“What is This Feeling” Wicked’s Subtle Queer Reading

When a few of the people from Destination Theatre and I decided to watch the blockbuster musical Wicked, I was in for surprise. While I was awed by the spectacle and sheer talent on the stage, as a queer person I felt particularly drawn into the musical and how it used conventions I had seen in previous musicals to hint at a romantic relationship between Galinda and Elphaba.

Galinda and Elphaba

For those who have never seen the musical, Wicked is a retelling of the Wizard of Oz, a famous film in the queer canon, told through the perspective of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. Galinda, the Good Witch, becomes her roommate at Shiz, a magical school, and although they start off rocky, their relationship slowly grows to friendship and is hinted to possibly be more.

One of the key moments that critic Stacy Wolf identifies as playing with classic musical love story conventions occurs early in the musical with the song “What Is This Feeling”, which mimics songs like “If I Loved You” (9). Both songs play with dramatic irony. In “If I Loved You” from Carousel, Billy and Julie sing about what their life would be if they loved each other while we, the audience, know the truth: that they are already in love. “What Is This Feeling” works similarly with both Elphaba and Galinda asking “What is this feeling / So sudden and new / I felt the moment I laid eyes on you … What is this feeling / Fervid as a flame / Does it have a name” before pausing and saying: “Loathing.” Many of the symptoms of this “loathing” Elphaba and Galinda describe are similar to how one would describe the feelings of falling in love. Additionally, the song’s placement at the beginning of the show calls back to the classical musical canon like Carousel and Oklahoma! which each have songs at the beginning of their narrative that have characters denying their feelings for each other.

This all implies that the ending will involve Elphaba and Galinda acknowledging their feelings for each other. But instead, the musical chooses to keep the subtext just that with the introduction of Fieryrio, the male love interest for both characters. As the curtain fell on Elphaba and Fieryrio leaving Oz as Galinda gazes mournfully off in the distance, I felt immense sorrow over the fact that although musicals are viewed as queer, often queer viewers can’t fully see our stories on stage in them. In “Defying Gravity,” Elphaba throws back the words that her oppressor, the Wizard, had previously said: “Everyone deserves the chance to fly.” I think we are overdue for a set of wings.

Works Cited:

Wolf, Stacy. “‘Defying Gravity’: Queer Conventions in the Musical ‘Wicked.’” Theatre Journal, vol. 60, no. 1, 2008, pp. 1–21.

Carling DeKay is a fourth year English language and literature student.  She lives and writes in a haunted farmhouse with three cats.

Traditional Shakespeare Meets a Hilarious 1970s Spectacle at The Globe Theatre

On Wednesday, our group saw a production by the playwright who has built an unmatched “historical pedigree” (Fallow) around British theatre when we attended William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Globe Theatre. I was particularly excited for this show, having marvelled at the reverence people around the world attach to a small structure that was built over 400 years ago and stood for barely 50 (“Original Globe”).

Earlier on Wednesday, we spoke to Dr. Catriona Fallow about the primacy of Shakespeare in British literary and cultural identity. The evidence for this primacy is plentiful in London: Shakespeare merchandise sold miles away from any theatre, a colorful Shakespeare mural painted on a side street , and a British Council poster that asserts “Shakespeare IS Great Britain”.

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With the weight of a centuries-old legacy and a theatre that was painstakingly reconstructed to match the original 1599 Globe (“Rebuilding the Globe”), I assumed performances at today’s Globe would embody a similar effort to reconstruct the past. However, Cat informed us that the Globe also presents adaptations and new productions. In performing only “museum” pieces, the Globe would not encourage the artistic exploration that characterized Shakespeare’s original company.

However, experimentation can be controversial. After less than a year as the Globe’s artistic director, Emma Rice announced in October that she was stepping down due to disagreements with the Board over “experimentation” in light and sound that deviates from traditional Shakespeare (Furness). Experimentation can also damage a theatre’s revenues; audience members described the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Marat/Sade as “utter filth and depravity” and up to 80 people walked out of the theatre one night (Alleyne).

