Travel and Theatre Combined, The Irresistible Opportunity

Ever since I was a kid I have found it impossible to say no to a trip, whether the chance is to travel to a new country, state, province or territory, I have to go!  However, looking back at all my travels, if you ask me what my favorite thing that I have done or seen while on a trip, still, I wouldn’t say Disneyland or the Empire State Building, I would have to say it was my first Broadway show, Chicago, in New York.  It was the first live theatre production I’d seen on such a large scale, and I couldn’t take my eyes of the performers they were so talented.  They really put their hearts and souls into their characters.

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View from the Empire State Building

Ever since I was a kid, I was known as the drama queen of the family, that’s probably how I ended up in figure skating.  I’ve always been drawn towards performances whether that be myself playing a part in a school play, performing in skating competitions, or simply watching others perform. One of the things that makes me happiest is watching someone else do something they love. You can totally tell when someone’s heart is truly into their performance or character, the connection to their role is evidently visible. Watching skaters like Kaitlyn Osmond and Scott and Tessa Virtue always reminded me of my love for skating.  First of all, just through seeing the joy and passion for the sport, but also on the theatre side of things, the emotional connection to the performance they put on.  I’ve always found comfort in putting on a performance. Playing a character has just always felt like a safe way of expressing myself.  If you watch anyone of Kaitlyn’s performance you can see always see the connection to her music in her face during the performance and in her smile after she has finished.  I think finding a connection to the role you are playing both makes a more convincing performance as well as providing a safe place to express yourself as well.

 

My first figure skating competition

Also, I hope to become a teacher, and if I end up teaching high school, I hope the subjects I teach will be drama, along with English. Therefore, this course will give me much first-hand insight on drama and performances, not to mention being in the theatre capital of the world. When examining Shakespeare and his plays in either English or drama class, I will not have to purely rely on a textbook for information.  I can also supplement it firsthand experiences of watching his plays performed and a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe.

As for my fears revolving around the trip, I really hope and plead everything soon goes back to normal soon.  Obviously, everyone’s safety is first priority and I hope everyone stays healthy through all this.  Hopefully, the Corona Virus Pandemic calms down, so we don’t miss out on this amazing opportunity for summer 2021!

Going On a Trip of a Lifetime…And Getting a 0.5 Credit For It!

Me in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Last year, I spent the month of May abroad at the Rondine Centre for Peace in Arezzo, Italy with Western learning Italian and attending seminars and conferences organized in Tuscany and Rome that focused on various aspects of human rights, international law, war crimes, genocides, and conflict resolution. This international learning experience was transformative, exciting, and taught me a lot about myself. I was able to confront the challenges of homesickness, communicating with my family and boyfriend with a major time difference, and traveling alone for the first time – all of which were far outside of my comfort zone. It made me self-assured because I could live in a foreign country, navigate its streets, and speak its language. It also allowed me to branch out because I did not go with any of my closest friends and had to make friends. Most importantly, this study abroad experience let me eat vegan pistachio gelato almost everyday…yeah, Italy treated me well.

Eating gelato in Rome (tragically not the vegan pistachio variety...but still tasty)

Since then, I’ve looked forward to taking part in another study abroad program during my undergrad as an alternative to going on exchange and the “Walrus Talks” this past November at the Grande Theatre inspired me to look into the Destination Theatre course. The theme this year for “Walrus Talks” was storytelling. There, Susan Coyne, who is an actor, playwright, and screenwriter, gave a talk about theatre and live performance. She talked about how theatre is deeply human, a physiological experience, and how audiences form a community and quite literally share a pulse. As she was speaking, I experienced what Susan was talking about – that sense of connection, of pulse, of my body shifting in a context with the audience. I mulled over this talk for days and it made me reminisce on my past experience with theatre. Her talk had a profound effect on me, rekindling my love of theatre – which I have had on the back burner these past few years as my life became busier in high school with academics and extracurriculars and even more so in university. 

Susan reminded me that I have always loved theatre and craved stories. My mom was an English major and instilled her love of Shakespeare into me. My little sister and I would watch “Shakespeare: The Animated Tales” at home or during long car rides. I loved that series despite how it traumatized me when the opening scene of Hamlet started playing automatically after a Winter’s Tale…a lil too much bloodshed for a morning car ride to preschool but I digress. Even more than that, some of my fondest childhood memories revolved around being immersed in stories: bedtime stories, reading (shoutout to Junie B. Jones and Nancy Drew!), creating imaginary worlds with my sister and friends as we played, and, most importantly, live performances. One that sticks out, in particular, was when I played Gretl Von Trapp a few months before I turned three in a production of The Sound of Music and sang her little solo in “So Long Farewell”. I also distinctly remember exploiting my younger cousins and sister to put on a production of Act I of Into The Woods in our living room for our parents.

