Following My Passion to London UK

     Five years ago, I acted in my first play ever called Cyrano by Edmond Rostand. I appeared in the whole play for a total of two minutes, though I was required to sit through every eight-hour rehearsal. I spent hours observing the expressions, body language and tone of every actor and began to admire how gracefully each actor embraced their role. From then onwards, I auditioned for every play in high school and continued my acting career after coming to university. Theatre has always played an active role in my life, and I have seized every opportunity to act in a play and explore the art of theatre. Destination Theatre provided me with the chance to delve into the world of art in a vibrant city like London, known for its traditional theatres.

       Every time I have visited London in the past, I have watched at least one show, and I always leave feeling speechless and in awe of the acting. Watching a show in London is an unbelievable experience, due to the enriching atmosphere. Now, I am absolutely thrilled to go watch numerous performances in London alongside individuals who share the same passion as I have. While I have always been involved in theatre, I have never had the chance to discuss the various elements of a performance, and so I am looking forward to analyzing a theatrical piece with like-minded people. Listening to the different perspectives on the acting, the expression and the set would not only expand my knowledge, but also enhance my critical thinking skills.

       After reading books such as Theatre and The Audience, and Theatre and The City, I realized how an audience’s reaction to a play or musical constructs the play as well. Since London is a city centered around theatre, I cannot wait to see the kind of people that come and watch the performances. For instance, are there more tourists or more local people? Do the tourists admire the fine art that London has to offer? Are there more wealthy people or more middle class? How much money are people willing to spend on theatre? For shows like Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and Hamilton, I believe the theatres will be completely booked; however, I wonder if there will be a large audience for plays that are not as well known. The question that interests me the most is whether the locals in London go to the theatre as a hobby, or if theatre still fascinates them. People usually fail to appreciate things that are easily available and accessible to them, and so I am curious to know if theatre still holds the same value for the people of London as it held in the past.

From One London to Another: Reading Theatre to Experiencing Theatre 

I’ve heard a lot about how studying abroad allows you to learn about yourself. A few of my friends have studied abroad and returned home with novel ideas and perspectives about themselves. I was curious about this experience which challenged my friends and allowed them not only to reconsider their own beliefs and values, but to embrace a new identity—so to speak. Fast-forward to the start of this school year: I was curious about whether I would study abroad someday. I always wondered if studying abroad would invite a chance for me to discover myself. I admit it sounds cliché, but at the back of my mind I’ve wondered about the person I am today and the person I will be. How could I challenge myself today that could shape the person I become in the future? And so, how can studying abroad help me grow as an individual? When I saw the opportunity to study abroad and peruse an area of interest—theatre—I realized this was a golden opportunity. 

What brought me to Destination Theatre is the fact that I could study a field of interest and challenge myself to experience studying abroad. As someone who lives at home, I was curious about living away from my parents, especially in another country! I will admit that I was hesitant when applying for Destination Theatre. I asked myself if I was ready to briefly experience living on my own; however, I realized that there’s no such thing as timing when it comes to challenging yourself. So I sent my application and here I am excitedly counting the days till we depart for England!

Through this experience, I hope to learn what it means to work in a global setting and how to move forward from this experience. My friends who have studied abroad told me that the relationships you make will extend far beyond this experience, and so I hope to form relationships/memories that have the potential to last a lifetime! In the context of abroad-learning, when I was looking at the schedule for our course, I was curious about the kinds of workshops we would be participating in. What will we be learning as we engage in these workshops? Also, how will studying theatre in London compare to Western? My experience of theatre at Western (although limited) re-kindled my love of theatre that I once had in high-school. Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in the production of Dido which was a wonderful experience. During this production, I was disappointed that I did not re-immerse myself into theatre earlier. I would attribute the production of Dido to allowing me to consider taking more theatre courses—Destination Theatre being one of them! That being said, I’ve heard that London is home to numerous theatres, musicals, exhibitions, and events. As a Humanities student, I am interested in how artistic practices shape the cultural city life known as London, and how I can use the city as my classroom. 

