Ready, steady…

For this final post of the winter term, I (the teacher!) am weighing in on my fears and expectations as we get ready to head to the UK. How do I feel? Like this…

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…but also like this:

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This is the first time I’ve taught Destination Theatre (in fact, it’s the first time the course has run!), and it’s been both exciting and challenging so far. Of course, we’ve been taking care of the business of winter term, in a windowless room in a “holding” building on Western’s main campus (our home building, the storied University College, is undergoing much-needed renovations until 2018). So, at times it’s been hard to remember that the whole point of this class is our upcoming trip to BIG London in June. At the same time, though, the past few weeks have given us important time and space to learn a bit about some of the central concepts in theatre studies that will help to shape our discoveries as we attend theatre in, and roam around, one of the world’s theatre capitals.

(Our winter term reading…)

What have we been up to this winter? You can check our work out for yourselves under the “winter term things” tab here on the blog; this is where I have posted notes and activities around which we’ve shaped our discussions, as well as photos from and links to three recorded performances – of As You Like It at Shakespeare’s Globe, A Doll’s House at the Young Vic, and The Shipment by Young Jean Lee’s theatre company, in Seattle, WA – that we’ve watched and discussed together. In addition, the students in Destination Theatre have also had the chance to see (and to make!) some live theatre in London, ON this term – including Theatre Western’s barnburner of A Chorus Line – and a handful of them offer some of their reflections on that work in posts already up here on the blog.

But what we’re really in this for is the journey to London, and I’m so excited about how it’s all coming together. We’ve got our accommodation secured and paid for at Queen Mary’s gorgeous, canal-side east end campus, have sorted our weekend at Stratford-upon-Avon, where we’ll hang with the RSC for a while, plus we’ve booked all eight of our group theatre outings – to see Les MisWorkingTitus AndronicusTwelfth Night, The Goat, or, Who is Sylvia?, The Life of Galileo, Anatomy of a Suicide, plus an immersive, party-animal’s Great Gatsby at a secret central London location! (Look for reflections on each of these trips on the blog during our experience, which runs 17-30 June.)

Right now, while the students are thigh-high in term papers, exams, and other end-of-year stresses, I’m securing our guest speakers and planning groovy outings with the QMUL team, to spots like, oh, you know… one of London’s oldest music halls:

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Am I daunted? A little bit. I’ve asked the students in their first posts here to reflect on hopes and fears; I think it’s only fair I do the same. I lived in London for several years, which means I’m not at all stressed about the crowds, noise, or travel. Going to London is like going home for me. But I’ve only once before traveled abroad with a group of students (to Peru, in 2009), and I know it’s going to be breathtaking in both senses of the term: simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting, tremendous and terrifying.

I fear losing them on the Tube. I fear harm coming to one of them. I fear the minor stuff too: accidental drunkenness (uh-huh), illness, anxiety that spills over, gets us down. We’ll get through all of it, but I know in the end the proverbial buck stops with me. It’s not like when I teach in that windowless, uninspiring classroom back at Western; this is free range pedagogy. I’m up for it, but I know it’s going to test me.

See you in the OTHER London!

Kim

Amateur London

In June, we will literally be in another London. Another parallel is that we will be seeing two shows in the real London that I am currently working on in this London. I am in the process of rehearsals for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Palace Theatre, which we will be seeing at Shakespeare’s Globe. Also, I am working on an in class presentation of Edward Albee’s The Goat, which we will see at Theatre Royal Haymarket. I am excited to see these professional productions, but my favourite aspect of amateur theatre is that it is working for feeling, not for money. The people I know who are involved in amateur theatre are volunteering their time because theatre is their passion. This is not to say that professionals are not passionate, as I am certain they are, but I am going to speak from my experience about the “emotional pay-off” of amateur theatre (Hurley 1).

In Theatre & Feeling Hurley writes that “three-quarters of the arts events people attend are amateur productions…they are events put on by those whose artistic practice is founded, by definition, in love (the French amateur literally means ‘lover’)” (2). It is true most of the theatre I see is amateur. In the past month, I have seen three amateur shows, all in which I know some, or most, of the people involved in the production. Being involved in amateur theatre has introduced me to a community of people that share my passion. Community theatre is commonly perceived as a hobby and as a tier far below professional quality, but I have seen amateur productions with great acting. Some recent examples that have stood out in London include Calithumpian Theatre Company’s The History Boys and Theatre Western’s Twelve Angry Men.

