major, but I also get to travel to England, debatably the coolest place on earth? It was a win-win.

 

I believe that Destination Theatre is going to be able to teach me a lot of things that a regular theatre class wouldn’t be able to. England is the mother of all theatre, it’s where theatre is at its most original and authentic self. For that reason, I’ll be able to experience a type of live performance I’d never be able to experience here in London or even in a big city like Toronto. The overall vibe that England will have to offer when it comes to theatre will teach me a lot as well. There’s so much history there in terms of theatre background, so many amazing theatres and historical facts about drama that other places in the world can’t compare to. Not to mention that England itself is just rich in all sorts of historical background: I will be able to learn just by walking down the streets.

 

Theatre is a growing art luckily here in London, but it’s rather small compared to the theatre scene that we’ll experience while in England. I’m excited to be able to experience a place that’s so immersed in theatre, and where theatre is such a huge part of the city and its culture. There are always different shows being put on at the many theatres in England and being able to just casually walk into a live show, paying a cheap amount, is something I could never experience anywhere else. The theatre is a normal everyday activity in England rather than a special event, and that’s something I’m excited to experience.

 

I don’t have many questions about this trip, other than what shows will be premiering on our free nights! My excitement is just through the roof and I’m looking forward to going to the most dramatic place on earth. The knowledge that I’ll be able to gain there is going to be much different than any type of knowledge that I’d be able to gain within a regular classroom.

 

 

My “Thing” or Not: Opening My Eyes to The World of Theatre

I first heard about this amazing opportunity from my friend who is in involved in Western’s Theatre Studies program. She said she just got accepted to go to England for two weeks and watch live performances in theatres such as “Her Majesty’s Theatre” and even go to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birth place of Shakespeare.
Now I’m not a huge fan of theatre— or so I thought, as I begun this course. I’m from a very small town and we don’t have any live theatre performances other than whatever the local high schools put on, and so from lack of experience I was ignorant —and still am, in a way,— to what I have signed up for. As classes began for the course, I learned more about theatre and famous plays and I became more and more interested, and just wanted to see a live performance for myself. So when I went to see Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad at The Grand theatre, I was blown away. The theatre was beautiful, and it gave me an excuse to dress up and feel like more than just your typical university student. As I followed the streaming mass of theatre lovers in and took my seat, I couldn’t help but look around in avid awe. So this is what sophisticated people did for fun, I thought. Marveling at the fact I could now be counted among this unique society. As the lights began to dim and the commotion of the audience slowly died away, I was transfixed on that center spot light and melancholy music drifting throughout the theatre, pierced only by the strong, hypnotizing voice of Penelope herself. And that was it, I was done for.
I have always been known to prefer hiding away in my room with a good book, then go and hang out with friends, and I thought that was my thing. But I’m now thinking that maybe theatre could be my thing too. Both are experiences that remove you from your everyday life, freeze time, and transform the way you see things, whether that be through a two-hour play or an 800-page novel.
I hope to further my knowledge of the theatre, and increase my respect for literature and live performances in general. Also this course takes place in England among all places… the birthplace of my favourite authors, and a country filled with so much history and memories, I can only hope that I will learn a lot and hold on to that information for years to come. This trip is going to make a dreary summer of working a 9-5 job, amazing. I can’t wait to come home and tell my friends and family all that I have seen and done.
As school comes to a close, and the takeoff date for England comes closer, I begin to feel a bit anxious and unsure of myself. I truly don’t know anything about theatre and what if my classmates look down on me for just discovering my interest in theatre now. I just hope I can get as much from the plays as them and contribute insightful opinions and follow the conversation along.
See you soon England!

I’m Luke Lee Young, and we’re rolling out looking for the UK’s greatest scenes, shows and spectacles!

