Goodbye, London

1/18/10

So yesterday was my twentieth birthday. What a better way to celebrate it than in the theatre capital of the world? It was a quiet day, we had tea at the Orangery at Kensington Palace. Tea is quite the affair in London. A proper English tea consists of sandwiches – ours included salmon, ham, and cucumber, all with butter on them – scones with jam and clotted cream – a very soft and extremely rich butter – and, of course, tea – we drank a fine English breakfast tea. We then strolled around Kensington Gardens, a rolling expanse of verdant fields, London’s equivalent to Central Park. It was a warm afternoon, and the park was filled with people reveling in the sunshine. It was great to end the London trip on my twentieth birthday. I had the time of my life over the past few weeks, had more than one realization about my own life, and I definitely plan on coming back soon. Til then, cheers, London!

Last Class

1/16/10

Today, we had a class with Sharonna Sassoon, the actress who played the Royal Skivvy in the panto “Aladdin.” She is the SUNY New Paltz alum I mentioned in my previous post. Her encouraging words motivated me to become a pantomime actor in the future. She spoke about how fun and educational the style of theatre is, and her words made me fall in love with it. I have always loved comedy, theatre, and frivolity, and the way it comes together perfectly in pantomime seems to be the avenue to go down. I am having another moment of epiphany, my second of this trip, ad I want everyone to see this. I am determined to somehow introduce this marvelous style of theatre to the American culture, especially in New Paltz. Look out, New Paltz, here comes Panto!

My First Pantomime

1/14/10

I saw my first English pantomime show today. For those of you who, like me, had no idea what that is, it is a form of English theatre that caters towards younger audiences. It encourages audience response, and breaks every convention of theatre as we know it. The story is that of Aladdin, the poor street urchin that finds a lamp containing a wish-granting genie. The show was nothing short of hilarious. It contained a lot of child-age humor, but had serious adult overtones. To top it all off, a SUNY New Paltz graduate was in the show. Here, in the outer fringe of London theatre, is an actress holding a B.A. in Theatre Arts from SUNY New Paltz. What a small world!

National Gallery

1/13/10

Yesterday was quite an eventful day. We started off with class, discussing the ballet “Swan Lake.” Alex, Tony, Molly, Shari and I then proceeded to the National Gallery, to view some of the priceless collections for Andrea’s assignment. She asked us to find a piece of artwork that greatly impacts us and bring in a memento (postcard, poster, picture, etc) of the artwork to discuss in class. I found myself immediately running to the Van Gogh wing, knowing that I would be impressed by his work. Seeing his “Wheat Field with Cypresses” and “Sunflowers” was impressive, but I was not impacted by them nearly as much as I thought I would be. After the Van Gogh wing, I traipsed through to see the Seurat section of the gallery. I was immediately taken aback by his painting “Bathers at Asnieres”. What a breathtaking image. It depicted the poor class in France bathing along the Seine, looking out to the island of La Grande Jatte, where the rich would spend their weekends. Seurat’s use of pointillism creates an enormously lush atmosphere. Instead of looking at the painting, it’s almost as if you’re looking into the painting. You see beyond the borders of the image and into the world of the individuals. Seurat paints not only sight, but touch, smell, and sound. While I sat there, admiring the work, an art historian began leading a discussion about the painting, drawing people around him. He mentioned a quote that perfectly explains not only art, but also theatre: “The purpose of art is not to imitate nature, but to express it.” It’s not about what we see, but what our brains have the ability to perceive.

Hampton Court Palace

1/12/10

Hampton Court Palace was the summer home of King Henry VIII. Everything about the architecture and decor was incredible, down to the tapestries in the Great Hall.
Overall, the most impressive aspect of the palace was its historical re-enactors. There were five actors, playing Kateryn Parr, Kateryn’s sister, Sir Thomas Seymour, Clark Brooks, and the magisterial King Henry VIII. Their ability to improvise all of their knowledge of the 16th century into an interesting theatrical performance was flawless. One day, I hope to have an opportunity to perform in that aspect of theatre. History and performance are two of my favorite things, and the opportunity to synthesize them into a cohesive union is one I would jump at.

