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.
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.