I registered to be a part of Destination Theatre because when I go abroad, I like to see what theatre productions are showing at the locations that I am visiting. However, my family is not a big fan of theatre and I do not often get to go see productions when I go abroad because my family claims I “ruined” theatre for them. Since I was young, I would perform in musicals and thus, my interest in theatre began. However, my mother would force my siblings to attend my shows and they hated every last minute of them. The last time I went off to the United Kingdom (specifically Edinburgh, Scotland) Sister Act was touring with Alexandria Burke playing Deloris Van Cartier. I really wanted to see it so badly, but my siblings said no. Now with Destination Theatre, I get to go to England with the intent of seeing various shows with a group of people that actually want to see them. I basically get to do what I love abroad and nobody can say “no” to seeing theatre when that is the purpose of the course. I also study theatre at Western so what better way to widen my knowledge of the theatre than to experience it out of country. Something that bothers me is when people go to the Caribbean, for example, and only stay at resorts. As someone who was born in the Caribbean, I know that there is so much more beyond the resort building that people choose not to see. This does tourists a disservice because they do not get to experience the true essence of the place they are visiting. I have learned to appreciate other cultures by exploring and theatre is an excellent medium to explore a different country.

However, I do have some questions before we embark on this journey. I am arriving at Gatwick early on the 14th because I booked a Spice Girls concert for the next day. My source of anxiety is first of all finding my way from the airport to the arena. Also, the residence is not open until the 15th for our stay. I need to find an Airbnb to stay at so I am not homeless. So, I need to figure out: (1) how to get myself from the airport to central London (2) how to use the transit system and (3) do I choose an Airbnb near QMUL or near Wembley Stadium where the concert is held? I also think I need to take into account what to pack. I know I need to bring a converter to charge my electronics, weather appropriate clothes, get some UK currency and get a cellphone plan. I am also terrified of getting lost but if I get lost, I can most probably message someone. I am mostly concerned about the time before the June 15th and after the 30th because my flight is on the July 2nd rather than the 30th of June so once again, I need to figure out Airbnb and transportation on my own. Other than that, I am ready and super excited.

Oh, The Places We’ll Go; 
Things I Have to Say Before We Go Up, Up and Away

During my childhood, I was always interested in performance. I grew up as a dancer and took drama throughout high school, performing in three of my high school’s musicals. With theatre and performance being a big part of my life before Western, I questioned how it could continue during my studies. Last semester, I stumbled upon Kim Solga’s experiential learning course when looking for a half semester elective to fill my schedule. Her class allowed me to visit Toronto and see five amazingly diverse shows. Being an English major, I had never seen live theatre in my studies, so this class was a real treat to me. At the time I was also taking MJ Kidnie’s class Remediated Shakespeare. This course also allowed me to visit Stratford for the first time and try my hand at playing Hamlet for our final project. Both Kim and MJ exposed me to a side of Western I had never seen before, and needless to say, I am officially hooked. To finally answer the question, “What brought you to Destination Theatre”, I give credit to both of those classes in guiding me towards Theatre Western’s fall production, POSH. A few classmates and I saw this production with MJ and one of her previous students who had taken Destination Theatre. During intermission, MJ and her student gave us a very persuasive and intriguing sales pitch for this course. Upon further research, I knew this class would be an absolute hoot, and the perfect way to grow my love for live theatre.

Me in my first dance recital – 2004

I hope this course allows me to see many different types of shows. I am curious about alternate forms of staging, especially when the audience is immersed in the stage itself. In Kim’s class, we were able to see Gertrude and Alice at Buddies in Bad Times theatre which housed the stage below two sets of risers that faced each other. This was a very immersive experience and gave the personal story even more intimacy. I think this could be used in interesting ways and agree with Helen Freshwater’s ideas regarding a non-static audience experience. I believe theatre does not exist without the audience, so including them when creating a piece is vital.

Me in my high school’s production of Mary Poppins – 2016

I’m also interested to see how small scale productions in the London function differently than in Canada. I feel that mega-musical’s will remain consistent across borders because they are produced to travel and appeal to global audiences. What interests me more is how London’s ‘fringe’ theatre functions. I wonder if it is provocative, stimulating, and gutsy like some shows I’ve seen in Ontario. I have a feeling it will function in the same boundary-pushing way that some productions in Canada are able to but am curious as to just how much the production can press at hot-button topics or social issues.

