The Final Study Trip

I’ve officially finished finals and everything now, so I’m getting around to writing all of the other things I’ve been meaning to write.

A week ago, my UK Media class took a trip to London to do two things: go on a walking tour of the places in London where Harry Potter was filmed, and visit the offices of The Telegraph, a newspaper. After a four-hour bus ride that was delayed because some royals were going somewhere so traffic stopped, we met up with our tour guide, Liam, at the Royal Exchange. As it turned out, the tour was not just of Harry Potter stuff, it was more about writers and stories that were inspired or influenced by places in London, including two ghost stories and part of the origin of Dracula (look up Countess Elizabeth Bathory if you want a pretty gruesome story). I really enjoyed it though, it gave a good idea of what London is like, as well as introducing various spots that have been culturally relevant. Our tour guide was also great, really friendly and engaging, and I think he was impressed by our knowledge of Harry Potter.

The tour of The Telegraph was also really cool. Our tour guide was a 70-year old man named George who had been working there since he was 27 and is technically retired, but still comes to work every day. I didn’t know much about what it takes to run a newspaper, but he explained it all pretty well, plus it was pretty cool to see everyone’s desks all laid out, it was an open floor plan. One of their people in the obituary department used to be an ASE tutor who taught this class, so we got to talk to her for a while, which was interesting.

Overall, it was a cool trip, although it was four hours on a bus each way, which was a little long. Today we have final tea and I have one last performance with Bath Phil, and then tomorrow the program is officially finished and we have to move out, which is crazy. But I’ll get to see my boyfriend and begin our travels, which I’m very excited about.

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Stratford on Avon

We got back yesterday from spending three days in Stratford on Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. The first day we had a talk from a tutor and his wife about the history of Stratford and Shakespeare and Julius Caesar, which is the play we were seeing that night. Then we went to Shakespeare’s birthplace, which was a really cute Tudor cottage (see photo below). They had it all laid out with fake food and stuff, which seems a little silly to me, but it was still a cool place to be. It’s crazy how long things can last when people want them too. I also noticed how they seem to fill out the properties with some really beautiful gardens that I honestly could probably spend hours in.IMG_7125.jpg

We went to see Julius Caesar at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the evening, which I managed to take no pictures of, although it was very dark and therefore difficult to see, so they wouldn’t have looked great anyways. As one would expect, it was absolutely phenomenal. All of the performances had so much life and drive to them. I’ve spent a lot of time with Shakespeare, I’ve been in three shows and studied or read a bunch more, so I don’t find it too hard to follow the language and shows, and I think they made it even easier, the language sounded very natural. Between the two plays we saw, they were using a lot of the same set elements, but one of the things I thought was especially well done was that they had a bunch of pieces of the stage (it was a thrust stage, so on the thrust) that rose and would bring up platforms for the eulogy speeches after Caesar’s death, benches for other scenes, things like that. I would absolutely love to have seen what below the stage looked like.

On Wednesday, we started the day with a talk back about the show we saw, which was pretty good. Then we had a Q&A with the actor who played Brutus, whose name is James, which was really interesting. For instance, I found out that there is a theater in Wales that performs Shakespeare and is in a willow tree, I’m not 100% sure how that works, but it sounds really cool. They also do all of their shows gender-swapped. He was really nice and answered all of our questions honestly and pretty thoroughly, which I appreciated, especially since I think people often expect that actors do or think certain things. For example, he basically said that at one point, he didn’t really know what he was doing, and I think people often expect that actors have grand insights into their characters.