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Martin and Sylvia (the Goat)

There are varying levels of amateur, though. My in-class presentation of The Goat was not born from passion or love, but from a syllabus. Although I have a great group, we are passionate about putting together a good adaptation in the hopes of a high grade in return. Everyone in the class is interested in drama, but not everyone considers themselves an actor.

On the other hand, most of the production team for Twelfth Night and some of the actors have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre. Theatre is not their job yet it is far from a hobby. There are ten hours of rehearsals each week for our upcoming production, and those hours are beginning to increase as we get closer to the run of the show. Although we are all working tirelessly, no one involved is paid. The theatre and the theatre company make a profit off of amateur shows but the “feeling-labour” of the actors is not for monetary compensation (Hurley 9). Hurley writes that, “people attend the theatre for its emotional pay-off” and I believe that is what actors in amateur productions gain as well (Hurley 1).

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The Cast and Crew of Twelfth Night at our First Read-Through

Works Cited

Hurley, Erin. Theatre & Feeling. Palgrave, 2010.

Rachel Flear is a fourth year English and Theatre Studies Student from London, Ontario.

 

Creating Theatre

Recently, my sister and I received valuable advice from a young man who is currently struggling to find a career path in life. It is probably something that someone has told you at some point in your life, however, it never hurts to hear it again. As you may know, some of the best lessons in life can be learned through someone else’s experiences. He said to us, if you ever find an opportunity at your doorstep, don’t let it pass. This sounds simple enough, though if you think back, how many opportunities have you let pass? Things you didn’t do because you were too afraid or too shy. Maybe you couldn’t be bothered to put in the effort, or the very act of simply showing up seemed burdensome. While the exact reasons will vary from person to person, how we respond is often the same – we say no. We say no and just like that, we find we’ve missed out on something that may have been great. Something that had the potential to change us in ways we could never even expect.

Last week, we received an email from Kim, our Destination Theatre professor, regarding a chance to participate in a theatre creation workshop led by Mina Samuels and Jacqueline Dugal. The details of the workshop were vague and, at the time, neither of us had any idea as to how theatre was actually “created”. We didn’t know what the workshop would entail, nor what we’d be expected to do. What we did know at the time, however, was that simply not knowing wasn’t going to be a good enough excuse for passing on such a unique opportunity. We signed up.

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Theatre Creation Workshop led by Mina Samuels and Jacqueline Dugal

The room assigned for the workshop was brightly lit with natural sunlight that shone through enormous windows. Through the glass we could see a group of young women standing in a circle. Most of them had removed their shoes, and one by one, each woman walked through the empty space in the center to reach a different position in the circle. Not wanting to interrupt this unusual ritual that unfolded before us, we stood awkwardly by the entrance, watching from afar. Soon, one of the women noticed our presence and asked if we would like to join them. The woman introduced herself as Jacqui. As we took our places in the circle, Jacqui explained that the purpose of this exercise was to prepare ourselves for performing the same movement, except with our eyes closed. She then asked each person in the room to make one pass through the circle with their eyes open to provide everyone with the chance to get accustomed to the movement. As expected, the exercise was simple enough and everyone made their pass with ease. Jacqui then explained that each person would now shift their position three times to random places in the circle, however this time our eyes were to be kept closed the entire time. To lead the blind individual to a new position in the circle would be the responsibility of those within the circle. Much to our surprise, this round was much more unnerving and this sentiment was echoed throughout the room by others. Walking blindly, expecting complete strangers to guide you home, felt unusually frightening! This exercise had, however, taught us to trust our peers and had granted us the ability to shed our fears of the unknown by stepping outside our comfort zones.

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International & Graduate Affairs Building UWO, where the workshop took place.

