Spring Break Study Abroad, March 2017: “Theatre and Theatricality: London & the Provinces”
The musical Kinky Boots has at its center the theme of self-discovery and self-assertion despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. This theatrical spectacle was a high point of our trip and of the course: an evening of entertainment and immersion in a world of wonder. More than just theatre arguably at its best, however, the show’s focus on moving outside of one’s comfort zone in an evolving world offers a parallel to the achievement of those who gave up their real spring break to participate in this spectacular adventure, “Theatre & Theatricality: London & the Provinces,” in March 2017.
A course like this involves being in close quarters with (in this case) 10 others for an intense week of culture shock and learning. I am always amazed—and then surprised that I am amazed at—the good humor, generosity, collegiality, and downright smartness of our students: eight graduate and two undergraduate students this time. The first surprise was the cell-like size of the bedrooms in the hotel, ridiculously small even by London standards. Did I miss that in the reviews? Despite jet lag (or jet daze) and having just endured an introduction to the crowds, ubiquitous staircases, and long walkways of the London tube, the students embraced the experience with humor. The dubious pub breakfast, our first meal, met with the same response:“They don’t do boiled eggs? But isn’t that actually easier than poaching them?”
The week that followed was packed with very long days of theatre-going, immersion in British history, literature, and spectacle, trips to the countryside, seminar-style analyses of the experiences, and philosophical conversation over meals together. Perhaps the most emphatic lesson to emerge was the pedagogical value of such a period of togetherness. I think we all learned as much from each other during this time as from the sights and sites we experienced. Bonds formed that will not only supply resources throughout the graduate student experience but will also enrich the memories made.
Although relatively short-term, these periods of immersion in another culture provide the kind of learning that simply cannot be achieved in the classroom. It is one thing to read Othello or even to view various performances on a screen. It is quite another to experience it in a recreated Restoration theatre with Cassio played by and as a woman and with Katy Perry lyrics helping to achieve the reach-across-the ages appeal of this Shakespearean tragedy. The various layers of history and theatre become palpable. Standing in Shakespeare’s childhood home makes him real, not a mythical writer of pretty good plays. Reading Jane Austen’s accounts of the social performances in the Pump Room at Bath is amusing; standing where she did brings to life the bodies that once stepped there. Participating in these experiences, these pageants, with a group of friends who make jokes and incisive observations is a privilege.
I am extremely grateful not only to the good-natured students who made this possible but to the staff and financial support of the Department of English, Study Abroad office, and College of Arts and Science.