While I am excited about Destination Theatre, I would say I’m uncertain about managing my free time. Although I would like to visit a few museums, art galleries, and other near places, I know that I won’t be able to cover every single place; however, I believe the fun in adventures is taking the time to appreciate the journey. With that in mind—as opposed to photography—I will most likely be roaming around the streets of London with my sketchbook in hand and drawing inspiration from the endless rows of shops, houses, and roads that paint the city of London.

Overall, I know this will be the experience of a lifetime and I can’t wait to see what England has in store for us!

Finding the Perfect Winter Elective

I think it was on the first day of classes that I received an email from the Department of English and Writing Studies that applications were being accepted for Destination Theatre. My amateur interest in theatre already had me intrigued at the subject line, but further reading the travel component of the course immediately had me hooked. This would be the perfect elective for the winter semester – an Arts and Humanities course to break up the routine math, architecture, and algorithmic lectures of Computer Science.

I grew up in Canada’s festival city – Edmonton, AB. I was very lucky to be surrounded by a rich arts culture growing up. I often participated in or frequented band performances, trips to the Rosebud Alberta theatre, and performances at the Fringe and Heritage Festivals. I think the first time I can remember a true appreciation for theatre came from a Broadway trip when I was 12 years old. I saw a production of Beauty and the Beast, and I remember just being mesmerized by the fantasy of the set design and production. Since then, I’ve been lucky to see several more performances in Edmonton, Toronto, Quebec, London ON, and I got to see Wicked on Broadway last year! For me, the magic of theatre is always in the sets, costumes, and production. It’s a fantasy unfolding right in front of the audience, and despite being only a few feet away from the production, you still find yourself swept away by it.

I’ve come to the end of the classroom portion of Theatre Studies. This was the perfect elective to balance my Computer Science courses. Asides from assigned readings, our homework has included watching several plays, live and recorded. This has given me a chance to take out two or three hours out every week and switch my attention towards entirely different content. Theatre Studies has given me the chance to exercise diverse and expressive analysis on our coursework and assignments.

The last part of this course is going to be travelling to England. And now that the semester is over, I’m getting very excited! I’m most looking forward to the week we spend in the Stratford-upon- Avon. I think the town will have a lot to offer in terms of historical analysis, and I expect their approach to performance may be somewhat different to that taken in bigger theatre districts. I can’t wait to see the various theatre venues in the West End, as I have heard they can be very grand in their architecture and design. I think if there is anything I’m unsure about right now, it’s the workshops and post show talks we will be attending. I’m not entirely sure what the focus or format of these will be. But I’m looking forward to them, and I’m hoping they will provide some new perspectives on the shows and on England’s theatre.

I really expect England is going to be a great learning experience. The trip encapsulates the best of both worlds – travelling and theatre. I’m sure using theatre as the touchstone as we travel will give so much context and narration to London’s history and rich culture.

All This and A Cup of English Tea

My earliest memories of theatre come from my 6-year-old mind with far too wild of an imagination and a need to see other wild imaginary things in the external world around me. Maybe this need came from a place of wanting to know that I wasn’t alone in my love of the theatrical arts. Or maybe it was just my extroverted personality that has since turned a little more inward. Anyways, to think that my night of performing as the Angel Gabriel in my elementary school’s production of the Nativity has led to this opportunity to watch more theatre, travel, and earn credit for my BA is pretty wild.