Next, Jacqui and Mina led us through another, rather peculiar exercise. This time, Jacqui read a single sentence from Mina’s play titled “Because I am Your Queen”. She then told us she was going to break the sentence down into individual words, and instructed us to feel the words as she slowly uttered them, and find a unique pose to encapsulate the emotion behind each word. She advised us to delve beyond obvious positions and reach for what she referred to as our “fifth instinct”. When we began, we quickly realized that this exercise would be quite difficult for us, as we have little experience with theatre and the study of movement and improvisation. As those around us artfully flowed from one elegant position to the next, the two of us struggled to find even a single pose. The movements felt awkward and stiff, as we were too timid to break free and move our bodies as openly as everyone else. The feelings of embarrassment we felt can easily be described by the word “affect”, as defined by Erin Hurley in her book “Theatre & Feeling”. In this book, Hurley proffers the scholarly definition of affect: an immediate, uncontrollable, skin-level registration of a change to our environment (i.e., these are the responses we cannot consciously control) (p. 13). Interestingly, she goes on to describe how affect exceeds us in a way that may be conveyed through the display of emotion (p. 18). Our feelings of discomfort were easily sensed by Jacqui through our restrained motions, as well as our mild expressions of unease. As we stood there feeling rather flustered, Jacqui asked everyone to close their eyes and raise their hands if anyone was judging themselves in any way for their movements. As we raised our hands, we knew instinctively that the people she was most likely addressing were the two of us. She then asked everyone to open their eyes and this time, to let go of any judgement we might feel for ourselves or anyone else.

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Mina Samuels
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Jacqueline Dugal

As the workshop progressed, we slowly began to feel more comfortable and even started to enjoy ourselves. To be able to move in front of others without fearing judgement was a strangely liberating experience. Change is a gradual process and it is only when we allow ourselves to be exposed to situations that make us feel ill at ease that we can truly expect to grow. Neither of us had expected the workshop to impact our lives the way it had, and we are both very grateful to have been a part of this wonderful experience. We sincerely hope that in our futures we will continue to accumulate similar little experiences that will slowly, but surely, allow us change for the better.

Maha & Maham Ahmed are fourth year students  specializing in Microbiology and Immunology and minoring in Classical studies at Western University.

A Theatre’s Place in the City

It is 8’clock pm on a Saturday night. As I walk with my friend through the dimly lit parking lot, I think to myself, ‘I am so happy I was able to get a ride here.’ I feel uneasy as we walk down an ally between two houses to finally arrive at the theatre doors. I breath a sigh of relieve as I finally enter The Palace Theatre to see A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.

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A view from my seat and the program for ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ at The Palace Theatre.

A Raisin in the Sun presents the Younger family, an African American family living in a worn down small apartment in Chicago. Each member of the family has a dream, but the main focus of the plot is the dream of both Ruth Younger and her mother-in-law, Lena Younger (Mama), for the family to move into a house. The play begins with the family inheriting insurance money after the passing of Mama’s husband (also Walter and Beneatha’s father). Mama uses some of the money to buy the family a house in Clybourne Park. The problem is, as Ruth points out, “[T]here ain’t no coloured people living in Clybourne Park” (Hansberry 93). Hansberry touches on themes of race, identity, family and the challenge African Americans face while pursuing the American dream.

I saw the performance of A Raisin in the Sun for a drama class. After seeing the performance, my professor handed out a participation assignment. One question on the assignment asked about the location of The Palace Theatre. How did we feel going to this location? How did the location of the theatre align with the feelings of the Younger family’s move to Clybourne Park? These questions made me think, but not in the way my professor was looking for. I began reflecting on a striking moment of my experience, which comes from what Jen Harvie discusses in Theatre & The City as the concept of cultural materialism.

In Theatre & The City, Jen Harvie lists examples of cultural materialism in relation to a theatre’s “space, institutional structures and practices, money and people” (24-25). Harvie quotes Marvin Carlson to further explain elements of cultural materialism: “‘The entire theatre, its audience arrangements, its other public spaces, its physical appearance, even its location within a city, are all important elements of the process by which an audience makes meaning of its experience’” (24). Carlson suggests that an experience with theatre is about more than simply the performance.

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The exterior of The Palace Theatre in London Ontario (from lfpress.com).

My experience of unease walking up to The Palace Theatre doors is an example of Carlson’s description. The Palace Theatre is located in a low socioeconomic area in London, Ontario, and students are warned not go there during the night. The stigma around the area known as “east of Adelaide” is not discussed in great detail but is simply known; it can hinder a student’s opinion of the Palace Theatre. I will note that The Palace Theatre has deep historical connections to the city of London.
However, as Harvie mentions, “the signification of locations can shift” (26). On the other hand, the centrally located Grand Theatre in London is positioned on what students call ‘Richmond Row.’ The juxtaposition of The Grand Theatre’s central location in comparison to The Palace Theatre’s location creates favouritism for students when they are deciding where to see local London theatre.