Afterwards, we went to Anne Hathaway’s cottage (see photo below), which was absolutely stunning. The cottage itself was what you would expect, a cute Tudor cottage like Shakespeare’s birthplace. But the gardens around it were super beautiful. There was a small wood that seemed to me to be the perfect place to do A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and had a little walk through it that was really beautiful, and it was sunny and a good temperature for it. There was also a sculpture walk that I didn’t manage to get to, and a lawn bowling set in one garden that was already slightly broken. It was also one of those places that I could stay at and sit in for hours. Allegedly, there was also a lavender maze, but we think we found it and it was pretty dead.IMG_7130.jpg

We then had time for lunch and some free time, so I got lunch, and then myself and two other people went to the butterfly farm, which was an absolute delight. It did cost money to get it, but within about three steps of going into the butterfly room, a butterfly landed on the shoulder of Kateri, who was one of the students with me. It was a very chill butterfly, it just hung out there, then flew for a bit, then landed back on her head and hung out there as we walked along. After a little bit, he flew up again and I put my hand out and he actually landed on it (see photo below). Once again, he just hung out there as we walked along a little ways. Oddly, I have a history of butterflies landing on me, but it’s still super cool every time. I also raised some monarch butterflies when I was a kid, so I have a history with them and I really love butterfly farms and the like. They also had a few rooms with other animals like a chameleon and snakes and spiders, etc. There were also a bunch of ants and in one room had ropes connecting different ant tanks and you could look up and watch the ants crawling along the ropes, which I thought was really cool.18403951_645806728947912_6480058695095195454_o.jpg

Then we had a workshop with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), that was basically an acting workshop. I really enjoyed it because I was already pretty familiar with some of the exercises we were doing because I did a lot of them when I did theater as an actor. The person leading my workshop didn’t fully seem to understand that not everyone in the room, actually almost no one in the room beside like four of us, had any acting training going into it, so there were parts where people were a little confused about what was going on, but this is the first time ASE has done this, so I think that as time goes on, it’ll become clearer. We did a lot of work with the text of Antony & Cleopatra, which I liked because I always like working with Shakespeare text. I think it also did help to gain some familiarity with the show that made it better. Overall, I liked doing it because I haven’t really done acting workshop things in a while, so it was nice to go back to it for a bit and just have fun.

We had a free evening, so I got Indian food for dinner with Rachel and Kateri at a place called Thespians, which fits the town, but I wouldn’t have pegged it as an Indian food place if asked. Then we wandered around, saw a really beautiful sunset, and ended up across the river from the RSC theater where we stood and talked in a gazebo and watched the back end of them doing Julius Caesar, which was kinda cool. We eventually ended up at a pub called The Dirty Duck, where about half of the program ended up that night as well. It’s also the pub that all of the actors go to after their show finishes, so we ended up chatting with them too. I mostly talked to the actor who played Octavius, who is only 23, but was also just a friendly and nice guy. They were all pretty nice people, and it was interesting to talk to them in the context of just a pub, whereas a lot of the British people I’ve talked to have been in the context of me meeting and working with them as a student of ASE.

On Thursday, we started out with some more talks, and then I went on a brief, and I mean very brief, tour of the few remaining places of note related to Shakespeare, which were the Guild Hall, New Place (one of the places he lived), and Trinity Church (where he is buried). New Place isn’t an actual house, because the real one burned down, so again, it was mostly gardens, although they were very pretty. It was pretty crazy to me to look at Shakespeare’s grave (see photo below) because he’s become one of those people who is talked about so much and is so well known that he doesn’t seem like a real person, but when staring down at where his remains are, you really grasp how real he is. Especially since I really love Shakespeare plays, it kinda hit me and was a really cool moment.IMG_7164.jpg

The last thing we did in Stratford was see Antony and Cleopatra, which was absolutely phenomenal. Cleopatra was played by Josette Simon, who did an amazing job. I preferred it to Julius Caesar, partially because it was a bit more stylized in a way that I think tied it all together better. They also used the rising and falling of the floor pieces more and really effectively. A fair number of the actors from Julius Caesar were also in Antony and Cleopatra, including many of the ones we met at the pub, so it was interesting to see them in different roles in a very different show.

I’m really glad that we had the opportunity to go to Stratford and see shows and go to all of the important places. This week we have finals, so I will be working on that and revising my dissertation for my internship, as well as beginning to think about packing.

More Bath Phil Education

I spent last weekend working with the Young Carers project with Bath Phil for the second weekend of the project. We have one more weekend, this weekend, and then the performance right before the end of the program. I enjoy every weekend with them, and I feel like I am getting to know these kids more and getting to know more about music and the process that Bath Phil goes through in their education projects.