I continued to consider this balance between upholding legacy and encouraging exploration as we entered the Globe on Wednesday night. As I took my place in the standing section, I heard an usher confide that this would be a “very modern adaptation”. It seemed I was not about to watch the museum piece I expected.

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As I watched Emma Rice’s production of Twelfth Night, I decided this production struck that elusive balance between tradition and experimentation. The show, set in the 1970s, features an array of musical genres and choreography styles. Drag queen, Le Gateau Chocolat, appears as Feste, and the company boldly adds modern allusions, such as a verse of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, to the text. However, most of the text remains true to the original, and Rice includes genius homages to Shakespeare’s style. Physical comedy and farce would certainly have been used at the original Globe, as it is in this show. Rice also gives a nod to the tradition of male actors cross-dressing as female characters by casting actress Katy Owen as Malvolio.

Most importantly, the performers fed off the energy of the audience and gave us permission to laugh, jeer, “aw,” and even dance through the performance, just as the original Globe’s rowdy crowd may have done. Emma Rice’s Twelfth Night succeeds in balancing the old and the new while selling out shows for the entire season. We need artists like Emma Rice who are willing to respect tradition, but also push boundaries and make art for 2017, not the 17th century.

twelfth night

This exercise in balancing legacy and experimentation is connected to my research question for the course: how do artists balance commercial viability with artistic integrity? I thought the answer would lie in manipulating business models to make space for new theatre, in finding new monetization strategies to make up for the lower ticket revenues I assumed would accompany new, experimental theatre.

However, as the Globe’s artistic director, Emma Rice has not staged a season full of period Shakespeare pieces to make room for one new show. Rice has combined tradition with experimentation. Perhaps, I need not think of manipulating business and art separately. Maybe theatre can be new, innovative, and maintain artistic integrity without sacrificing profit.

Works Cited

Fallow, Catriona. “A Matter of Life and Death: Shakespeare and UK New Writing Industry.” Destination Theatre Lecture. United Kingdom, London. 28 June 2017. Lecture.

“Original Globe.” Shakespeare’s Globe. The Shakespeare Globe Trust, n.d. Web. June 2017.

“Rebuilding the Globe.” Shakespeare’s Globe. The Shakespeare Globe Trust, n.d. Web. June 2017.

Furness, Hannah. “Emma Rice Leaves Shakespeare’s Globe.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 25 Oct. 2016. Web. June 2017.

Alleyne, Richard. “Audience Walks out from ‘depraved’ Royal Shakespeare Company Production.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 24 Oct. 2011. Web. June 2017.

Immersive Theatre and Audience Agency: A Look at The Great Gatsby and Life of Galileo


Over our time in London, the Destination Theatre group has had the chance to see a wide variety of shows of many different styles. Two of these shows, The Great Gatsby and Life of Galileo, stood out from the rest for their heightened potential for immersion, although the format of each immersive experience was quite different.

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The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby production by Guild of Misrule took place at an old building in central London, which had been converted into Gatsby’s lavish 1920s mansion. The audience took on the role of party guests, and were encouraged to dress in period-appropriate clothing. Throughout the evening, we were escorted through various rooms of the space and pieced together the story through character monologues, short scenes, and one-on-one interactions.

Life of Galileo at the Young Vic. Photo by Leon Puplett Projections by 59 Productions (2)
The stage of Life of Galileo

The Young Vic production of Life of Galileo took a different approach. The stage was in the shape of a donut, with audience seated on cushions in the middle and on a balcony surrounding the perimeter. Instead of being brought into the story directly, as in Gatsby, performers in Galileo frequently broke character to draw attention to the nature of spectatorship. “This scene has been cancelled… ask [director] Joe Wright about it…”, proclaims one actor.