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The exterior of The Grand Theatre in London Ontario (from London Tourism Media).

Nevertheless, it is The Palace Theatre that offers the London Community Players, whereas The Grand Theatre often hosts travelling productions. The Palace Theatre offers a true London-run theatre experience, while The Grand Theatre cannot always promise a local London experience for students new to the area. As a theatre lover and student, my hope is for students to visit The Palace Theatre where classic and important plays such as Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun are performed. Apart from my class attending A Raisin in the Sun, there were not many students in the audience at the Palace. I hope with time ‘the signification’ of The Palace Theatre’s location will shift, building students’ comfort level so they can visit a theatre rooted in London’s history and with local actors onstage.

Works Cited

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Vintage Books, 1994.

Harvie, Jen. Theatre & The City. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Sarah Gilpin is a fourth-year English Language & Literature and Theatre Studies student at Western University and is pursuing a career in education.

Looking Ahead to Destination Theatre

My love of performance started from a young age. After several unsuccessful attempts at team sports, I found my place instead in music lessons and drama classes. While my mother’s stage fright kept her from performing in public, she has always been an avid theatre attendee, and our home was always filled with song. My father read to me from a very young age, inspiring in me a lifelong love of storytelling. In high school, my role as a performer became an increasingly important part of my identity. I threw myself into symphonic band and glee club, and was involved with both of our school musicals. For four years, I volunteered as a media technician at a local community venue. In English class, I developed a love for Shakespeare: one memorable project split our class into groups, which enacted and adapted scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream into modern settings.

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Western Mustang Band marching in the London Pride Parade, June 2016

When I came to Western, I got involved with the marching band and The Acapella Project, and met some of my closest friends. I also began to patronize a great deal of local theatre, as it was much more readily available than where I was from. In my second year, I got involved, first as the sound designer for the Arts and Humanities production of The Refugee Hotel. Working on that production reminded me of the strange and wonderful community that forms during the creation of a show, and inspired me to continue to engage in theatre, both on and off campus. Theatre has allowed me to meet so many creative, passionate individuals, people who continue to inspire me and who I feel incredibly fortunate to know.

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Cast and crew of The Refugee Hotel, March 2016

I first heard about Destination Theatre early in 2016, after reading Caitlin Austin’s blog post detailing her experience. I remember thinking the course was an incredible opportunity, but at that point, I hadn’t considered it as a real and viable option for me. As a science student, the theatre studies program seemed both intriguing and inaccessible, and I harboured serious doubts about my own ability to think critically and analyze works of performance. It wasn’t until later that year, while completing the fall theatre production course, that I attended an information session and begun to seriously consider the possibility. I applied in October, and was thrilled to receive my acceptance a few weeks later.

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Chorus rehearsal for our upcoming production of Twelfth Night

When I look forward to the trip, there are many things to be excited about. I have never been to Europe before, and eagerly anticipate the opportunity to visit a world-renowned theatre city. I am also especially excited to visit Stratford-upon-Avon and see the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. However, I do have a few uncertainties. As I am a very detail-oriented person, I like to plan things far in advance and will probably feel more comfortable when more information is available regarding scheduling. Also, since my current roommate is British, I know their cuisine is quite different than ours, and I worry about the availability of vegetarian food. Despite these minor concerns, I am overall very excited for this experience, and for the unique memories it will provide.

Rachel Kuipery is a third year human ecology student  at Brescia University College.

 

A Look Into My Pre-England Thoughts…

As a person who was constantly shoved onto the basketball court or into a library, a course called Destination Theatre is an absolute dream come true. I grew up watching musicals and listening to every Broadway soundtrack available because my mother has always been a huge fan of theatre, and while my father can appreciate the beauty of various art forms, he was adamant against my participating in it. For this reason, I was not immersed in the theatre arts until I was old enough to enrol myself as well as financially support myself in that regard. After that, I became extremely passionate and could not imagine life without it. My first experience with performing was in grade 10 when I was cast in a production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat,” with Spotlight Theatre Company. After that, I joined their unique competition team where we would travel to the United States and perform musical theatre tribute numbers for retired Broadway professionals. Kind of like Glee! Through the process, I realized that dance was my favourite aspect of musical theatre and became more focused on building my technique. Since then I have expanded my dancing to ballroom; I have become involved in theatre on campus, and as a choreographer in London for Original Kids Theatre Company. So, when I came across a course where I could receive a legitimate credit to see 8-10 live shows minimum in London, England, I knew was an opportunity I could not pass up.