Logistically speaking, I have many questions. I have not done a lot of travelling and this trip will be my first time overseas. With that in mind, I am both excited and nervous. I have flown twice previously and am not particularly nervous about the flight, but I do gain anxiety when thinking of navigating through airports and London on my own for the first time. I am comforted, however, knowing that I am not exactly in this alone and will be with a group of very eager theatre-loving kids just like myself. I find myself getting more excited by the minute!

Theatre on the World Stage: Why I Choose Destination Theatre

All my life, I have loved to perform, whether it was in dance, school plays, on a field, on the ice, or putting on shows with my friends for our parents. Unfortunately, as I grew up, I became so involved with sports I lost out on the chance to perform in a theatre setting. In coming to Western, I have had the opportunity to combine my love of performance and textiles while re-introducing theatre into my life through Theatre Western. In the Fall of 2017, I was the Costume Designer for Theatre Western’s production of Our Town by Thornton Wilder as well as the Head of Wardrobe for their Spring 2019 production of Chicago by Maurine Dallas Watkins. Though I wasn’t performing on the stage during these productions I still fell in love with theatre. With the love of theatre re-ignited within me, I chose to take Destination Theatre to enhance my knowledge of the way theatre companies chose which plays and musicals they will produce as well as how they choose who to hire to run the show in the background.

While in London, England I hope to learn about how professional companies run and how they are able to put on shows when something goes wrong. In my few experiences, I have found shows often have challenges to overcome during preproduction, be it political, or creative which makes it difficult for the stage hands to create the director’s vision. I have also seen how technical mistakes or difficulties can affect a show, and would like to know how actors and stage hands deal with these moments. I would also love to learn about their costume departments, how they come up with the costumes and construct them as well as learn better ways of keeping the wardrobe area clean, clear, and organized.

Aside from learning from the theatre companies, I look forward to learning about the culture and ways of life in London, England in general. I have spent a great deal of time learning about England during Roman and Medieval times and look forward to learning about the city in modern times. I have been to other parts of Europe but have never had the chance to travel to England before, so I am very excited that Western offers this opportunity. The concerns I hold about the trip itself revolves around the days I am in London outside of the scheduled days, as it will be the first time I will organize a trip myself. I need to figure out where I will be staying and what I would like to see and do while I am there. Aside from these reservations, I look forward to this trip.

Why I Chose Destination Theatre

If time would be kinder
I wouldn’t need a reminder
But winter to spring makes me blue;
The clocks are a bummer
But soon it will be summer
And the British sun brings me to you.

Growing up, I was probably definitely the kid that annoyed everyone else because I always did my homework and raised my hand in class. Although I used to be super passionate about schoolwork, last year and summer my disposition changed. I reached a low point in my program and my self-esteem. I was enrolled full-time in Business courses and while I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to pursue my degrees, it really affected my morale. I wasn’t inspired by what I was studying and I felt like everyone around me was trying to game the system or compete against me. I definitely didn’t fit into the mould and with every piece of myself that I shaved or carved, I realized I was becoming unhappier and more exhausted. To exacerbate an already difficult situation, I drifted apart from a very important friend of mine during the summer and that shattered my already fragile self-confidence.

Now, you’re probably wondering what this sob story has to do with Destination Theatre (and I don’t blame you). Destination Theatre fits into this story like a kind note from an old friend that you find at the bottom of your backpack. It acts as my reminder to enjoy school and to unfold my inner passions. It’s the first time in a long time that I am genuinely excited about a course! I think this is a great opportunity for me to rekindle my connection to my inner nerd all while discovering a completely new country and culture.

I’m most excited about the workshops. I saw Wicked on Broadway in January and I absolutely loved it! However, I wish I understood a bit more about the acting, costuming, and singing. Therefore, I think the workshops will be a great way to deepen my understanding and appreciation for performance.

In addition, I’m excited to be surrounded by people who appreciate art and performance. Although Western has a great Arts and Humanities community, the majority of non-Arts students do not have a true appreciation for it. In fact, I think that a lot of people undervalue Arts degrees. I know that our professor mentioned that British people generally have a deeper engagement with art so I can’t wait to partake in a culture that normalizes and appreciates theatre.