While their methods of immersion were quite different, both shows sought to provide the audience an experience different to that of conventional theatre; ideally, one in which the audience member is not merely a passive spectator seated in front of a performance, but is wholly immersed in the act. In theory, this allows the audience member to more fully engage in the performance, since they take an active role in curating their own experience (Rancière, 2007).

However, it is important to separate the mobility of an audience from its agency within the narrative. While Gatsby’s audience may be able to move freely throughout the performance space, their freedom is still limited. Despite their mobility, audience members may share common space with the actors but they cannot become equal participants in the dramatic action.

While shows like The Great Gatsby and Life of Galileo may draw attention to their immersive properties, the agency of the audience remains mostly an illusion. In both shows, the imaginary world, its setting, properties, rules, and backstory, remain the product of the creators. The audience enter the performance space as invited, paying guests, and their participation and knowledge will always be restricted to some degree. Instead of representing life, a truer model would be that of a video game, in which the character is free to move and make their own choices, but those choices are limited within the parameters of the game. In this way, immersive theatre and conventional theatre have much in common: the rules of the game may slightly modified, and the spectator may change from observer to player, but the game and its rules will always belong to someone else.

Works Cited:
Rancière, Jacques. The Emancipated Spectator. Artforum 45: 2007.

 

 

Would you laugh at the ‘Kid’?

I never considered how impactful the laughter of audience members can be, not only to the performers, but to the other audience members as well. Our first show we saw as a class was “The Goat or Who is Sylvia?” written in 2002 by Edward Albee. It was an absolutely shocking piece of absurdist theatre which took on very serious topics, such as bestiality, incest, adultery, and betrayal. The plot of the play is quite literally about a man who engages in sexual relations with a goat, and the chaos and conflicts that ensue in the family as a result. While the show begins by introducing a comedic tone, there is an obvious shift that occurs with the supposed ‘fall’ of the tragic hero, and it appeared that a considerable portion of the audience did not grasp the switch.

Laughter intermittently occurred throughout the production and to the end of the play, which left several of my classmates upset and unsettled, particularly the ones who had studied the play prior to our trip. The fact that the laughter continued even after the tone of the show turned serious gives rise to several speculative questions for me. Why were people laughing when Stevie (the betrayed wife) threw pieces of furniture to release her pain and despair? Why did people laugh when the murdered goat was revealed on stage at the play’s end?

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Damian Lewis as Martin and Sophie Okonedo as Stevie in The Goat; or, Who is Sylvia? at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London.

There are several theories as to why humans laugh and lots of research about different circumstances that cause laughter. According to Dr. Lickerman in Psychology Today, nervous laughter has been “noted to occur in many psychological experiments when subjects found themselves placed under a high degree of emotional stress” (Lickerman, 2011). For example, there is a famous study conducted by Stanley Milgram to discover why people blindly follow authority; the test subjects were made to deliver painful electrical currents to an “unseen” person. Milgram noted that a majority of the subjects began to laugh nervously when they heard the screams of pain, as they became extremely uncomfortable. This draws an effective parallel to the audience of “The Goat”, seeing as laughter occurred at very serious, but also uncomfortable, moments in the show.

The day after we saw the play, my class had a discussion where we had the opportunity to debrief the show; as I previously stated, many of my classmates were bothered by the incessant laughter of the audience. There were various reasons for their distaste, largely due to what kind of personal histories and experiences they had coming into the experience. Some of my peers were offended by some of the laughter throughout the audience because they felt that those spectators were not being sensitive to the grim topics being very bluntly discussed.

For others, the laughter caused them to be annoyed because it seemed to take them out of the moment. (These were primarily the students who had studied the show academically and therefore knew when the switch from comedic to tragic tone occurred.) They were trying to engage in the moment seriously but were distracted and floored by the clear lack of understanding of the audience as a whole.

