We are off and running with Destination Theatre 2017! So far, so good… (well, maybe except for the crazy heatwave!)
Thursday afternoon, we had the privilege to come in from the hot, though – to enjoy the 19th century splendour of Wilton’s Music Hall in Whitechapel – “the oldest grand music hall in the world” (!!) – with Queen Mary’s own Bridget Escolme leading the group in a Vesta Tilley original song on the storied stage.
Herewith, some fun eye candy from the trip. Enjoy!
For this final post of the winter term, I (the teacher!) am weighing in on my fears and expectations as we get ready to head to the UK. How do I feel? Like this…
…but also like this:
This is the first time I’ve taught Destination Theatre (in fact, it’s the first time the course has run!), and it’s been both exciting and challenging so far. Of course, we’ve been taking care of the business of winter term, in a windowless room in a “holding” building on Western’s main campus (our home building, the storied University College, is undergoing much-needed renovations until 2018). So, at times it’s been hard to remember that the whole point of this class is our upcoming trip to BIG London in June. At the same time, though, the past few weeks have given us important time and space to learn a bit about some of the central concepts in theatre studies that will help to shape our discoveries as we attend theatre in, and roam around, one of the world’s theatre capitals.
(Our winter term reading…)
What have we been up to this winter? You can check our work out for yourselves under the “winter term things” tab here on the blog; this is where I have posted notes and activities around which we’ve shaped our discussions, as well as photos from and links to three recorded performances – of As You Like It at Shakespeare’s Globe, A Doll’s House at the Young Vic, and The Shipment by Young Jean Lee’s theatre company, in Seattle, WA – that we’ve watched and discussed together. In addition, the students in Destination Theatre have also had the chance to see (and to make!) some live theatre in London, ON this term – including Theatre Western’s barnburner of A Chorus Line – and a handful of them offer some of their reflections on that work in posts already up here on the blog.
But what we’re really in this for is the journey to London, and I’m so excited about how it’s all coming together. We’ve got our accommodation secured and paid for at Queen Mary’s gorgeous, canal-side east end campus, have sorted our weekend at Stratford-upon-Avon, where we’ll hang with the RSC for a while, plus we’ve booked all eight of our group theatre outings – to see Les Mis, Working, Titus Andronicus, Twelfth Night, The Goat, or, Who is Sylvia?, The Life of Galileo, Anatomy of a Suicide, plus an immersive, party-animal’s Great Gatsby at a secret central London location! (Look for reflections on each of these trips on the blog during our experience, which runs 17-30 June.)
Right now, while the students are thigh-high in term papers, exams, and other end-of-year stresses, I’m securing our guest speakers and planning groovy outings with the QMUL team, to spots like, oh, you know… one of London’s oldest music halls:
Am I daunted? A little bit. I’ve asked the students in their first posts here to reflect on hopes and fears; I think it’s only fair I do the same. I lived in London for several years, which means I’m not at all stressed about the crowds, noise, or travel. Going to London is like going home for me. But I’ve only once before traveled abroad with a group of students (to Peru, in 2009), and I know it’s going to be breathtaking in both senses of the term: simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting, tremendous and terrifying.
I fear losing them on the Tube. I fear harm coming to one of them. I fear the minor stuff too: accidental drunkenness (uh-huh), illness, anxiety that spills over, gets us down. We’ll get through all of it, but I know in the end the proverbial buck stops with me. It’s not like when I teach in that windowless, uninspiring classroom back at Western; this is free range pedagogy. I’m up for it, but I know it’s going to test me.
“From London to London,” reads the caption of my Instagram post as I departed London, Ontario for a very exciting weeklong trip to London, England! The photo (below) features British and Canadian currency, and the magic ticket that would allow me to cross overseas: my passport. This trip to England marked my first time to Europe and I couldn’t have been more excited! Just carrying the foreign currency in my wallet made me feel worldly, sophisticated, and gave me a real hankering for tea and crumpets.