From this experience, I hope to apply my learning from our readings and class discussion to my viewership in London and Stratford-upon-Avon. It is obviously one thing to study theatre, but to experience theatre is important, if not necessary, to fully understand the larger message being shared with the audience. Among our readings, I especially enjoyed Jen Harvie’s Theatre & the City and am interested to see how the urban environment of London, UK will be reflected in its modern theatre. With that said, it is downright exciting to be in a different country in the first place. After watching live theatre mostly in Canada and the United States, I will find it a very different experience to view British theatre. I am looking forward to the familiar and more mainstream titles (i.e., The Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton), while also intrigued by the plays I am less familiar with. Theatre-watching, in this case, extends the grander experience of travelling to England – the exploration external to in-class workshops and the opportunity to immersive myself in British culture that I have only been able to indulge in from a distance. Thus far, I have only booked my plane tickets and snatched myself a seat for Hamilton, but for the month of May, I will be researching all the important landmarks to explore, the festivals and art exhibits happening while we are there, and the food I will have to eat.

This is an experiential learning opportunity and one that is very different from any other course that I have taken in my undergraduate degree. If there is any point in my academic career to combine travel and learning, then this course will likely be it. I am deeply interested in travelling post-Destination Theatre, and perhaps the educational framework of this experience will influence me to travel—not only to go sightseeing, but to learn about cultures different from my own and develop an ongoing appreciation for cultural diversity.

As far as questions and uncertainties I have before we depart to England, these mostly come from deciding what art galleries and restaurants I should look into when I have the free time to venture from QMUL. On another note, I have been known to be directionally-challenged, but with common sense and pre-departure training I am trusting enough in myself to know my own limits but still push myself to be adventurous and openminded.

London – London: Something to Talk About

For me it’s all about the gossip.

I can’t think of a better reason to study literature and theatre than to talk with interesting people. Every part of our study is rooted in conversation: when we see plays we witness the convictions of the play’s creators; when we read essays and reviews we hear the opinions of audience members in response to these convictions; when we write our own essays and reviews we step into this conversation ourselves; when we go to class, we engage in live conversation about all of this. Ultimately, theatre and literature allow us to express ourselves and connect with one another through shared experience and reflection.

What could possibly help me achieve this goal better than a trip to study live theatre in London England?

We’ll see so many plays by so many talented artists in one of the world’s most renowned theatre hubs – I can only imagine the complicated, philosophically rich stories told on those stages! The sheer number of plays we’ll see on this trip astounds me: I’ve never had the chance to see so many performances at once, to have so many opinions to discuss! We’ll talk with performers and scholars to obtain unique insight on the performances we see. Through these workshops and other study opportunities the course offers I hope to develop skills of communication and analysis that will allow me to engage more deeply with performances on this trip and beyond. Most of all, I’ll have the chance to talk about these plays with some of my closest friends in University and get to know new people through these shared experiences. My most profound desire for this trip is that I would engage more deeply in the plays I see and connect more deeply with the people I see them with.

I also want to go on this trip for the simple fun of indulging in a culture different than the Canadian one I’m used to. I’ll go on so many entertaining intellectual and emotional journeys through the plays we see. Hopefully through these experiences I’ll come to an understanding of how London’s theatre defines its cultural identity. In addition to growing as a student and scholar, I hope to come out of the trip with an understanding of how theatre molds a city so I can apply this learning to cities I visit in the future. I’ll engage in other activities in my time off to further my understanding of London’s unique identity as well.

I have so many questions I can’t wait to have answered on this trip. I’m interested in the upcoming trends in London’s theatre scene, thematically and stylistically. Are there consistent topics of conversation in the plays we see that the London community seems interested in? Are there any unique performance styles I notice or haven’t seen before? In what ways do these performances differ from performances in Canada? How does the history of London shine through in its cultural activities?

I can’t wait to chat with all of you about these questions and more when we take off in June!

Exciting Journey Awaits

I have always liked the way language and gesture function in human relationships, and that’s why I am in Film Studies and English Literature. I am fascinated by the way we interact with each other and how each interaction triggers different reactions and emotions. Each word and each gesture matter in sending a message to the other person. I think it is fascinating the ways people on screen play out real life society. Every film has its way to present the highlights of society in a certain period. Similarly, a book has the ability to reflect society at a certain time and it takes us to that moment when we choose to emerge ourselves in a book. Having said that, theatre is an art form that performs reality in the most realistic way. It is different from a movie, since a play depends more on the actors’ interactions and improvisations with each other. It is also the interactions with a room of their audience. A play is like a time machine that takes you along to a specific moment of time.