1984

1/9/10

Last night we saw 1984 at the Battersea Arts Center. The play was directly based on the Orwell novel about dystopian life in a totalitarian society. However, it is performed as if it is the members of the “Party” retelling the horrible story of Winston Smith. The play was performed very minimalistically, with the set consisting of six movable black wall sections and a few tables and chairs. Minimalistic theatre is, in my opinion, the best. It provokes the imagination and the brain to think and create, rather than relying on spectacle to illustrate every aspect of the play. Theatre that is most memorable is that which provokes the mind to think. In my mind, theatre is not just to entertain, but to provoke thought.

Travel Alone

1/8/10

Traveling alone is one of the most liberating sensations in the world. Something about being alone in a sea of strangers; the solitude it brings is so comforting. This was the first time in four days I’ve even been alone, and boy, did I need it. I am currently on the way to see 1984 now, traveling on the train outside greater London to the Battersea Arts Center. I didn’t realize how much I value my solitude until this trip, and hopefully the two weeks will bring more opportunities to get out on my own.

Westminster Abbey

1/6/10

It is an overwhelming feeling, being inside Westminster Abbey. Passing the tomb of Elizabeth I, my breath was taken away. This woman is the reason I am able to do what I do today. Her advancement of English theatre is what shaped the art form into what it is in the 21st century. We as performers, designers, technicians, and theatre lovers owe her everything. I felt strength and warmth, and a final affirmation that THIS, theatre, is how I want to live the rest of my life. I just experienced a rare epiphanous moment in my life. All that was before Poet’s Corner. I’ve seen photographs, but experiencing the permeable energy of the area overwhelmed me. Even though Shakespeare is not buried here, the ghosts and spirits of such visionaries as Laurence Olivier, David Garrick, Lewis Carrol, Alfred Tennyson, and Oscar Wilde among many, many others are something I will never forget. I have been changed today.

Apologies

Hey folks! Sorry for the lack of posting recently. I have, believe it or not, been super busy with essays. I have four papers due within in the next week. The last one is due on the 24th.

Why am I doing them now, you ask? Simple answer: PARIS!!!!!

That’s right, I’m going to Paris….in two days!! Yesterday started reading week, which, for those unfamiliar, is a whole week off of class devoted to catching up on work and reading. It is also a whole week off to devote to these damned papers we have to write. However, for us study abroad students, this week off screams, “Travel time!”

We decided not to leave on Monday, or even the weekend before, because weekdays are the cheapest to travel. Some of our group are leaving on Wednesday evening, while the rest of us are leaving on Thursday evening. We’re all going back on the following Tuesday. It works out perfectly for me (and most of us) because I only have one class on Monday, and nothing on Tuesday. That way, I’m not missing too much class. So this past week has been chock full of writing papers and preparing for my trip. At this point, I am down to my last paper, and sadly, my longest. I’m confident that I’ll get it done tonight, that way all I’ll do tomorrow is proofread, print, and pack!

Anywho, I won’t be around for the next week or so, but once I get back expect a long-winded description of the beautiful Paris (complete with dozens of pictures, I’m sure).

Bye all!

xx

defying gravity!

Hello all! Before I begin my usual storytelling, I just wanted to point out that Sunday (February 7th) marked an entire month since I left for London. Time seriously flies when you’re doing amazing things!! Of course, I still have about three months remaining, so I’ll be sure to make the just as unforgettable!

