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.

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 (Not Very) Brief Guide to Every Museum in Oxford

Most weeks, on Tuesday and Wednesday I have my internship. However, seeing as we are in Oxford, I did not have my internship, so I had entirely free days for the past two days. Fortunately, so did my housemate Rachel, whom I will also be traveling with for spring break, so we decided to try and do all of the touristy stuff these past two days. Except the Ashmolean Museum, that is, because we’re going as a program on Thursday, so look forward to that.

We started at the Museum of Natural History, we got there as it opened, so it was pretty empty initially, although it did fill up. There were also multiple primary school groups that came, which was cute. The first thing we saw was a stuffed American Black Bear that said “Please touch” on the sign (see additional photos), which is not really something I’ve ever encountered before. It had pretty coarse fur, just for reference. The first row of exhibits was mainly related to dinosaurs and animals from around that period, which I really liked because I’m a huge fan of dinosaurs. They also had a dodo, and are known for their dodo because they used to have on display the most well-preserved dodo head in the world, although I don’t believe it’s out on display at the moment. A lot of it was the same kind of fare you find at most natural history museums, although I think this one had a bit more things that you were encouraged to touch, which was kind of cool. I also liked the layout (see photo below) in that it felt very open and that every piece of it was very intentional, like the upper level has pillars and each is made of a different mineral and they’re all labeled. It also allows for a lot of natural light to come in, which adds to the fact that it’s natural history.
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There is also a museum attached to the Museum of Natural History called the Pitt Rivers Museum, which was started because one rich English man, Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers, went around and collected things from all over the world and therefore started his own collection, which was made of around 22,000 items and started the collection of anthropological items that now make up the Pitt Rivers Museum. My first reaction to it was feeling overwhelmed, there are just a lot of items in a not very large space, it’s a lot less open than the museum it is attached to and has no natural light coming in, which makes it feel very dark and cramped. Some of the highlights to me were the large collection of model ships, multiple cases of items that were thought to be magical, shrunken heads, a giant totem pole, and a collection of very ornately decorated Easter eggs (see additional photos for all of those). They also had an upstairs exhibit on various body modifications and adornment which was very cool, but we were running out of time so had to go through it pretty quickly. I do highly recommend both museums if you ever find yourself in Oxford. Plus they’re both free, so why would you not.

After lunch, we headed to the Bodleian Libraries. They are a tourist destination in part because they were used in the filming of Harry Potter. The Divinity School was used as the infirmary in the first movie (see photo below), and in the fourth movie, for the scenes of them practicing and learning to dance. The Duke Humfrey’s Library was used even more for filming a lot of scenes in the library at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take pictures in the actual Library because of copyright reasons, but I promise I did actually get to go there. We then went across the street to the Weston Library to see their exhibit on their “Treasures,” which were a lot of cool documents, including one of the copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio and a page of the Magna Carta (see additional photos for both). There was also an original illustration and page of a story written by J.R.R. Tolkien, but we were not allowed to take pictures of that either.IMG_6765.png

Then we walked down the street a bit to the Museum of the History of Science, which again had a lot of items in it. It was a very cool museum and I think that if I was more into scientific instruments, it would’ve been great. It’s something that I think my dad, who is a physicist and is just generally a science guy, would very much enjoy, but to me, it lacked a through line, as in each room was full of objects with descriptions, but there just wasn’t really any cohesion or story being told with them. There were very cool things like a chalk board with Albert Einstein’s handwriting on it (see photo below) and a coin orrey (see additional photos). However, it felt just like a collection of a lot of cool items, but as more of a display than a museum where you are following along it. IMG_6701.jpg

We walked over to New College from there, which was another Harry Potter filming location. The cloisters there were used in the fourth movie, if you recall the scene that took place under a tree, where Moody transformed Malfoy into a ferret, we got to visit that spot (see photo below). I didn’t really expect to have as much of a reaction to seeing it as I did, but straight when we walked in, it felt familiar and just very exciting to be in a place that something that means and has meant a lot to me was created. So you are not interested in hearing about Harry Potter filming locations, then I’m sorry, but you’re going to hear more about them because Rachel and I are traveling around the UK for spring break and will definitely try to see as many of them as we can. IMG_6712.jpg

Today we had a plan that went a little awry. We intended to start at the Story Museum, which was created because Oxford does have such a long history of storytelling from inspiring Alice in Wonderland to J.R.R. Tolkien to the Harry Potter films to inspiring parts of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and everything in between. Unfortunately though, it was closed, but there was a modern art museum that we didn’t know about down the street. But it didn’t open for half an hour by the time we got there, so we waited in a cafe. The exhibit that was up when we went there was by Lubaina Himid, and centered largely around her experience and identity of being black. Some of my favorite pieces were pages from newspapers that had pictures of black people on them, that she had painted over various parts of (see photo below). It wasn’t a very large museum or exhibit, but I enjoyed it, and like most other museums, it was free.IMG_6720.jpg