I was fortunate to take a theater course called “Toronto Culture and Performance” last semester that allowed me to see different plays in different theatre locations around the city of Toronto. From that course, I learned that what goes into a play does not solely lie in the production but also in the distribution. A play’s location and surroundings are just as important as the script materials and the actors’ performances. That course gave me a great background on performance in theatre and the economical value that goes with each play. Therefore, when I saw Theatre Studies 3900G, Destination Theatre, a course that primarily takes place in London, England in late June, I know it had to be the best decision of my undergraduate years. The French novelist Gustave Flaubert said, “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” People interact differently everywhere, and we depend on each other to run this world. Therefore, I see theatre performance not only as an art form, but as an essential reflection of our lives: what we do on a day to day basis that works or that does not. And taking Benedict Anderson’s point on the imagined community, theatre has a similar effect to print culture in that it forms a community among people watching a play and aware of others doing the same. When I heard of this opportunity to go to England for two weeks, I knew that I wanted to go. But it could not have happened without the support and encouragement of my friends Megan and Ferd, who are going to be on this trip as well.

Besides my excitement for the trip, there are a few things that still get me thinking. I am unsure about this new culture that I will be living in, and I don’t know if I will have enough time to adjust and maximize my experience. I also worry that I might be uncomfortable where we are staying, and I worry about the transit there and back. Nonetheless, although I know there will be hardships of getting familiar with my new surroundings and getting along with everyone on the trip, I believe the experience that goes with all the difficulties is priceless. I think having people I am comfortable with on a trip abroad will help a lot with my travel anxiety and my overthinking habits.

Something Like Tabula Rasa

Claiming to be a writer is eighty percent unadulterated passion for literature. The remaining twenty percent is anxiously questioning whether you even are a writer or have the experiences necessary to become one. When I came to university, I willed myself to explore different genres of writing. However, I was always complacently neglectful of playwriting: perhaps because playwriting isn’t a standalone form of art—plays are written with the expectation of live performance. Moreover, I haven’t had the opportunity to watch many theatre performances. As a reader of plays, I have been intrigued by what goes into writing a play, yet inevitably have felt that I’m missing the essence of the play by missing out on its performance. What brought me to Destination Theatre was a serious lack of knowledge about the performance arts and a serious desire to experience all that theatre has to offer. I believe that to understand how a play is written, it’s crucial to understand performance itself. So, I have come to this course with a sort of a “clean slate”—ready for the first experiences of the delight of theatre.

When Destination Theatre presented itself, I was overjoyed: partly because I am absolutely in love with all that London represents (Literature, architecture and, if I may, Doctor Who) and partly because I’m intrigued by performance and playwriting. After a lot of thinking and over-thinking I concluded that if I do in fact love literature and writing as much as I claim to, it would be foolish of me forego an opportunity that offers such exposure to art and what actually goes into creating and extending that art. Hence, here I am—curious, daunted, but eager to learn.

I have come to this course with love for the arts and a belief in the legacy of theatre and performance which have existed since time was a thing. I have come to this course with a passion for words and how they come to life at the hands of a playwright and then by the work of the performing troupes. There is very little I know about the expanse that is theatre and performance studies and that, even though is terrifying, spurred me to take on this course. For me, there has always been certain elusiveness associated with theatre and its communities. Hence, I am thrilled to get an opportunity to watch mind-blowing performances, to work with immensely knowledgeable people, to be able to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace and to visit England which, as a literature student, I associate with everything that’s classic. I hope by the end of this course, I can incorporate my learning about performance, theatre, language, and literature into my writing. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be writing my own plays!

