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.

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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. 

Taking my passion to a new destination

During this time of heart shaped chocolates, flowers, and romance I feel compelled to reflect on my lifelong partner. My appreciation post this Valentine’s Day is for a companion of mine that has been part of my life since 2000: theatre. I was first acquainted with theatre in Toronto at a production of The Lion King. Since then theatre and I have had a strong relationship. No matter where I go I will always make sure to see theatre. While my passion has continued to flourish in university, as a fourth year student I feel it is now time to expand beyond my comfort zone by experiencing theatre in a new culture, with new friends and as a global citizen.

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I first met theatre with my mom and aunt in 2000.

Since that first encounter in 2000, I have experienced theatre in many different roles. I am always an avid audience member, of course. Every year at Christmas time my family and I see a production at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton. After the production we have dinner and discuss in detail what we saw, from stand-out actors to interesting props or costume choices. At Western, I continue to develop my analytical skills as a student in the Theatre Studies program.

 

My time at Western has also given me opportunities to be a hands-on part of many productions. In high school I did participate in theatre performances; however they were not as frequent as the shows that are put on at Western and in the overall London community. I have had the pleasure of working on two productions for the English department at Western. For the 2015 production of Women Beware Women I was the Assistant Stage Manager, Props Mistress, and I played small character roles of a servant, citizen and lord. Last fall I was the Stage Manager for the production of Q1 Hamlet. I am currently working on the Arts and Humanities Students’ Council production of Antigone as an Assistant Stage Manager.

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The costume warehouse at the Stratford Festival Archives in Stratford, ON.

 

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Me with the cast of Women Beware Women, backstage at the McManus Theatre in London, ON.

 

Although my relationship with theatre began in 2000, my love for classical Shakespearian theatre began last year in the classroom. In affiliation with Western, this past summer I took courses at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. The classes gave me the opportunity to tour the Stratford Festival Archives, costume warehouse, meet iconic Stratford actors and of course see a lot of Shakespeare. My interest in Destination Theatre comes from the opportunity to explore famous Shakespearian sights, such as the Globe Theatre and in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and to witness a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I also hope my time in England will allow me to engage with new types of theatre that, like my experience with Shakespeare, will help me grow as an engaged audience member who, as Helen Freshwater says in her book Theatre & Audience, “‘link[s] what they see with what they have seen and told, done and dreamed’” (17). Likewise, I want to see how Canadian productions of Shakespeare are similar to yet also completely different from the shows we will see in England.

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Trying on costumes during our warehouse tour of the Stratford Festival Archives!

I will admit my biggest fear is the long plane ride to England. I have never experienced a plane ride longer than two hours! However, I know the destination will be well worth the fearful journey. I have also never travelled outside of North America and cannot wait to experience a new culture. I look forward to the moments England will challenge my comfort zone and help me grow as an individual seeking adventure in the name of my passion: theatre.

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

I’m ready to go.

When I was a child I was sheltered from pretty much everything because of religious reasons. I wasn’t allowed to watch certain cartoons or celebrate any holiday. Finally, I stood up to my parents and told them that I was an individual, and I was tired of the religious snobbery I faced. I was not ready to spend my life detached from the world around me because of something I didn’t believe in, and I didn’t want to have my friends chosen for me. The world was filled with so much wonder that I couldn’t access without feeling guilty.

Naturally I spent several years battling with the belief that there may not be much waiting for me after completing a Bachelor of Arts. I was simply misguided, from my family, friends, and unsupportive teachers in high school, who told me that creativity was essentially worthless in the work place. I wanted to be sure that I was ready to spend thousands of dollars on a dream. I’ve written poetry for over thirteen years, and I was disinterested in almost everything else that was practical minded (math, science, computers, etc.). Since beginning my degree I have realized that I also enjoy writing both fiction and non-fiction.