3-year old me at dance class

My main experience of live performance, however, came from dance. I danced competitively for most of my life and did musical theatre solos for a few years. Dance competitions and recitals meant that I had the opportunity to wear costumes, experience the exciting chaos of quick changes, become characters with their own stories, and feel the glorious rush of adrenaline every time I went on stage. Dancing and theatre are very alike; when a dancer forgets the steps, like my friend and I forgetting our tap duet during a recital when we were eight, it is like an actor forgetting their lines. At each of their cores, they are both deeply human and fleeting experiences that make people connect and be present. It is just you, the audience, and the pulse of your shared heartbeat.

Destination Theatre will cement my lifelong engagement and love affair with live performance. I am looking forward to sitting down in the theatre as an audience member. I will loosen my shoulders, sigh, and give over my pulse to share my heartbeat with the actors and the rest of the audience. It will be magic.

The Show Has Only Just Begun

Coming into a theatre studies class with no meaningful practical experience with theatre outside of reading Shakespeare in English classes and memorizing a couple of his best soliloquies for interest’s sake, this course is definitely a new experience. Well, it is not entirely new. From, if what I recall correctly, the ages of 7 to 8 I acted in a theatre performance summer camp. Now this experience is not very memorable to me now, but I think there must have been something in that experience that added to and aided my development to extroversion. I think it is this rather lifelong extroversion that led me to feel a desire to act and show off around others. This disposition started a long and continuous progression that has come to form my personality, shape my life, and bring me to this class.

When I feel a connection to “the theatre” it is really to the emotions and vehicles of performance in which they are expressed onstage. My admiration of these qualities was developed by seeing them in my everyday life, in the emotions and performances that every one of us acts every day. The theatre, the stage, performative drama, are all representations of our common, and importantly most extreme, modes of being that we experience in real life, just by being alive. The greatest part about drama is that those experiences are represented in their most elevated, deliberately perfected form. With such examples (and even powerful exaggerations) of our real experiences displayed onstage in such a heightened, dramatic manner, what better tool could one have to learn about, and truly understand these real experiences if not this performatively perfect manifestation of them? This is what I hope to get out of taking this course. I hope that I can expand my knowledge of the extremities of human nature through their perfected performance on stage. 

Sometimes I worry that I might not be getting absolutely everything I could out of the actual academic analysis of “theatre studies” in the course due to my lack of experience with theatre. While not totally dismissable, most of my reservations are cleared when I realize how accessible and enjoyable theatre is for “the common person”. How much does it matter that I have little experience with theatrical performance? I will still be able to understand, relate to, and find meaning in the actions and emotions portrayed onstage because they are actions and emotions that we see in other people every single day. What is dramatical theatre if not an extension of the drama we all experience in the theatre of the world? If all of us men and women really are merely players we are very much improvisation actors. Not knowing our exits or entrances, how our characters will develop, or even our lines, we act on the stage of life free of script and creative in plot progression. Some of us have an idea where we would like our characters to end up, many of us have our courses directed by other actors and plot twists, but the most important thing to remember to make sure you are a success is to stay on the stage, and try to best understand the role you’re playing. 

Destination: Nowhere (for now)

 

Times Square NYC
(Panorama of Times Square, New York)

Over the years I’ve found that mass emails from Western are usually about scholarships I don’t qualify for, or things happening in other faculties (that I don’t really care about.) I got into the habit of deleting them without opening them, so I can’t explain why I opened the email about Destination Theatre. As soon as I did, the words “theatre” and “England” caught my eye, and I knew it was something I had to explore.

I’ve been a fan of musical theatre since I saw my first show, Beauty & the Beast, at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto around 1997 (before most of my Destination Theatre classmates were born.) I started taking drama in elementary school and went on to participate in musical theatre productions during high school, but making the transition from high school to university was hard. Shifting out of my well-practiced routine of going to high school all day took its toll. I struggled to adapt to university classes and living in a new city, and my involvement in theatre suffered as a result.

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Something Rotten! at the St. James Theatre in New York.