On Saturday, we came back to some of the songs from the weekend before to add to them. I spent a good amount of the day setting up for an art project that was at the end of the day. Before that, though, we were doing an art project and one of the kids pointed at a chair at her table, basically asking me to sit with her, which is the first time that something like that has happened for me with these kids. We then made art that was half one thing, and half another. For example, I was given the bottom half of a mushroom and I drew the top half as a house. But the project at the end of the day consisted of the kids filling balloons with glitter and confetti because they said that the storm they were performing rained confetti, glitter, and hope.

I gave myself a slightly sore thumb from using a shaped hole punch to punch balloon-shaped confetti from tissue paper for them to use. It is a pretty long process with not very much payoff, unless you’re using really good hole punches, I imagine. We then were putting balloons over funnels so it was easier for the kids, the result of which was kind of funny looking (see photo below). Personally, I think it looks like a field of light bulbs with red bottoms.

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At the end of the day, the kids filled the balloons with the glitter and confetti. We also had helium tanks to blow up the balloons, but, as it turns out, depending on how much glitter and confetti you have in the balloon, it isn’t super likely to actually float. And of course, because it’s glitter, it got everywhere, and I mean everywhere. It didn’t help that at one point I was blowing up a balloon that had a lot of glitter in it, and it popped while I was blowing it up, covering me in glitter (see photo below, which was at the end of blowing all the balloons up). But the kids really enjoyed them, and they looked cool. I spent about an hour vacuuming afterwards and there was still definitely plenty of glitter left. And I have found glitter on places of my body like my arm and chest that were covered the entire time. And it’s in the shoes I was wearing. It’s truly inescapable.

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On Sunday, we were more intensely working on the music, and one of the little girls, 7 years old, has basically decided that we were going to do everything together, so I’ve gotten more involved in the music, which I don’t mind. My favorite thing that she said was “Being quiet is boring.” The music is really coming together and I think it’s going to make a really great show. I’m really excited for this weekend and to see how everything comes together for the show. I’m also really thankful that I got to have the chance to do this, it’s been such a good time.

To London for a Show

On Friday, myself and some other ASE students went into London to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, which had Daniel Radcliffe playing Rosencrantz. This is one of my favorite shows, and I performed in it in high school as Guildenstern, so I was really excited to see it.  It did not disappoint, but I will get to that in a minute.  We got food beforehand at a Mexican street food restaurant, which turned out to be really delicious. And it was Cinco de Mayo, so we accidentally kind of paid homage to that with our food choice. Our dinner ended right around when we wanted to be at the theater, which was right across the street. I had some really good bean and cheese quesadillas and fermented corn and cheese empanadas.

We went over to the theater after that and went to our seats. My seat was very far over to one side, but there was a rail in front of us that was padded that I spent a lot of time leaning on, which I think the theater realizes, and I appreciated that they compensated for that. The set was really great, the stage expanded backwards a ton and had a cloud and sky canvas that expanded through the whole ceiling and onto the back wall and faded into the ground on the stage, and it created a rounded back to the stage. They also differentiated between the “play” and the action by having all of the “play” with a curtain that had some illustrations on it that made it clear it was in the court of Denmark. I thought the set worked really well and I loved how they used it.

And of course, Daniel Radcliffe did a wonderful job. I thought he brought a great energy to the character and made the character’s arc and emotional change throughout the play very clear. Joshua McGuire played Guildenstern, and he did a phenomenal job as well, he really carried things forward, at least in the way that Guildenstern kind of does. The cast of players was also great, they played, I think, live music that fit into the show well and also sounded really good. I was really impressed with how everyone did and was so happy with how the show was. It’s basically over now, but I would recommend it if you have the chance. We stood in line for a little while to try and meet Daniel Radcliffe, but we had to leave to catch our bus back. Overall, it was a really good time and I’m very happy that I got to see it.

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The End of Classes

Seeing as this is a study abroad program, I figured I should probably say some things about the academic side of my life, especially since I (basically) had my last class yesterday.