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Me performing as “Joseph” in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat”

Travelling abroad in itself is a learning opportunity as you engage in a new culture, surroundings, and lifestyle. However, as my background is primarily musical theatre, I hope to develop an entirely new appreciation for theatre as we see mostly plays. Additionally as a Kinesiology student, I have very little experience with Shakespeare, and it is something I have always struggled with. Consequently, I am concerned that I will not understand everything or anything when we see Shakespearean theatre. I have a great appreciation for Shakespeare and the content of his plays, therefore the fact that I will be seeing his art in his birthplace, is exciting but also rather daunting. In an attempt to prepare myself, I am planning to do lots of reading and background research on the Shakespearean plays we will be seeing prior to the trip. It is my hope that having the knowledge and context going in will make it easier to understand and process.

From this course, I hope to learn more about the range of emotional experiences that theatre can provoke. I want to open my mind to new genres and understand how the intricacies of live theatre can leave audiences feeling moved after a show. This reminds me of the first time I ever saw Les Misérables live and how I felt genuinely connected to the performers the entire show. I could feel Jean Val Jean and Eponine’s pain, as well as deep sympathy for Javert as I got to know him not as an evil character but as misunderstood. I am very excited to see the West End’s rendition of this iconic and timeless show, and to observe how I am left feeling after that theatrical experience. Will it be the same as that first time? Will it be different? I am not sure but I certainly cannot wait to find out!

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Me and my theatre troupe competing a tribute to the musical, “Rent”.

My name is Thalia and I am a third year Kinesiology student at the University of Western Ontario.

My Journey to Destination Theatre

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Posing before my first ever dance recital

I started performing, in both dance and theatre, at a young age. I was painfully shy and hated the spotlight. I was probably the child on stage who fidgeted with her hands and stared at her feet.

However, at some point during my years of performing, I grew to love the warmth of the stage lights and the gaze of the audience. Although I was shy, when I was performing I could be someone else. I did not like to approach new people but the character I played was loud and self-assured. I crossed my arms in front of me when I walked but as a dancer, my head was held high and my movements were graceful.

I once came across the phrase, “sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living”. This line is from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I had never read the novel so I did not know the context of the line but reading it reminded me of performing. When I was performing, I could lead all the lives I was not living. I could be the young, stubborn Prince of Denmark or channel the wild fun of Rent’s Mimi singing “Out Tonight”.

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My high school performance of Hamlet (when I slammed the poison cup down with so much force it broke in two)
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Dancing and lip-syncing to “Out Tonight” at a dance competition

I continued dancing and acting until I graduated high school and along the way, I learned to translate my confidence on stage to real life. Today, I credit every achievement to this confidence, along with the creativity and empathy I gained from performing.

In university, I have set out to explore other aspects of theatre apart from being onstage. If theatre was so important to me, it must be important to the rest of the world. Therefore, I am particularly interested in theatre’s place in society. How has society valued theatre throughout history? If part of theatre’s value today is commercial, does commercialization play a part in keeping theatre alive and thriving? Can theatre be a successful commercial venture without sacrificing artistic merit?

The Destination Theatre course explores theatre’s place in the world from a number of perspectives. I hope Destination Theatre will help me answer all of my questions but most importantly, where does theatre fit within modern society and where do I fit within the theatre world? What is my role in helping theatre evolve sustainably in today’s rapidly changing world?

This course will be my third time visiting London, England. Previously, I have learned about London’s history and visited the tourist destinations but I have yet to delve deeper into London’s rich culture. While I have seen an American musical in the West End, Destination Theatre will allow me to explore the local artistry rooted in England’s long history. For example, I am thrilled to visit The Royal Shakespeare Company and understand how artists through the centuries have kept Shakespeare’s work and memory alive. I am also excited to visit the “Peopling the Palace” festival and interact with unique, local art. I cannot wait to return to London and I could not think of a better place to study the past, the present, and the future of theatre.