After two years of struggling, I navigated my way out of university and into a college program at Fanshawe that gave me a bit more structure. While I was a student at Fanshawe I got the opportunity to travel to New York for the first time on a Reading Week trip. There’s nothing like Broadway to reawaken your love for the theatre. On my first trip to New York, I saw Seminar starring Alan Rickman, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying starring Nick Jonas. Since that trip I have seen many more Broadway shows, and every single one has felt like something new and exciting. Every show has had some element that made it feel unique to Broadway. Whether it’s Christian Borle as England’s hottest celebrity, William Shakespeare, in Something Rotten!, or Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen sharing the stage in Waiting For Godot, I’ve stepped out of the theatre into the hustle and bustle of Manhattan and thought, “Yeah, that could only happen here.”

The opportunity to travel to London, England to study theatre and performance was obviously one I could not pass up. I imagined the theatre-going experience would be quite different in London than in Toronto or New York. I was hoping to see everything from new musicals to classic Shakespeare, and the list of shows we chose as a class had a little bit of everything. I’ve found that being in a new place can give you a fresh perspective that makes all of the mundane parts of life seem less depressing, so being able to spend two full weeks in London was something that I was really looking forward to until COVID-19 blew up all my plans.

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On the Brooklyn Bridge looking at Manhattan.

My first trip to New York came about because someone had cancelled last minute, so I only had two days to prepare and zero days to let my anxiety take over. That wasn’t the case this time around. After applying for Destination Theatre, starting the class, and booking my flights, I started to worry about how I was going to adapt to life in London. What if I couldn’t figure out the tube, or got lost trying to find Platform 9 & ¾, or…or…??? It turns out my biggest worry should have been a global pandemic, which somehow hadn’t even crossed my mind.

Even though I won’t be heading to London this summer, the ideas and excitement that have come from our time in class have set me up well for a future adventure to the UK to see theatre (and Hogwarts), and I’ll have my new knowledge and waterproof sneakers ready for when the time is right.

Travel: The Privilege of Being a Global Citizen

Growing up in the small town of Grand Bend, Ontario, I never truly had the chance to travel until I started at Western University. While attending Western I had the opportunity to take classes that had travels to the Dominican Republic and Japan as part of its components. I thought I was done with experiential learning courses (the ones that you get to travel with anyways) until I saw that Destination Theatre was a course which included a trip to London, England, and although I somehow convinced myself that I would not be accepted after I applied, I was still ecstatic at the thought of finally being able to go to the one place I’ve always wanted to travel to ~ ENGLAND!

My first school trip was with a Social Justice class that is offered at King’s and it was an amazing experience. We learned new things daily, how the locals lived, how they took care of their land and animals, how they have constant fights with the government to even keep their land, and although it was a culture shock at first and I clearly suffered from “first world problems,” I would drop everything and do it all over again. To live how they do was an eye-opener – I learned that we, in a first world country, take everything for granted. During our stay at the Campensino (roughly translates to peasant farmer) we had to live with barely having access to electricity and using cold water for showers.

The day before we left the Campensino, the locals had a protest down the mountain and how they protest is extremely different than what happens in Canada. There they cut down trees, start fires, break glass all over the road, and they get arrested. It’s a dangerous situation and we were unsure if we we’re going to be able to leave and continue on with the next part of our trip.

At the time, I had a 2-year-old daughter waiting for me back home.  I could barely get updates about her or send messages home because cell service only worked in the city. This was the moment when I felt grateful for everything I have. I realized that even though I am by no means “wealthy,” I am extremely privileged because I luckily do not have to face the same things they do daily. I am also privileged because I had the opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic, but I was privileged because I could leave it as well.

As for London, England – I am looking forward to the plays that we will be seeing because I would like to  have a broader understanding of theatre. I have only ever attended 3 plays. One of the plays that I attended was in Japan, the story was about how a woman accidently cheated on her husband (she was trying to catch him cheating, and switched rooms with the maid – the maid’s lover showed up in the dark) and because cheating was punishable by death, the woman and the man she cheated with had to run away. It was very intense and I left feeling uncomfortable because it was showing how women used to be treated by their husbands, the men could cheat and abuse their wives, and that a simple mistake could cost a woman her life.

Overall, I believe that this will be an amazing learning experience and I have excited to be a part of it.

The Campensino that we stayed at.
Walking through the leftovers of the protest

In the Pursuit of “Dying Art”

You might say that theatre is a dying form of art. I know many  who say so, and in many ways, it is. However, I am lucky to have my grandpa, who teaches me that theatre will never die because humans need  plays to understand reality.

I was born in Beijing, a city where Western theatre culture solely lives on the niche. However, my grandpa is outside from the mainstream; he almost falls in love with Western theatre culture and thank my grandpa for buying me a ticket of the operetta Die Fledermaus. It was my first experience in theatre, which made me entirely fascinated by the artistic vibe of the hall, the emotional connection between actors and the audience, and of course, the beautiful story performed on the stage. As a child, theatre introduced me to a different world and culture, like a mystery that waiting for me to explore. After the Die Fledermaus, I watched more plays with my grandparents, such as The Marriage of Figaro, The Merry Widow, Notre Dame de Paris, and Anastasia. All of those brilliant shows are still alive in my memory.