I say basically because I have a makeup class for Drama on Monday, but we are in rehearsal mode, so it isn’t totally a class. As I believe I’ve mentioned before, the first half of that class was about analyzing and reading plays, and the second about rehearsing scenes and monologues from them. We are all performing part of the first scene from Betrayal by Harold Pinter, I am performing the last about third of it. Then we all have two more three-person scenes (there are six of us in the class, so it works out well). We each are doing one scene from Look Back in Anger by John Osborne, I am playing Alison in mine. Then we all have a one-gender scene (as in everyone in the scene is, in my case, female), and mine is from Top Girls by Caryl Churchill, and I am playing Joyce. Then we all have monologues, I am again Alison from Look Back in Anger.

I’m really enjoying rehearsing the scenes, I haven’t done any acting since high school, just stage managing, so it’s interesting to come back to it. It is difficult though because it’s such a short period of time where we have to get a whole lot done, so while I think the scenes are going well, I’m sure that they could be much better if we didn’t have a 2 hour period to rehearse each of them and our director (the tutor) has to go between scenes to see them all. But I still do enjoy working on them and I think that our show is going to go pretty well.

My Media class has drifted a lot from what I expected when I got the syllabus, but in a good way. We’ve made it more about looking at aspects of media that we are interested in and discussing those in class, which has been really interesting. We also managed to get our tutor to show us about 10 minutes of a documentary that he and a friend made about him investigating the suspicious death of a Hollywood screenwriter, which has been pretty fun. Go look up The Writer with No Hands if you’re interested, I think it’s coming out on iTunes soon. We also have a study trip for that class a week from today, we are going to London to take a walking tour of all the filming locations of Harry Potter and a tour of the offices of The Telegraph, which is a newspaper.

In my Screenwriting class, we have finally reached the point where we have to have our whole screenplay written, which I do. I certainly have a lot of editing to do with it, but it’s all there. We haven’t actually done that much writing for the class before writing our screenplay, a lot of it was lecture-based classes on what makes a good screenplay and the elements of a screenplay, as well as watching movies and analyzing the script in them. We’ve also been doing peer reviews of each other’s screenplays, which has been pretty helpful. The tutor also has been having one-on-one meetings with each of us to go over his notes, which has also been mostly useful.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed the classes I’ve taken this semester and it’s pretty astonishing to me that we’re already almost done, things have truly blown by. We are going to be in Stratford for three days next week, which I’m looking forward to. And on a theater note, I’m seeing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead tonight in London, which stars Daniel Radcliffe, so that should be a blast as well.

A Weekend with Bath Phil

It’s been six days since I last posted, which is I think the longest it’s been, so my apologies for that.

The last three of those five days have been mostly spent working with Bath Phil. On Friday, they had the last concert that I will be able to help out with, which was an entirely Bath Phil concert. What I mean is, the last two concerts have been with other organizations, the first with the King Edward’s School, and the second with the Minerva Choir. This concert was comprised of two pieces. The first was a Shostakovitch violin concerto, and the soloist was Nicola Benedetti who did an absolutely phenomenal job, if you are at all interested in classical violin, I highly recommend you look her up. The second piece was excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, which was just played by the Phil, and they did a wonderful job with that as well. My role for this concert was different than it’s been before, in that usually I am at the venue for most of the day helping set up, then I watch the concert, and help clean up. Instead, I wasn’t there for the whole day, I came an hour before the concert and served wine to our friends and patrons of the orchestra. I will say, they are a fairly homogeneous bunch of people. But all very nice.  And we had a ton of leftover wine so I got a free bottle of wine out of it.

This weekend, I was helping out with one of the Bath Phil’s Creative Learning projects (Creative Learning is the education part of Bath Phil). This project was with Young Carers, who are kids who are caretakers for at least one member of their family. For example, one girl who was probably about ten or eleven was telling me about how she sleeps in the same room with her infant niece and wakes up in the middle of the night each night to do things like change her diaper. A lot of the kids also care for people who are disabled in some way, either physically or mentally, or are dealing with severe mental health issues. Bath Phil has been pairing with Young Carers groups from all around the area for a while, and the Young Carers program is kind of the flagship program of the Creative Learning department, which is part of why I wanted to help with it. And with this particular project, the kids will get to perform the pieces they create at Bath Abbey as part of a larger concert which is part of a larger festival in the middle of May. Happily, I will still be around at that point, so I am going to continue going to help out over the remaining weekends that I have.