I’m not embarking on this journey with any concrete questions, but I have a feeling I am going to return with answers to questions I didn’t know I had (I’m kidding, I do have questions: Where and how do I “casually” run into David Tennant while I’m there?). In all, I am pretty intimidated to be traveling to a new place—to experience the realm of theatre with a “clean slate”—but I am hoping to make the most of this opportunity. I’m hoping London will prove to be a source of inspiration—for my writing, my budding admiration for theatre, and my wandering soul.

Introduction To Elsewhere

I came to Destination Theatre because I have never been outside Ontario, let alone Canada. Therefore, this felt like a great opportunity to go out and see how things, especially theatre, something I love deeply, happens in other parts of the world. I also like the fact that it happens with other students, so I’ll be able to get to know them at the same time as I am studying England and its theatre.

            In England I want to examine the theatrical tricks and methods they use to convey meaning to an audience that I otherwise would never have been exposed to in Canada. I hope to borrow and/or adapt these methods for use in theatre I create in the future. I will also examine the differences that are inherent between British theatre and Canadian theatre such as the tones/accents of the performers. I have seen people with British accents on stage before, but in North America they are the exception most of the time. I would like to see how it changes my perception of the characters and their relations to each other (if it changes at all) when the British accent is the norm. Since British accents in Canada are often associated with the old, as in the ‘Old World’, it may give the impression that every character on stage belongs to an ‘old’ time, but it may also have a leveling effect where, because it’s ubiquitous, it becomes irrelevant to the character. Will I be able to distinguish between a Welsh accent and an English accent, and if so, would that change my perception of the character on its own?

            This, generally, is a major unsurety I have about the trip. Beyond this or that accent, will I miss out on subtle nuances of character or in-jokes that the local British population will all understand. The plays we will see have been designed, for the most part, by British people from the writing to the performance, and so may reference things which are common knowledge to people born and raised in Britain I, being Canadian, may be completely unaware of these things, and so would miss out on understanding that aspect of the play. There again, Canada and Britain share a lot, culturally speaking. We both use parliamentary systems of government under a constitutional monarchy, we both speak the same language (mostly), we have a similar reputation for being polite, and generally when one gets involved in a global issue (such as a war) the other is not far behind. It will be interesting to see whether more similarities or differences permeate into the British theatre.

            The society of London is something else I would like to experience, to see and walk about in. While walking around, going to the theatre venue or on a free day, I wonder if it would feel the same as walking around in London Ontario. If it is different, is it just an amplified version or is it intrinsically different in some way. How might walking around in the world-famous London, if at all, impact me as a lowly person walking through it? How will it feel to be a foreigner, immediately identifiable by my accent? In any case, I hope I can answer at least some of these questions while there.

Toronto -> London -> New York -> (Real) London: Travelling the Globe to See the Globe!

At the end of Grade 12, I was sure that the University of Toronto would be my home for the next four years. Having grown up in Toronto, only moving to London in Grade 9, I thought that university would be a homecoming of sorts (and as the St. George Campus was walking distance from one of the largest theatre districts in Canada, I knew it was a perfect fit). It wasn’t until my Western acceptance package arrived in the mail, however, and I saw the boarding pass peak out – a guarantee of partial funding for travel abroad in upper years – that Western became a contender and, eventually, the university of choice.

Growing up in Toronto the daughter of an English major with a massive anthology of all of Shakespeare’s works, I would have a hard time not falling in love with theatre. From being one of the narrators in my elementary school’s production of The Christmas Carol to my grandfather bringing me and my sister to a Ross Petty production every year as a Christmas gift, I have always been both surrounded by and immersed in live theatre. Moving to London for high school, I assumed that my theatre days were behind me as the city isn’t particularly well-known for a thriving cultural sector. As you can probably guess, I was very wrong. It was in Grade 9 that I first discovered the Stratford Festival and the massive Shakespeare anthology – which had been extremely daunting as a child – came to life and felt much more accessible than it had previously. Though I had assumed Pantomime shows were the best one could get in terms of live theatre as a child, moving to London and getting to see my first Shakespearean production in Stratford changed my mind: this was the best you could get.