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Tickets of some shows I have watched with my grandparents 

As explored more, I started feeling that being the audience is not sufficient for me – I wanted to be an actor. In this case, I joined the school musical Spamalot in Grade 12 and played the role of “The Lady of the Lake.” Participating in Spamalot was a turning point in my theatre life since it was my first time to undergo how complex it was to produce a show; it requires plenty of time, money, effort, passion, and collaboration. Theatre productions blend all forms of art together; writing, dancing, acting, design, music, all of those artistic elements have been interwoven into a play. Therefore, the complexity makes theatre the most profound way to embody the understanding of art, and more significantly, a culture.

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Me in Spamalot 

 

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The Cast of The Cenci

          Last year, I decided to enrol in the Fall Production The Cenci at Western University. Participation in The Cenci had shown me the unbreakable relation between literature and theatre. Driven by my great passion in Western theatre culture, I hope to seek more advanced experiences in Britain, which created those extraordinary playwrights like Shakespeare, Shelley, and Eliot. I genuinely believe this trip is going to be unique for me because the ambiance of London will fulfill my wish of childhood. What I wish to search in theatres of England is not an entertainment, yet an artistic endeavor, profound history and abundant culture behind a play. I want to understand why my grandpa was so determined that theatre is never dying.

This trip may not be smooth; the most fear of mine is the cultural barrier. Nevertheless, theatre is a place for communion, and I am glad to have my lovely classmates and instructors with me to build a communion for the adventure. What matters is the ones who sit beside me and share the intriguing mood inside the theatre with me. It is a pity that grandpa does not get a chance to watch a show in England since he is too elderly to fly across the Pacific Ocean, but I will delicately hold my grandpa’s love towards theatre (also mine) in my heart, and start this exploration of the “dying art.”

Branding Myself – Sara™

You might have heard the slang expression used by millennials that something or someone is SO on brand. My friends and I use this expression when one of us does something predictable. If we go out to eat and I order a quesadilla, my friends say “wow, that’s soooon brand for you.” It’s something I always do and something I’m known for doing. We all like to be recognized for things or stand out in certain ways, but we also like to relate to others and connect with similarly branded people. Essentially, we are all trying to “brand” ourselves, and hop on different ‘brandwagons’.   

 We display our brands with stickers on laptops, social media posts, and following sports teams or celebrities. In one of our theatre classes, we discussed authenticity and whether or not theatre is “faux”. I think about this with the concept of “brands” since they are often replications that can seem fake/ingenuine. Are we all just putting on a show for different audiences? Is our individual ‘brand’ a performance of all the elements that make us who we are? I wanted to use this blog post as an opportunity to ‘brand myself’ so you can see where I’m coming from. 

When I told my friends I was taking an elective course where I’d get to study theatre and go to London, UK for two weeks to see a bunch of plays, they knew how incredibly ON BRAND that was for me. I have loved theatre since I was young. I debuted on the stage as a tree but took on more significant roles as I got older, including playing Fantine in Les Mis. The ‘theatre kid’ brand is one I played into in high school. The exciting thing about theatre is that acting gives you the chance to take on a new brand when playing a character. My high school director would constantly ask us what our motivation is during a scene. You start to realize that every single mannerism and movement tells something to the audience about who you are, and it is the same in real life.

Me as Fantine, 2017

I found out about destination theatre at a UWO open house when deciding between universities.  It swayed me to choose Western over Brock (which, looking back should have been obvious).  I study linguistics and psychology, aspiring to work as a speech pathologist. I hope this course and trip will incorporate my love for theatre into practical areas of life and explore how theatre might relate to my major. I plan to fully immerse myself in a new culture and see all there is to see while in London. This trip will add to a “global citizen” or “traveller” brand that I am trying to build for myself. I have been to the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, and last summer I took a very on brand trip to Nashville, Tennessee because of my love for country music!  

Part of my brand is that I worry. A lot. About everything. I always prepare for a worst-case scenario and ask a million questions about the littlest things. I am directionally challenged, so I worry about getting lost.  I worry about fitting in with peers who are maybe more experienced with theatre. Lastly, I worry our trip may be cancelled because of COVID-19.  

Most of this worry is offset by excitement. Our itinerary is filled with great shows and workshops and I can’t wait to experience it all!