The audience laughter did not necessarily evoke any feelings of disturbance in myself personally, but I think that was because I was extremely shocked for the majority of the play. While it was a very enjoyable experience, the subject matter covered topics that I was not comfortable with and therefore I was far too hypnotized by the absurdity before me to react to the laughter surrounding me. For a moment try and imagine an entire play where you are constantly bombarded by dialogue which inevitably causes mental imagery of bestiality. Then imagine being provided an actual image of the helpless animal who was taken advantage of as the final picture of the play, and tell me; would you laugh at the ‘kid’?

Works Cited:

Lickerman, Alex. “Why We Laugh.” Psychology Today. 2011. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-in-world/201101/why-we-laugh

Image:

https://www.thestage.co.uk/opinion/2017/goat-sylvia-starring-damian-lewis-sophie-okonedo-review-round/

Playing at Wilton’s!

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!

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Social Currency: The Haymarket, The Goat, and the 21st century Audience

Edward Albee’s The Goat meets the Theatre Royal Haymarket; absurdity on the stage meets the conventionality of the third-oldest London playhouse still in use. Like any other playhouse, the Haymarket faces the task of balancing artistry with profit. The Goat and its cast are interesting choices that I want to unpack from a financial perspective, taking into consideration the aesthetic of the Haymarket Theatre.

In her 2016 essay titled “The Financial Performance of London-based theatres; a step towards business entities?”, Meghna Goyda identifies that there are two main business models followed by theatre companies: commercial and not-for-profit. While the Theatre Royal Haymarket is definitely a commercial theatre company, profit is something they struggle with. As company secretary John Lawrie states in fiscal 2016’s Strategic Review, “2015 opened with Harvey, which attracted little business, in contrast to The Elephant Man, starring Bradley Cooper – one of the most successful runs the theatre has had.” According to Goyda, “although theatres exist within a financial market, several establishments struggle to sustain financial stability while simultaneously pursuing innovative artistic excellence.” The Haymarket seems to have found a special ingredient within this mix: casting film actors.

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Theater Royal Haymarket

The Goat features two familiar faces in two of the show’s four characters: Damian Lewis as Martin and Oscar-nominated Sophie Okonedo as Stevie. There is no denying that having both actors’ names and faces boldly printed across the poster that will be circling both online and in tangible platforms (as well as hanging grandly beside the white columns that stand hauntingly at the theatre’s entrance) will catch the eye of potential audience members. “That’s the guy from ‘Homeland!’” is certain to be a common response to the poster.

For a theatre that has to be money-conscious in response to previous net losses, the market dictates the entirety of the Haymarket, right down to its design.

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Divided entrances

The theatre’s exterior structure divides the audience financially from the moment they enter the theatre – you select which of the multiple doors to enter through based on whether your seat is in the stalls or high up in the gallery, revealing to your fellow theatre-goers how much you spent on a ticket. Could it be that this financial division divides the collectivity of the audience? Despite the fact that this division is a result of John Nash’s architectural design from 1821, it still establishes a sense of time travel that elicits ideas of squeaky floors, moldy walls, and hierarchical conservatism. And while at 20 I do not necessarily fit into the Haymarket’s target market, a 21st century audience gets excited about newness. As a result of staging The Goat, however, a modern audience is able to revel in a 2002 Tony-Award winning, boundary-moving tragedy within a traditionally bound space. This combination may prove to be both financially successful, and politically advantageous, for the Haymarket, as it satisfies the audience and reels in the West End cash. The Goat may have been the perfect choice to increase profitability in both financial and social markets for the Haymarket.

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Theatre Royal Haymarket 

I would like to end with this: no matter what my opinion was on Edward Albee’s The Goat, or on the Haymarket’s strategies to enhance its financial performance, I would not have been able to understand the Haymarket in the way I feel I do now without being there in person. I have read and researched the space to the ends of the Internet for my final project in Destination Theatre, but physically being surrounded by the secret-packed walls was incomparable. As much as you can learn about a place, it can still feel unfamiliar, and I’m thankful the theatre and I have now been introduced.

