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.
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.
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.