Well, these past few days have been fantastic! Last Thursday, Joey and I went into Leicester Square (definitely one of my favorite places so far) to search for cheap tickets to see Wicked at night. I knew I wanted to see at least one show while I was here, and I wanted to see something I haven’t seen before. It was such a hassle getting down there (Tara saw us in the hallway of Sassoon and talked to us for like half an hour, then the shuttle bus went on break, then the next one was full) but finally we made it down there at around 1 PM. Walking around, we noticed a lot of Chinese New Year decorations (we couldn’t decide whether they were there for CNY or because we were in London’s Chinatown; we decided that it was because of both). It was really neat looking! I’m really excited to experience Chinese New Year in London (hopefully).

View of Leicester Square

“Swiss Court”; Cantonal Tree that represents the friendship with Switzerland

Leicester Square

I didn’t realize how many places there were that sold cheap theater tickets. I guess it’s the same in New York, but I usually buy my tickets online, so I guess I never realized. Well, if there are places like this in the city, I’m definitely doing this more often, because it is totally worth it! At first, we were looking for 3 tickets (our friend Aminta was going to meet up with us) and the prices ranged from £25 to £30. Finally we had found ones for around 20, but then we hear that there were going to be more people joining us…that complicated things. All of a sudden it was impossible to find tickets for under £40 for four people, and Joey and I already decided we weren’t spending more than £20. Just as we were about to give up, we tried one more place, and the guy was able to get 4 tickets for £19.90 each! Only problem was that one of the seats was one row over, and about 5 seats in. Since the past hour was so stressful, Joey and I decided we would cross that bridge when we got there. In the meantime, we were starved! We found this pub called The Sussex. Apparently a bunch of them had been there already, and Joey told me he remembered there being good, cheap food. Sounded fine to me! This was actually my first time in a pub in London. Back in New York, there are restaurants that claim to be pubs, but are slightly different. For one thing, you sit wherever you want (I was searching around for a hostess to seat us) and you order at the bar (I was wondering why the waitress was taking so long to get to our table). I eally wanted to try the Roast of the Day, mostly because it came with Yorkshire Pudding (I want to try some so bad!), but it wasn’t available, so I got ham and eggs, and Joey and I shared loaded wedges, which were basically chips with melted cheese and bacon on top. YUM!!!!! After that delicious experience, we embarked on our next journey – getting to the theater. After wandering the streets of Leicester Square, we finally made it to the bus stop that took us to Victoria. While on the bus, we passed through Trafalgar Square (where Big Ben is located!) and I finally got to see, at least, a glimpse of Big Ben at night. I always thought the photos of Trafalgar Square at night were somehow digitally edited – what, with the bright blue sky and the almost neon lights atop the Big Ben – but no. It’s REALLY that vivid. I wanted to tear up a little! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a clear picture of it from the bus, but something I discovered that night – Little Ben!

Little Ben!

When we got off the bus, Aminta and Megan had just gotten off the tube, and were hungry, so we went to another pub very similar to The Sussex, but it was crowded, so we ended up a few doors down from the theater in a small restaurant. I was craving something sweet, so I got a toffee crunch Belgian Waffle. OH. MY. GOD. It was delicious.

But enough about the food. We made it to the theater by around 6:30. We decided that, instead of separating one of us from the group, we’d all sit together and see what happens; maybe someone won’t show up and we could all sit together. Our seats were in he second to last row, and had a pretty amazing view for 20 quid (British equivalent of “bucks”). To make a long story somewhat shorter, after a series of relocations, we settled in the very last row, basically in the middle of the row. The view was excellent!

Joey, Megan, me and Aminta before the show

Our view!

And so was the show!!!! I had always heard great things about Wicked – and the book – but I never got around to seeing it. The actress who played Elphaba was fantastic, although now I’m regretting not seeing it in New York with the original cast, including Idina Menzel. I literally had chills the entire time! What a great night it was.

Saturday, Tara, Joey, Laura and I went to Tower Bridge. It was kind of expensive (£14.50 for students) but it was TOTALLY worth it! From the outside, you don’t realize how big it is until you step inside and walk around. There was so much to see! Of course, one of the sights was the Jewel Room, where all the crown jewels are kept. That had to be my favorite part. Basically what happened is you go on this slow-paced moving walkway past the cabinets of all the pretty crowns and shiny jewels. Ugh, made me want a crown really bad! We also saw the Bloody Tower, which is basically where everyone was executed. Also, I didn’t realize that the Tower Bridge was were the two princes from Shakespeare’s – and history’s – Richard III were murdered. There was a little exhibit about that as well.