 

 

Works Cited

Goyda, Meghna. “The Financial Performance of London-based theatres; a step towards business entities?” Academia.edu. http://www.academia.edu/29221917/The_Financial_Performance_of_London-based_theatres_a_step_towards_business_entities

“Theatre History.” Theatre Royal Haymarket. Accessed May 16th, 2017. http://www.theatrehistory.com/british/haymarket001.html

“Theatre Royal Haymarket Limited.” Companies House. Accessed May 16, 2017. https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/00242846

 

Ready, steady…

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…

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…but also like this:

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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 MisWorkingTitus AndronicusTwelfth 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:

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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.

See you in the OTHER London!

Kim

Amateur London

In June, we will literally be in another London. Another parallel is that we will be seeing two shows in the real London that I am currently working on in this London. I am in the process of rehearsals for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Palace Theatre, which we will be seeing at Shakespeare’s Globe. Also, I am working on an in class presentation of Edward Albee’s The Goat, which we will see at Theatre Royal Haymarket. I am excited to see these professional productions, but my favourite aspect of amateur theatre is that it is working for feeling, not for money. The people I know who are involved in amateur theatre are volunteering their time because theatre is their passion. This is not to say that professionals are not passionate, as I am certain they are, but I am going to speak from my experience about the “emotional pay-off” of amateur theatre (Hurley 1).

In Theatre & Feeling Hurley writes that “three-quarters of the arts events people attend are amateur productions…they are events put on by those whose artistic practice is founded, by definition, in love (the French amateur literally means ‘lover’)” (2). It is true most of the theatre I see is amateur. In the past month, I have seen three amateur shows, all in which I know some, or most, of the people involved in the production. Being involved in amateur theatre has introduced me to a community of people that share my passion. Community theatre is commonly perceived as a hobby and as a tier far below professional quality, but I have seen amateur productions with great acting. Some recent examples that have stood out in London include Calithumpian Theatre Company’s The History Boys and Theatre Western’s Twelve Angry Men.

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Martin and Sylvia (the Goat)

There are varying levels of amateur, though. My in-class presentation of The Goat was not born from passion or love, but from a syllabus. Although I have a great group, we are passionate about putting together a good adaptation in the hopes of a high grade in return. Everyone in the class is interested in drama, but not everyone considers themselves an actor.

On the other hand, most of the production team for Twelfth Night and some of the actors have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre. Theatre is not their job yet it is far from a hobby. There are ten hours of rehearsals each week for our upcoming production, and those hours are beginning to increase as we get closer to the run of the show. Although we are all working tirelessly, no one involved is paid. The theatre and the theatre company make a profit off of amateur shows but the “feeling-labour” of the actors is not for monetary compensation (Hurley 9). Hurley writes that, “people attend the theatre for its emotional pay-off” and I believe that is what actors in amateur productions gain as well (Hurley 1).

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The Cast and Crew of Twelfth Night at our First Read-Through

Works Cited

Hurley, Erin. Theatre & Feeling. Palgrave, 2010.

Rachel Flear is a fourth year English and Theatre Studies Student from London, Ontario.

 

Creating Theatre

Recently, my sister and I received valuable advice from a young man who is currently struggling to find a career path in life. It is probably something that someone has told you at some point in your life, however, it never hurts to hear it again. As you may know, some of the best lessons in life can be learned through someone else’s experiences. He said to us, if you ever find an opportunity at your doorstep, don’t let it pass. This sounds simple enough, though if you think back, how many opportunities have you let pass? Things you didn’t do because you were too afraid or too shy. Maybe you couldn’t be bothered to put in the effort, or the very act of simply showing up seemed burdensome. While the exact reasons will vary from person to person, how we respond is often the same – we say no. We say no and just like that, we find we’ve missed out on something that may have been great. Something that had the potential to change us in ways we could never even expect.