Our last self-lead museum of the day was the Museum of Oxford, which was a smidge hard to find because it is actually in the Town Hall.  It was very well set up though, the first room we went into had an interactive aspect that allowed you to swivel a screen that had an image of the room and over each exhibit, there was a button you could click to get a virtual tour of the part of the city that that exhibit was about. Throughout the tour, it would also stop at significant spots and again allow you to move the screen around and find things to click on that tell you more about the spot. One of my favorite exhibits though was in the gallery about the different things that inspired Alice in Wonderland. There was a little station that had headphones and little cards a projector that projected a spot to put the cards on the table (see photo below). Each card would activate a little narration and interview with someone about different things like how C.S. Lewis knew the Alice who inspired the story (her father was a dean of Christ Church College and C.S. Lewis was a librarian) or how the Museum of Natural History inspired a lot of the creatures that were used in the story like the dodo and the hedgehogs and flamingos.
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This afternoon, about half of the program did a tour of Christ Church College (the other half had done it yesterday) with one of the tutors and Jonathan, our program director who also had done his grad studies at the College. Christ Church College is home to two more Harry Potter filming locations, the stairs from the first movie that the first years go up before getting sorted (see additional photos) and the Great Hall where the students dined (see additional photos). As well, the posts on the side of the fireplace were said to inspire the part of Alice where she stretches (see additional photos). The walls of the Great Hall are also lined with portraits, including Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth, and William Penn, this time the actual founder of Pennsylvania. We also got to see something that apparently most people don’t, but since Jonathan knows the college well, they showed it to us, which is the yard with a small door that inspired the scene where Alice has to shrink to go through the door, and the tree that is where the Cheshire Cat was supposed to sit (see photo below). Then we walked over to Christ Church Cathedral, which was as beautiful as one would expect a cathedral to be. Jonathan also managed to get us into the library (see additional photos), which is not typically open to visitors. It was incredible, there were so many very very old books, that you actually are not allowed to take out at this point. We also couldn’t take pictures of the books themselves, which was interesting. The library also has the hat, from the 1600s I believe, of the man who founded the library, in very good condition. IMG_6740.jpg

After the tour, Rachel and I popped over to the door that is said to have been the inspiration for the door in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (see additional photos). Basically, a lot of the past two days have been spent seeing things that were the inspiration for various works of literature by C.S. Lewis or filming locations from Harry Potter. I’m also very glad that, unlike the US, so many museums are free to the public, it makes them so much more accessible and I don’t think I would have done as much as I have in the past two days had that not been the case. But tomorrow is back to classes and actual work. And I also just want to note that everyone on our program is here in Oxford, so no one was affected by the attack at Westminster, we are all perfectly ok.

Back to Bristol

Yesterday, for my screenwriting class, we went to the Bristol Film Festival for our study trip, which is my second time in Bristol. The first event we went to was a screening on Bristol on Film, which showed clips that were of Bristol throughout history, starting with the first clip taken of Bristol from 1902. It was interesting because the person leading the screening pointed out that at that time, even though cameras were new, the camera was not well placed to shoot the event, as it was more important for the high class people to see than for a camera to. I think that it was somewhat more intended for people who live in Bristol and could really identify the places and see what has changed and what hasn’t over time.

The second event was a talk on participatory film, the idea being that as a filmmaker, you work with a community to conceptualize and film a piece, either about their community or something else. Our class made up the vast majority of audience, which was a little bit of a bummer to see. But the topic was interesting and it isn’t an idea that I’ve encountered that much in film. I think there is something to be said for trying to kind of merge the typical hierarchical structure in film making and taking somewhat of a more community perspective. We’re going to be talking about it in class in a couple weeks, so I’m curious to see what everyone thinks of it all.

The last one we went to was a panel discussion on women in film, which I was pretty excited for. The audience was much much more full, mostly of women, which was good to see. A lot of it was acknowledging the discrepancies between the percent of women and men in film and in the technical positions for film making. There were also a lot of local resources mentioned the are available to people in Bristol, that are especially meant to promote women in film. Some of the panelists also mentioned how helpful it is to self-advocate and keep trying things, even if you don’t think that you can actually do it, which I think is important to realize. I think there were some good points made, but I wish that things could have been taken a little further with it, more about how to normalize having women in film, but I think it’s sometimes hard to figure out how to get to that point.

I haven’t been to a lot of film festivals, but this was interesting and I’m curious to see what people think when we discuss it in class. I also got to know the other people in my class better, which was fun. I also have other study trips in the future, not all of which I remember, but I think those will go well too.