In terms of my fears, I’m most worried about being in a new city and finding my way around. Luckily, I know a lot of people in my class, but I am still nervous about meeting new people in the class and in England. I’m also curious about what England will actually be like and how it will compare to how it is portrayed in media.

There’s a lot of new things to learn about in England and I hope I’ll be able to revel in the experience, without crumpling under my insecurities. I hope that at the end of the trip I’ll be able to fold and carry my experience as a constant reminder of what inspires me.

 

 

 

Witness To ‘Witness For The Prosecution’

Have you ever sat in on a court case where a man is on trial for murder, and if found guilty, will be sentenced to death? A situation where you have no idea whether the man is innocent or guilty and who else may have been involved. An instance where all you can do is sit there, patiently waiting, and offering your best guess as to what really had happened when in reality, you do not have the slightest clue. I had the privilege of watching Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie at the London County Hall; an actual courtroom. I was able to sit directly next to the stage, and it was one of the most immersive experiences of my life. It felt as though I was a part of this trial, as I was right there, next to all the actors (although in this case, they did not feel as such). I was able to catch every single one of their facial expressions; lip twitches, frowns, even tears, something you could not experience in a dark theatre, with one thousand seats. It felt as if both the defense and the prosecution were trying to convince me, specifically that the man on trial was either innocent or guilty. The immersive nature of the show itself allowed myself to give every ounce of my attention to every nuance and every little detail on the stage.

The nature of Agatha Christie’s stories is that they are meant to deceive you and keep you mesmerized by having you guess as to who is responsible for committing the crime. This play did not fall short of these expectations. The fact that I had no idea what the ending would be, kept me engaged. It kept me curious in my desire to get my answer. Deception can keep entire audiences involved in the show, because the audience want to see if their guesses were correct all along or if something else happens entirely. The fact that the show was played in an actual courtroom and not a traditional theatre gave the play a certain authenticity that you would not have gotten otherwise. The Guardian mentioned that “the play’s appeal lies not just in its mystery but in its courtroom formality.” This review supports the fact this play wasn’t impressive due to the fantastic acting and the underlying mystery, but also on the fact that the courtroom, which in itself is a very theatrical event, allowed for a complete show experience. I walked out of the theatre with my jaw-dropped, in absolute shock as to how it had ended, and I attribute that to not only the plot, but also the way the plot was presented to me.

Theatre is supposed to keep you entertained, and always keep you wanting more. It should have moments that just make you say, “Wow. I can’t believe that.” Witness for the Prosecution, at the London County Hall allowed me to have a continuous, two and a half hour ‘wow’ moment that escalated to immeasurable heights right as it ended, because after waiting for that long for my answer, I had finally received it. In such a spectacular way no less. If you are reading this, and are in London in the near future, make it your priority to see this production.

Notes from the field about “Notes From The Field”

On the evening of June 23, I had the absolute privilege (I’ll return to this in a bit) of seeing the final London performance of Anna Deavere Smith’s one woman show “Notes From The Field” with my Destination Theatre class.  This show was a collection of performed personal accounts from interviews Smith conducted herself, all centred around the topic of the “school to prison pipeline” in North America. She interviewed around 250 people in total for this project, which began in 2011, and was first performed in 2015.

Smith defines this “pipeline” for us on her website, which I highly recommend visiting by following the associated link:

“Basically, the US Justice Department released statistics that show that poor black, brown and Native American children are suspended and expelled more frequently than their middle-class and white counterparts, and that these suspensions and expulsions are directly linked to the likelihood that they will be incarcerated at some point in their lives.”

http://www.annadeaveresmith.org/category/notes-from-the-field/

I am myself a middle-class white female who grew up primarily in North Carolina, but near communities that only upon reflection do I now realize mirrored some of those depicted in Smith’s performance. I remember having a school safety officer, a large white man with a badge who we’d see wandering, or patrolling, the halls. These were my younger years, mind any reader. And there were students, children, who brought drugs or weapons into the school as early as grade 6, who were being indoctrinated into gangs because that’s just what someone from their own communities was accustomed to. These children were generally African American or Hispanic. Maybe there was a precedent for our safety officer, but there is no doubt that there were underlying social mechanisms at play concerning who was at risk of becoming criminalized at a young age and why.