Last week, we received an email from Kim, our Destination Theatre professor, regarding a chance to participate in a theatre creation workshop led by Mina Samuels and Jacqueline Dugal. The details of the workshop were vague and, at the time, neither of us had any idea as to how theatre was actually “created”. We didn’t know what the workshop would entail, nor what we’d be expected to do. What we did know at the time, however, was that simply not knowing wasn’t going to be a good enough excuse for passing on such a unique opportunity. We signed up.

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Theatre Creation Workshop led by Mina Samuels and Jacqueline Dugal

The room assigned for the workshop was brightly lit with natural sunlight that shone through enormous windows. Through the glass we could see a group of young women standing in a circle. Most of them had removed their shoes, and one by one, each woman walked through the empty space in the center to reach a different position in the circle. Not wanting to interrupt this unusual ritual that unfolded before us, we stood awkwardly by the entrance, watching from afar. Soon, one of the women noticed our presence and asked if we would like to join them. The woman introduced herself as Jacqui. As we took our places in the circle, Jacqui explained that the purpose of this exercise was to prepare ourselves for performing the same movement, except with our eyes closed. She then asked each person in the room to make one pass through the circle with their eyes open to provide everyone with the chance to get accustomed to the movement. As expected, the exercise was simple enough and everyone made their pass with ease. Jacqui then explained that each person would now shift their position three times to random places in the circle, however this time our eyes were to be kept closed the entire time. To lead the blind individual to a new position in the circle would be the responsibility of those within the circle. Much to our surprise, this round was much more unnerving and this sentiment was echoed throughout the room by others. Walking blindly, expecting complete strangers to guide you home, felt unusually frightening! This exercise had, however, taught us to trust our peers and had granted us the ability to shed our fears of the unknown by stepping outside our comfort zones.

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International & Graduate Affairs Building UWO, where the workshop took place.

Next, Jacqui and Mina led us through another, rather peculiar exercise. This time, Jacqui read a single sentence from Mina’s play titled “Because I am Your Queen”. She then told us she was going to break the sentence down into individual words, and instructed us to feel the words as she slowly uttered them, and find a unique pose to encapsulate the emotion behind each word. She advised us to delve beyond obvious positions and reach for what she referred to as our “fifth instinct”. When we began, we quickly realized that this exercise would be quite difficult for us, as we have little experience with theatre and the study of movement and improvisation. As those around us artfully flowed from one elegant position to the next, the two of us struggled to find even a single pose. The movements felt awkward and stiff, as we were too timid to break free and move our bodies as openly as everyone else. The feelings of embarrassment we felt can easily be described by the word “affect”, as defined by Erin Hurley in her book “Theatre & Feeling”. In this book, Hurley proffers the scholarly definition of affect: an immediate, uncontrollable, skin-level registration of a change to our environment (i.e., these are the responses we cannot consciously control) (p. 13). Interestingly, she goes on to describe how affect exceeds us in a way that may be conveyed through the display of emotion (p. 18). Our feelings of discomfort were easily sensed by Jacqui through our restrained motions, as well as our mild expressions of unease. As we stood there feeling rather flustered, Jacqui asked everyone to close their eyes and raise their hands if anyone was judging themselves in any way for their movements. As we raised our hands, we knew instinctively that the people she was most likely addressing were the two of us. She then asked everyone to open their eyes and this time, to let go of any judgement we might feel for ourselves or anyone else.

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Mina Samuels
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Jacqueline Dugal

As the workshop progressed, we slowly began to feel more comfortable and even started to enjoy ourselves. To be able to move in front of others without fearing judgement was a strangely liberating experience. Change is a gradual process and it is only when we allow ourselves to be exposed to situations that make us feel ill at ease that we can truly expect to grow. Neither of us had expected the workshop to impact our lives the way it had, and we are both very grateful to have been a part of this wonderful experience. We sincerely hope that in our futures we will continue to accumulate similar little experiences that will slowly, but surely, allow us change for the better.