My first experience with theatre was in New York City. I took a trip to the city, alone, when I was twenty-one. Originally, I wasn’t interested in seeing a Broadway show. When I arrived, I was mesmerized by the lavish city style especially in Times Square. I realized how much I loved it and returned the next year to see my first play. I fell asleep near the end of Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark because I was sick, and that was a huge disappointment! The third time I returned I saw Matilda. This past summer I attended a showing of Wicked and Phantom of the Opera.

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Wicked stage – The Gershwin Theatre, NYC.

The biggest reason I joined Destination Theatre is because I want something to write about. I’ve had plenty of personal experiences that I could write about, but it isn’t the same as sharing an experience with other people. I may not always agree on everything, but I always consider both sides to be able formulate my own opinion. I love visual art, literature, language, writing, poetry, history, and New York. I want to get out in the world and become well versed in all things that have the potential to connect us in meaningful ways. Everything isn’t always black and white, so seeing the world from a theatre person’s perspective is enthralling. I have spent many years trying to do my own thing, and I’ve learned that this world, no matter how horrible it may seem, is better shared through friendship. How could I pass up going to London with its rich history that has been captivating people for centuries?

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This reminds me of how diverse our world is. Unknown – subway art, NYC.

Since the course isn’t in my module, I had to extend my degree another year to be allowed into the course. Although I’m still not sure that I will continue with a minor in Theatre Studies, I am here for the experience!

Cassy Player is a second year English and Creative Writing student at Western’s main campus.

From Street Theatre to the West End

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A view of Rio de Janeiro

The world of theatre is a place I’ve been a part of  for a long time. It all began when I was 8 years old and was cast as the witch in my public school’s production of Hansel and Gretel. I had a blast, but I got so excited that I accidentally threw my candy-cane “wand” off of the stage onto the ground of the auditorium! Luckily enough, the audience just rolled with their sudden inclusion in the scene. Our school never put on a play again, and with the busyness of high school, gradually that part of my life fell away. I missed it, though; something felt like it was missing in my life, despite how little free time I had.

I started school at Western’s Huron University College in September of 2014, and that first year was incredibly difficult. I’m from a small town, and my high school graduating class only had 8 people in it!  Suffice it to say that meeting so many new people and coping with schoolwork was not as smooth of a transition as I had hoped. But around Christmas time, something amazing happened. I’m adopted, and at that point I began to talk regularly to my birth father (and his wife) for the first time. The best part is, my step-mom is a Professor of Theatre at the University of Michigan, and through her I began to realise how much I wished being in that world.

My step-mom is not only a professor of theatre. She is also the head of the Prison Creative Arts Program at UMich, which is an incredible program that facilitates workshops in various Michigan penitentiaries. As you can probably guess, she organizes and oversees a lot of theatre workshops (she’s incredible), and through her I began to learn about an entire other world I had no idea existed: the world of anti-oppressive methods of theatre and art. I read and watched and learned and felt so lucky to be able to know someone who was so devoted to social justice work in and through the arts. My learning in this area culminated in a trip to Brazil last May (2016), which was part of an exchange between Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University and the University of Michigan.

Brazil was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and my world expanded so much from our very first day on the ground. We went to Rio de Janeiro, and accompanied Brazilian students as they facilitated theatre workshops in hospitals, in prisons, and in the Mare favela. The trip was a whirlwind of meeting people, learning Portuguese, learning to facilitate workshops, travelling by bus through the busy, enormous city, and through it all I felt a pervasive sense of joy and wonder that I was able to be a part of this incredible, transformative work in some small way. It was in Brazil that I learned to see how art and politics intersect, as well as how artistic expression can be radically transformative in everyday life. Brazil made me feel like I had come back home to the theatre, and it lit the spark in me that had been missing since I was 8 years old.