Rachael DiMenna is a fourth year student pursuing a dual degree with the School for Advanced Studies in Arts and Humanities and the Ivey Business School. She studies literature, business administration, languages, entrepreneurship, and other fields through an interdisciplinary lens. 

Shining a Light on Mental Illness

There has been much buzz surrounding the topic of mental health on Western University campus the last couple years. More and more students are now speaking out against the apparent lack of adequate counselling services available to them. In fact, just a couple weeks ago, Western’s Senate approved a fall semester reading week to be implemented in October of each school year (http://news.westernu.ca/2017/02/senate-debate-fall-reading-week/), which I believe will greatly reduce the copious amounts of stress experienced by the average university student, hopefully directly improving many students’ mental health.

It is not surprising that an issue such as mental health has made its way to the Western stage, as theatre can be an effective medium to discuss important topics and effect positive change. Every year, Theatre Western (a Western University theatre club) puts on a one-act play festival called Purple Shorts in early February (see http://www.westerngazette.ca/arts/purple-shorts-leaves-audiences-tickled-and-teary-eyed/article_7d5ac322-f66d-11e6-8a5f-cb54c2d0a148.html for a review of the event).

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Purple Shorts Promo Picture

These plays are written, directed, acted, and produced by Western students for Western students. This year I had the privilege of performing in “We’re All Okay”, one of the six plays that made up the festival. The play follows four university students who recently lost a roommate to suicide through a drug overdose. I portrayed Rebecca, the “mother” of the household who comforts and supports her roommates by sharing her experience in losing her mother. On the surface, it is a story of mental illness, but even more so, it is a story of strength, love, hope, and healing, as the roommates lean on and support each other in their grieving, with the ultimate message being “we’ll all be okay.” Unfortunately, both mental illness and suicide are relevant issues at Western, making this one-act play even more important to stage. together

To partake in a play that discusses such an important and pertinent issue to the Western community, and world at large, was nothing short of an honor. I felt a great responsibility to accurately and authentically bring Rebecca to life, and to share her story knowing that most of the audience would be made up of fellow Western students who may themselves be dealing with a mental illness, have lost someone to suicide before, or have lost their mother too soon. This awareness greatly motivated me throughout the entire production process to performance night.

In studying theatre, I became aware of the potential impact theatre has on its spectators, one of the key takeaways being that every individual is unique, holding different political beliefs, personal histories, and cultural viewpoints (Freshwater, 6). This in turn, influences their perception of the play, which was evident to me after my performance in “We’re All Okay”. The responses of audience members varied drastically. Some focused on my portrayal as Rebecca, others on the importance and relevance of mental health initiatives at Western, and some both. I see these differences in experience as a strength of theatre: allowing individuals to take away something unique that they experienced as a collective.

Just as I know I affected some of the individuals who made up the audience, so too did the audience influence my performance. Reflecting on my performance, I found that many of

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“We’re All Okay” – Opening Scene

my tonal and physical choices throughout the play were greatly influenced by the audience. For example, the play opened with Rebecca’s roommate Anna informing the audience of Walker’s death. It was an emotionally “heavy” opening, as much of Anna’s
anger, frustration, and sadness was projected to the audience. After this monologue, Ellie, another roommate, enters the stage in such an extravagant manner as to break the tension, causing the audience to laugh. I was to enter the stage right after her in a natural manner. Sensing the audiences desire for a lighter atmosphere on stage, understandably so after being called to witness an account of death by mental illness just moments ago, I improvised my entrance by incorporating a slight “shimmy” on the way to my seat, which resulted in additional laughter from the audience. In this way, the audience greatly influenced my performance and the conception of Rebecca, helping me to bring her to life and share a story of loss, grieving, strength, and healing through love and connection.

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Work Cited

Freshwater, Helen. Theatre & Audience . New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Print. Theatre &.

A New Experience

I was five years old when I saw my first play. It was during a school trip to a local theatre where we watched a musical rendition of The Wizard of Oz, and while my memory of the actual play has dimmed, I can still vividly remember how magical that evening had felt to me. The bright lights, the setting of the stage, the actors in their costumes, the whole play was like nothing I had ever seen before, and while I had always been a lover of the art of storytelling, it was at this moment my love for theatre truly began.