Maha & Maham Ahmed are fourth year students  specializing in Microbiology and Immunology and minoring in Classical studies at Western University.

A Theatre’s Place in the City

It is 8’clock pm on a Saturday night. As I walk with my friend through the dimly lit parking lot, I think to myself, ‘I am so happy I was able to get a ride here.’ I feel uneasy as we walk down an ally between two houses to finally arrive at the theatre doors. I breath a sigh of relieve as I finally enter The Palace Theatre to see A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.

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A view from my seat and the program for ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ at The Palace Theatre.

A Raisin in the Sun presents the Younger family, an African American family living in a worn down small apartment in Chicago. Each member of the family has a dream, but the main focus of the plot is the dream of both Ruth Younger and her mother-in-law, Lena Younger (Mama), for the family to move into a house. The play begins with the family inheriting insurance money after the passing of Mama’s husband (also Walter and Beneatha’s father). Mama uses some of the money to buy the family a house in Clybourne Park. The problem is, as Ruth points out, “[T]here ain’t no coloured people living in Clybourne Park” (Hansberry 93). Hansberry touches on themes of race, identity, family and the challenge African Americans face while pursuing the American dream.

I saw the performance of A Raisin in the Sun for a drama class. After seeing the performance, my professor handed out a participation assignment. One question on the assignment asked about the location of The Palace Theatre. How did we feel going to this location? How did the location of the theatre align with the feelings of the Younger family’s move to Clybourne Park? These questions made me think, but not in the way my professor was looking for. I began reflecting on a striking moment of my experience, which comes from what Jen Harvie discusses in Theatre & The City as the concept of cultural materialism.

In Theatre & The City, Jen Harvie lists examples of cultural materialism in relation to a theatre’s “space, institutional structures and practices, money and people” (24-25). Harvie quotes Marvin Carlson to further explain elements of cultural materialism: “‘The entire theatre, its audience arrangements, its other public spaces, its physical appearance, even its location within a city, are all important elements of the process by which an audience makes meaning of its experience’” (24). Carlson suggests that an experience with theatre is about more than simply the performance.

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The exterior of The Palace Theatre in London Ontario (from lfpress.com).

My experience of unease walking up to The Palace Theatre doors is an example of Carlson’s description. The Palace Theatre is located in a low socioeconomic area in London, Ontario, and students are warned not go there during the night. The stigma around the area known as “east of Adelaide” is not discussed in great detail but is simply known; it can hinder a student’s opinion of the Palace Theatre. I will note that The Palace Theatre has deep historical connections to the city of London.
However, as Harvie mentions, “the signification of locations can shift” (26). On the other hand, the centrally located Grand Theatre in London is positioned on what students call ‘Richmond Row.’ The juxtaposition of The Grand Theatre’s central location in comparison to The Palace Theatre’s location creates favouritism for students when they are deciding where to see local London theatre.

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The exterior of The Grand Theatre in London Ontario (from London Tourism Media).

Nevertheless, it is The Palace Theatre that offers the London Community Players, whereas The Grand Theatre often hosts travelling productions. The Palace Theatre offers a true London-run theatre experience, while The Grand Theatre cannot always promise a local London experience for students new to the area. As a theatre lover and student, my hope is for students to visit The Palace Theatre where classic and important plays such as Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun are performed. Apart from my class attending A Raisin in the Sun, there were not many students in the audience at the Palace. I hope with time ‘the signification’ of The Palace Theatre’s location will shift, building students’ comfort level so they can visit a theatre rooted in London’s history and with local actors onstage.

Works Cited

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Vintage Books, 1994.

Harvie, Jen. Theatre & The City. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Sarah Gilpin is a fourth-year English Language & Literature and Theatre Studies student at Western University and is pursuing a career in education.