So, to recap, I knew that I loved Pantomime (which I thought was the best) and then fell in love with Shakespeare (which was also the best); and then I went to New York: another city with a thriving theatre district.  My best friend (who is also in this class, hi Jameela!) and I were lucky enough to travel to New York City and see both Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen live on Broadway. It was after watching these shows that I finally realized that it wasn’t Shakespeare or Pantomime productions that were the best – it was just theatre that was the best.

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Jameela and I in front of the stage at Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre

This brings me back to the boarding pass – one of the main reasons I landed on Western. I always knew that I wanted to study abroad in some capacity, so when one of my friends mentioned to me in my first year that she would be taking a course called Destination Theatre, I knew that this was the perfect opportunity. Although I had to wait two (very long) years, I finally applied, was accepted, and am now getting a credit to travel (which I love), watch live theatre (which I might love more), and take a course with my science major best friend (which I never thought would happen). Additionally, having just learned this past fall the ways in which Toronto affects—and effects—theatre (thanks Kim!), I look forward to learning the different ways in which London (England) as a city impacts its own unique cultural sector.

I don’t have many questions about the course itself, but I do have two main concerns: Brexit and the hefty exchange rate. Other than that, I can’t wait for everything Destination Theatre has in store (especially visiting Shakespeare’s hometown and the Globe, I am guaranteed to cry)!

Destination Theatre: An Easy Sell

I first heard about this course when complaining about the difficulties of course selection to Taylor. I required a 3000-level course but did not want another science course. When she told me about Destination Theatre, it was an easy sell. Not only does this course provide the opportunity for me and Taylor to have a class together, but it also combines two of my favourite pastimes: theatre and travel.

Travel has always been influential in my life and has played a vital role in shaping me into the person I am today. While I have been fortunate to see many areas of the world, I have not yet explored the UK, and I cannot imagine a better way to study theatre than in one of the theatre capitals of the world. My love of theatre started young and developed further when I was introduced to Broadway through my vocal lessons. After my vocal teacher told me to watch the musicals of the songs I was singing – the very first being The Phantom of the Opera – my appreciation of theatre solidified and grew with every musical.

I must admit that I am guilty of focusing my love of theatre on mega-musicals such as Phantom, Les Mis, and Hamilton. When given the option in the past, I would choose a musical over a play every time. Through this course, I hope to broaden my understanding and love of theatre to less mainstream and non-musical theatre. To this aim, this course has already proven fruitful. Attending plays put on by the Grand Theatre and Theatre Western, I was able to open my eyes to the quality of our local talent to which I had previously been ignorant. I am particularly excited to delve further into fringe theatre to explore the risks that smaller theatre companies are able to take and the boundaries they can push.

Additionally, I hope through this course to enhance my writing. As a science student, I have found that most—if not all—of my written assignments are very methodical with little room for creativity and, even then, I struggle with the quality of my writing. By taking this course, I hope to tap into my creativity and improve my abilities to draw out and analyse information. I also hope to improve my vocabulary as my inner-dictionary is somewhat inadequate.

On a related note, I have some reservations with this course. I am experiencing a lot of anxiety knowing the calibre of writing and experience of the other students in this class which was heightened by my complete lack of knowledge as to what writing a reflection paper even entails. As for the experience in England, I have questions about what the best sights are to see and the best restaurants to eat at. Academically, I am excited to discover the differences between North American and English theatre. How is theatre treated differently by the individual, and how is it ingrained in English culture and history?

I am incredibly grateful and fortunate to explore theatre in London and excited for all the memories and experiences I have to gain. I am especially looking forward to immersing myself in the culture of London and the surrounding areas. See you in the UK!