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A workshop at the university

When I returned from Rio, I set about trying to get a summer job and prepare for my next semester at Western. During the summer, I received the news that it most likely wouldn’t be feasible for me return to the exchange in Brazil the following year. At the same time, though, I received an email describing a chance to study theatre in the UK through Western’s Theatre Studies program. I filled out the application that night, and promptly forgot about it. Imagine my surprise when I learned that I’d been accepted, and would be going to London England!

As the weeks have unfolded, I’ve gotten more and more excited about this opportunity. I can’t wait to discover the ways that theatre in the UK are different from Canada, and especially from Brazil. I can’t wait to settle in for some really good shows, and I can’t wait to explore London, especially as a history major. I was nervous starting Destination Theatre, and still am; this is the first theatre studies class I’ve ever taken, and I haven’t travelled on my own a lot. But I am completely confident that this experience will only add to all of the things I’ve learned in Brazil, and will expand my world even more.

Leah Nap is a third year student of History and Global Development Studies at Huron University College.

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The UMich group in Brazil

 

My Journey to Destination Theatre

It was about two years ago, during my second year of University, that I caught the itch for theatre. To my surprise, my interest in live-performance included both spectatorship of, and performance in, productions. I started auditioning for stuff at Western University, and it was upon the success of landing my first role as a Dragon in a Purple Shorts play called “Simon the Brave” that certain individuals began referring to me as the living Troy Bolton (from the movie High School Musical). Having grown up as a competitive athlete, eventually playing varsity basketball for Western (hence Troy Bolton), I found that the theatre scene felt very much like foreign territory, a world I was eager to become a part of.

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Me as a Dragon (in a dinosaur onesie) in “Simon the Brave”

By the beginning of third year I was pursuing a minor in Theatre Studies, with a new appreciation for theatre. Recently, I learned how relevant theatre and performance is to our everyday lives. For example, Judith Butler, a philosopher and gender theorist (among other things), discusses in “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An essay in phenomenology and feminist theory” how gender is socially constructed through the enactment of gender roles. Furthermore, it is in performing these roles that we construct our gender identity.

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Judith Butler

Engaging in theatre as both a cast member and an audience member has made me realize that one of the greatest strengths of theatre is its (potential) diversity. The reason why I say “potential” is that quite often this diversity can be halted by populist theatre, otherwise known as mainstream theatre. Jen Harvie’s 2009 book, Theatre & the City, touches upon this point. Regardless, diversity in an of itself is a hot topic nowadays, and I believe that it is starting to be reflected on stages in casting and in storylines. Take, for example, “The Gay Heritage Project”, a production put on by Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, which is an alternative Canadian theatre company whose mission is developing and presenting voices that question sexual and cultural norms. As you may have guessed by the title, “The Gay Heritage Project” examines the rich history behind gay culture, arguably a less frequented, topic presented on stage.

Destination Theatre is part of my journey in acquiring greater knowledge about theatre, by both studying it and immersing myself in one of the world’s leading theatre hubs. I am excited to experience theatre in another part of the world. There is a certain culture formed through the interaction of the city and the theatre productions, which results in a unique theatre community with a distinct feel. Watching a show in Stratford is a widely different experience, than a show in Toronto, or even in London. For example, in Stratford, it is not uncommon to run into actors at Balzac’s, either grabbing a Cup of Joe for breakfast or between matinee and evening performances. For me, this small-town feel carries over to the performances where I would see those friendly “neighbourhood” actors on stage. It fostered a strong sense of community in me, which manifested into a sense of pride and excitement towards the actors and performance, something I have not experienced at a Toronto-based production. I am curious as to the “feel” of the theatre scene in London, England.

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The Old Vic Theatre located in London, England

Travel often results in much self-reflection and greater understanding of oneself, culture, and the world at large. In walking foreign landscapes, meeting new people, and attending cultural events, in this case theatre, I believe we can begin to understand that how we live is but one way of life, but one perspective. The result is a whole lot of self-reflection. I look forward to learning more about theatre, European culture, and myself as we embark on this journey to London, England together.

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Cece Pellegrino is a fourth year student at Western University.