The trip’s purpose was to help design and plan the future Destination Theatre course (for more details, see Kim’s earlier post here), and to build relationships with academic institutions in England with which Western students will eventually have the chance to be involved. I accompanied my professors, Kim Solga and M.J. Kidnie, on this journey across the pond and gratefully became an intern of sorts. I participated in meetings, took notes, and offered feedback from a student’s perspective, trying to answer the question, what will future Destination Theatre students REALLY want in a trip such as this?
Well, if future trips are anything like this one, those students are in for a treat! I was lucky enough to see 5 plays in 5 days. This was nothing short of heavenly. The first play I saw, Teddy Ferrara at the Donmar Warehouse, I caught on our first night, still jet-jagged, with a friend I had met only a few months prior during a summer acting program in NYC. All hail the connective powers of travel! The other shows, ranging from a West End musical, The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre, to a nearly 4 hour Greek Epic, Oresteia at the Almeida Theatre (Trafalgar Studios), each offered something unique. However, all productions are not created equal and the scales were tipped heavily in the favour of the West End musical scene when I saw The Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon was, without a doubt, the most fantastic thing I have ever witnessed. I smiled from start to finish. Actually, I was smiling long before the show even began because of the good fortune that had brought me to the front row of the greatest musical ever created (my apologies to all other pieces of theatre EVER). This good fortune began when, during some souvenir shopping near the end of our trip, fate had me stroll down a street called Coventry. While walking to find lunch, I happened upon the Prince of Wales Theatre where two representatives invited me to enter the ticket lottery for the matinee performance. Spoiler alert: I won the ticket lottery and was able to purchase a £100 front row seat for a mere £20!
The lottery process itself was quite the event. A real ceremony, full of pomp and flair. The theatre representative draws a ballot from the large, spinning drum and teases the crowd by saying something to the effect of, “One ticket… Going to… America…” – and then pauses for all the hopeful Americans in attendance to squeal with excitement before announcing the lucky winner’s name. Once my name was called (yay!) I claimed my ticket and began to feel like a real V.I.P.: I was barraged with congratulations from theatre staff and fellow ticket winners. Such fun! So, if you should ever find the chance to attend a production of The Book of Mormon, do it! I’ll even cross my fingers that you’ll win the ticket lottery, too.
Besides the many examples of incredible theatre I was lucky enough to see, I had a blast exploring London as well. Kim and M.J., both with years of London living under their belt, were superb guides as I got to know the city. They offered insider knowledge only privy to someone who has held a London address (did you know you can order in the express line at Monmouth Coffee if you buy coffee beans at the same time? Also, the falafels at Gaby’s Deli on Charing Cross Road are unrivalled), as well as supportive encouragement so I could feel confident exploring the city for myself. I’ll proudly tell anyone that I learned at least a few of the major Underground train lines while away and returned to Ontario envious of London’s superior public transit system.
Though we stayed in Mild End on the Queen Mary University campus (very comfortable beds, by the way), we journeyed by train to Stratford-upon-Avon for a half day to scope out how Stratford might fit into the Destination Theatre schedule. What a quaint little town! Though it would be easy to be distracted by the many shops, cafes, and photo opportunities – Ok, maybe we were…
But we also participated in several really productive meetings with different Stratford institutions and returned to Queen Mary with lots of exciting Stratford opportunities for future students.
Amidst all the excitement of a first time trip to England, one of the features that struck me most was the genuine kindness of almost everyone I met. Locals, and perhaps fellow tourists, helped me when I asked for directions and cashiers patiently waited while I tried to make sense of the British currency in my wallet. Along with the nameless strangers I encountered, I met several of Kim’s and M.J.’s many friends and colleagues in London, all of whom made me feel very welcome. It was really lovely to see how incredibly well-respected and well-liked my professors are, though for anyone who has known them, it doesn’t come as a surprise.
Kim and M.J. have got to be two of the hardest working, most determined, creative people I know. I’m convinced their days have more than 24 hours because the amount they accomplish from sunrise to sundown is hard to believe. I marvel at their work ethic and was honoured to be welcomed so warmly into their process. As an English and Theatre Studies student graduating this year, I will remain incredibly grateful that I was able to experience Destination Theatre in its first iteration and am so excited for the future of the program. To any and all potential students reading this: renew your passport, pack your bags, and get ready for the experience of a lifetime!