There are two parts to the performance that they will put on: a musical part and a visual art part. Throughout the course of the project, the kids create a bunch of art that Simone, the general manager of Bath Phil, then animates to create a movie to play on a screen behind them while they are playing music. The process for the music is similar to the process we used on the last education project I went to in the primary school. Basically, Jason, the conductor and founder of the orchestra, finds a topic and gets feedback from the kids about that topic, then uses that to create a melody and multiple rhythm patterns for the kids to play over the melody on various instruments. And multiple members from the orchestra are there as well, who can come up with lovely music at the drop of a hat. I mostly was taking pictures and generally assisting with things depending on what was happening.

I really loved what I was doing this weekend. I would be there for like seven hours a day, but I think that it’s something that is really necessary and powerful for these kids. As well, the people running it have a philosophy that’s much more in line with how I think about leading these kinds of programs, which is not to make kids take part in anything they don’t want to do, but to let them do what they want over the whole course of the program, so if they want to participate in making art then they can, but if they don’t, then they’ll find something else to do. For instance, there was one kid who very clearly has done the program before, but didn’t want to take part in any of the group conversations and would do his own thing for them, like drawing, but was really into playing a tenor drum when we were working on the music. And no one forced him to be a part of a conversation he didn’t want to be a part of, whereas in my experience, there’s often been this idea that the kids taking part in it need to be a part of everything rather than just what actually interests them.

I think it’s also just really important to foster creativity in kids and give them a very clear outlet and way of expressing their experiences, especially since these kids have very different experiences from most people. They also clearly love doing it, there are kids who come back time and time again, and I would see them smiling and having fun picking up the music and getting to create something. So I’m really looking forward to working on the rest of the program, I think it’s gonna be really great.

*A fun little side note. If you don’t know, I have synesthesia, which primarily manifests itself by me associating color with sounds, so for example, my fire alarm at my elementary school sounded pink with white polka dots. On Saturday, I was painting the sides of some boxes as part of our art project and the musicians from the orchestra were fooling around with figuring out melodies and stuff and it was actually kind of hard and discordant for me because the color I was painting wasn’t the color of the music they were playing, so it felt really off, which I’ve never experienced before, partially because I don’t listen to music when I paint. I told Simone about this yesterday, and she evidently told Jason because I was sitting in on a sectional to take pictures and he told the kids that I have synesthesia and would tell them the color of the music they were playing when they finished it. When they played it all the way through, I told them it was a dark navy blue with flecks of pink, which it was. Then a little who is six looked up at me and said “Can I see?” and I had to explain to her that it was all in my head, but it was very very cute.

Shirley Valentine

We had our second, and I believe last, class trip for my drama class on Thursday, to the Theatre Royal to see Shirley Valentine, which is another solo performance, this time by a woman. The actress was a woman named Jodie Prenger, who is apparently somewhat well-known actress because she competed on a reality show to find the next Nancy for the West End revival of Oliver, and won. I have seen none of the show, but I can absolutely understand why, she was an absolutely incredible actress. The show was about two hours in total, which is a lot to do entirely by yourself, and she never seemed tired or anything, she did a great job. And of course it’s also a ton of lines to learn since she is talking the whole time.

The show itself was also very good. Solo performance isn’t very common, but there were some very large differences between the two solo performances we’ve seen for the class. The other show had tons of different characters worked into the show, whereas this show really was centered around one character, who did sometimes imitate other people, but it really felt like it was all about her and like she was just having a conversation with the audience. I think it also presented a really compelling story about how relationships can change as people get older and the rhetoric around relationships can actually be damaging as time goes on. If you get the chance to see this show ever, I highly recommend it. Especially if you have a phenomenal actress performing it.