So, privilege. When I was a kid in that school with the safety officer, I felt safe. I had nothing to fear. But other students did, and I was blissfully unaware of how much more there was, or should have been, to student discipline. That there was a story or a reason behind misbehaviour, and more intervention may have been required than a reactionary punishment. That the reactionary punishment was possibly an overreaction, and damaging in some way to the student. It was my privilege to not have to worry about these things, and it was imperative that I learned that I should worry.

If this is something that I, at 21 years old, remember from my childhood, then it is obviously something that has been happening for years, likely beginning far before I began elementary school, and potentially lasting far into our future as well. This is something that can be stopped though, and this is what Smith is trying to do, in her own way. Through using such an emotionally accessible medium as her performance is, Smith raises awareness and educates her audiences on this “pipeline” problem. Often, theatre isn’t a physically accessible medium though, for such demographics as those depicted in her show (good news though, a filmed version is now available on HBO). It is most accessible to relatively privileged communities, but these are the people who need to learn about these social injustices, because the people affected by them already know. So upon learning and leaving this show, I hope that others like myself will move forward recognizing our privilege, and using it in a way that means something. Ask questions, demand answers, and stand up for your neighbours. And share your HBO Go password so everyone can see this vital piece of theatre.

When Theatre Transforms Spaces

Studying how the city of London, England and theatre interact by examining research papers, novels, essays, and first-hand accounts from those who have visited before is nothing to one’s own experience of the city. When I arrived in London, England at Gatwick Airport, in order to get to my destination, Queen Mary, I had to take a train and it was the view from the train that struck me first. As the train slowly pushed through the countryside, small communities lingered in my sight line. Graffiti, crumbling infrastructure, and overgrown plant life filled my view until I entered the city at Victoria Union Station. These communities did not receive the benefit of the tourism that has transformed the London city centre. As the train trekked deeper into the heart of London, lots of scaffolding entombed buildings and cranes littered the skyline. From this image I learned that the city is always changing, building on the ground and legacy that came before. London, England is a hub for monumental historic and theatrical spaces.

While travelling in the underground subway stations, I was astonished by the abundance of advertisements promoting shows. This abundance is lacking in London, Ontario. In London, England there are theatres considered to be West End, some outside of West End, and another dozen belonging to the off West End category. Each day and night there is a large quantity of shows to be seen. There is such an abundance that there are small shops/kiosks selling tickets at a discount the day of the performance to fill the thousands of seats belonging to the many theatres in London. As the class explored the city, Professor Kidnie explained to me that theatre was playing a significant part in urban regeneration. The relationship between the city and theatre is what interested me most. London and its theatre culture were deeply intertwined and woven in such a way that it is inescapable like the oxygen we breathe.

The area which I would like to closely examine is the environment and location around the National Theatre, and the re-constructed Globe Theatre that has drawn millions of viewers and Shakespeare enthusiasts from across the globe. As I walked along the Southbank of London, England I saw food trucks, lounge chairs, coffee shops, monuments, benches, restaurants, and play spaces for young children such as an elongated sandbox. Children can climb up a bright orange sculpture that can also be used as a slide. A colourful carousel dominated a small portion of the Southbank, and not far from that there was a skatepark covered in layers of graffiti. Professor Kidnie explained that twenty years before, the now thriving skatepark that allows individuals to explore their own creativity with graffiti and push their skateboarding skills further, was home to countless homeless people underneath the overpass. Row after row of individuals living in poorly constructed outdoor places of residence. However, as theatre and the arts continued to grow on the Southbank, there became no place for these individuals who had no home in this area. Those who had called the area home for an extended period of time were pushed out by commercial spaces taking advantage of the theatre goers nearby. When theatre transforms spaces, in some circumstances it does not benefit the local communities and the individuals that live within it. The area becomes condensed with tourists and commercial shops are pursued instead of pushing for more affordable housing and/or resources for those who are disadvantaged. Theatre’s transformative nature can be beneficial if they communicate with the community and focus on goals for educational opportunities, inclusivity, and support for those who need it most.