One year ago, I heard Western’s Theatre Studies department would be offering a new course: Destination Theatre. The course description seemed too perfect to be real; students spend two weeks of their summer in England where the bulk of the course work consists of watching and discussing theatre. I love travelling, I love theatre, and I loved the idea that Western was actually willing to give me a 0.5 credit for those things! I cleared my summer, and with the rest of the Destination Theatre class, planned two weeks of West End musicals, Shakespeare plays, immersive theatre, modern classics, and brand new shows.
June came and I was suddenly at Pearson airport about to board my flight. I was not new to England or Western’s international opportunities. I had visited England twice before, and through Western, I have studied abroad in Italy, competed at a New Zealand case competition, and learned about entrepreneurship in Israel. But as my plane took off, I knew this trip would be an absolutely new experience. By the time my family picked me up from Pearson two weeks later, I told them the trip had exceeded that expectation. The travel, academically-enriching course work, and the people I travelled with all made this trip unique.
On my previous trips to England, I hit all the tourist highlights. I have been to the White Cliffs of Dover, wandered the streets of Oxford, and ridden the London Eye twice. I’ve even been in the same room as Queen Elizabeth II! But Destination Theatre allowed me to experience London in a way I never had before. The first thing our professor, Kim Solga, did after ensuring we had all arrived was hand us loaded metro passes. We were free to explore the city and we took advantage of the opportunity. We explored the area around our residence and walked along Regent’s Canal, far from the areas packed with tourists. We took the tube into central London and searched for the best place in Soho to get drinks. After a night of theatre, we sat on lawn chairs on the Southbank, watching the lights on the other side of the Thames. We weren’t shepherded around from tourist site to tourist site on a coach bus. We were able to truly experience England.
Despite these new experiences, the best thing I discovered about London was how the legacy of British theatre proliferates the nation’s culture. Theatre was everywhere, and from watching Titus Andronicus in Stratford-Upon-Avon to participating in an immersive Great Gatsby, we experienced a wide spectrum of live performance. What truly surprised me is how often we were able to meet and speak with actors or members of the creative team after the show! After seeing a beautiful and tragic new show called Anatomy of a Suicide at the Royal Court theatre, we were surprised to see one of the show’s stars, Hattie Morahan, chatting with Lizzie Caplan at the theatre’s bar after the show. You may know these performers as the enchantress from the live-action Beauty and the Beast and Janis Ian from Mean Girls. As we sat star struck, Kim of course walked right up to Hattie, and they greeted each other as old friends (which they are). Hattie graciously came over to our table to say hello and answer our many questions about the show. This was a special, but not an entirely unique experience. At many of the performances, the actors and crew came out to have drinks with the audience after the show. In addition to chatting with stars at the shows, we were visited by many theatre makers, scholars, and reviewers who shared their insights and career experiences. I was constantly struck by how tight-knit the British theatre community seemed, and how willing they were to share that community with us. It was an immersive learning experience unlike any other.
The last part of the trip that made it special was the people I travelled with. Firstly, Kim was there for each student, encouraged us to bring our diverse educational background to class discussions, and shared with us her immense passion for theatre and England, a passion probably paralleled only by this year’s Destination Theatre professor, MJ Kidnie. Not only was our professor’s excitement contagious, I was also surrounded by students who were hungry to learn more about theatre. On our evenings off from seeing theatre for the course, most of us bought tickets to see even more theatre! We each brought different academic backgrounds to the course; some of us were humanities students while others had never studied theatre or the humanities before. However, we all chose this course for the opportunity to see and discuss theatre. That commonality brought us all together while our differences inspired each other.
Destination Theatre is an opportunity to visit a country with a theatre culture and legacy vastly different from our own. You will see more theatre than you ever would in two weeks, spend time with amazing people, and receive a credit for it! Whether this sounds like your dream course or you’re simply interested in travelling and learning a bit more about the arts, make sure you apply to Destination Theatre!
Shows we saw:
The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? @ Theatre Royal Haymarket, London
Anatomy of a Suicide @ Royal Court, London
Life of Galileo @ Young Vic, London
Titus Andronicus @ Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-Upon-Avon
The Great Gatsby (immersive theatre experience) @ “Secret Location”, London
Les Misérables @ Queens Theatre, London
Twelfth Night @ Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London
Working @ Southwark Playhouse, London
Shows I saw outside of the “course” while in London: Dream Girls, Book of Mormon, West End Live Public Concert