When I was seven, my family moved to Saudi Arabia due to a job opportunity my father was greatly interested in. Growing up in the Middle East was an interesting experience to say the least, and while there were parts about it I will always love, the general atmosphere was quite restricting. There are no cinemas in Saudi Arabia, nor any theatres for plays. The only form of theatre I experienced during these years was the few plays included in the literature books given to us at school. While we were never actually assigned any of these plays to study in class, I would always read them by myself in my spare time. Although reading has always been a great hobby of mine, I can still remember thinking how amazing it would be to have the opportunity to actually watch the scenes being acted out on the big stage.

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Riyadh, capital city of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

 

 

My twin sister and I moved back to Canada when we were eighteen to pursue our undergraduate degrees at Western. It was here that we discovered a new passion in the form of Classical Studies, and we even decided to minor in it. My favourite course had been ancient mythology, because it had wonderfully combined my love for history and theatre all into one course. This course introduced me to some of the oldest forms of theatre, as we read works from a few of the most famous ancient Greek playwrights, including Euripides and Sophocles.

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Ancient Greek theatre at Epidaurus

When my sister and I applied to Destination Theatre in our first semester of our fourth year at Western, I did not believe that either of us had a really great chance of getting accepted. I was therefore ecstatic to learn that we had both been given this amazing opportunity to participate in this course. As is the case with any new experience, however, I do carry a few apprehensions. While I have always loved theatre, I have never studied it from an academic standpoint.  A lot of the concepts of Theatre Studies, which are very familiar to most that have chosen to take this class, are quite foreign to me. Knowing that I am probably the most inexperienced in this class really isn’t the most comforting feeling! But as a student of the sciences, I never had much of a chance to explore my interests in the world of the arts, and I am absolutely thrilled to be able to experience, once again, the theatre I had loved so much as a child, and that I had read so frequently growing up.

Maham Ahmed is a fourth year at Western University completing an Honors Specialization in Microbiology and Immunology along side a minor in Classical Studies.

Welcoming Change

Last semester I took a course about the Emperors of Imperial Rome. We discussed several Emperors including Marcus Aurelius, a man who is often regarded as the best Emperor of the Roman Empire. During his reign, Marcus Aurelius wrote a series of personal writings, known today as the Meditations. While I was reading the assigned paragraphs from this remarkable piece of work, the following quote in particular resonated with me.

 “Not to assume it’s impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it’s humanly possible, you can do it too”

 

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Statue of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius

 

Before enrolling in this course, I had always avoided taking courses offered by the Theatre Studies program. It wasn’t a lack of interest that held me back but rather, a sort of fear. The courses always seemed so foreign, so unfamiliar, so difficult. I did, however, enroll in an introductory Classical Studies course during my first year. I loved every bit of it and by my second year I decided to complete a minor in Classical Studies alongside my Specialization in Microbiology and Immunology. It was also during this time that my twin sister and I registered for a course in Ancient Greek and Roman Mythology. The entire course was fascinating and I particularly enjoyed the last section that was devoted to studying ancient Greek theatre. We learned all about the ancient theatre, how the actors were mostly male and generally from lower-class backgrounds, the backdrops that they used, and the way the very architecture of the theatre was designed to amplify sound. We read several enchanting plays such as Oedipus Rex, The Bacchae, Medea, and the Oresteia. I found myself in a new world – the world of performance. This year when I received an email about a course dedicated to watching theatrical performances, it was this Mythology course that convinced me and my sister to apply.

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Unlike today, actors in ancient Greece wore masks during theatrical performances.

My sister and I were both accepted in the course in November. We were both ecstatic! How exciting it would be to study abroad! There were so many things that attracted me to this course. Having the opportunity to visit another university, being able to see eight grand plays, and meeting amazing new people are just a few things I can name off the top of my head.

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Queen Mary University of London, where we will be staying during Destination Theatre 2017

Going into this course, I do bring several fears with me: fears about not having any experience in theatre studies, the fact that most of the students in the course seem far more experienced in theatre – if not in the classroom, then in the actual theatre. Fears about not doing well in the course, about being too shy to purse something as bold as theatre. As a science student, I’m more accustomed to getting my grades through exams rather than written assignments.  I knew all of this before starting the course, and by enrolling in it I hope to overcome the fears that held me back from pursing theatre earlier.  Even if I find it difficult, it does not mean it is impossible.

Maha Ahmed is a fourth year student at Western University specializing in Microbiology and Immunology and minoring in Classical studies.