A few shots from outside:

Anyway, after a few well-spent hours in the Tower of London, we met up with Aminta and James and Tara took us to this Museum of Childhood, a few stops over at Bethnel Green. It was crazy! And free! This enormous, three-story museum of all sorts of old-fashioned toys, and even some toys I remember playing with as a child. I think one of my favorite things to see (besides the few toys I recognized from my childhood) were the elaborate dollhouses. Some were almost as tall as I am! Aside from just toys, they also had a few exhibits of childhood clothing and furniture which were interesting. We were clearly the oldest people there (besides the parents who were there with their young children), but we didn’t care.

Inside the Childhood Museum

Games!

This is a dollhouse!!!

Later that night, a group of us went out to Central again to go find a sushi restaurant. We didn’t go to the place Melissa originally found in her book, because the guy turned us away. He said the restaurant was too crowded, but didn’t even offer letting us wait for a table, even when we suggested splitting our large group of eight into two tables of four. We all had a sneaking suspicion he just didn’t want a large crowd of young, “obnoxious” American students taking up the whole place. Then we found another restaurant, but the same thing happened. Only this time, the guy was nice enough to direct us to their larger chain a few blocks away. In fact, when we finally got there (after getting a little lost), we found that that guy called ahead and told them we were coming! And the owner even opened the back room for us! I was glad that happened; it lifted my spirits a little after being turned away from the first place. The food was pretty tasty, and reasonably priced. After that, a bunch of people wanted to go to a pub, but I was pretty exhausted from the day, so Melissa, James and I went to this little corner cafe. But we ended up meeting up with them anyway, because the cafe didn’t have a bathroom (I had been drinking water ALL DAY). We decided to stay for a while because the music was pretty good, but then it got lame so we left. As soon as I got back I passed out from exhaustion. Surefire sign of a good day.

Yesterday was also a lot of fun! Back story: Danielle and I went to elementary school together, but after she moved we lost touch and basically haven’t spoken in about 12 years. Recently we found each other on Facebook (gotta love modern technology) and were able to keep in touch every now and then. But when I got to London, we realized we’d be in London at the same time! So we made a plan to meet up, hence yesterday. I woke up and made my own delicious English breakfast. Afterward, we met up in Leicester Square at around noon, grabbed lunch in this cafe (I only had a bagel, actually) where I had an amazingly delicious iced coffee that was presented to me in a very fancy glass. We sat there talking for a while, and then it was off to Harrods! I was so delighted to find that it’s on the tube line that I use (Piccadilly) and the store is literally right outside of the station. It was so cool seeing Harrods in person when I’ve heard a lot about it and how huge it is – and believe me, it’s enormous! Danielle and I both felt like every time we left a room, we ended up in a room we had never been in; it was like an endless maze! The Egyptian Room, The Arcade (souvenir shop), the Food Room. Then there were the clothes! We didn’t spend much time in the clothes department, but we got to see the shoes. There were also a few memorial for Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed. I didn’t realize that Dodi Fayed’s family founded Harrods, hence there being so many memorials for them. There was one that was basically a giant signature book where people can write messages to the two. It was really beautiful, especially since many of them were in different languages; so many people loved her. I found it really touching that so many people were affected by their deaths, so I wrote a little something myself.

Me & Harrods

Some of the beautiful sweets!

One of the memorials for Princess Di and Dodi

The signature book

I think this is beautiful.

But so is this!!!!

After finally finding our way out of Harrods, Danielle had to go to rehearsal, so we hopped on the tube and we parted ways, making a pact to see each other again soon.

Sidebar: In the time that I’ve written this post, it rained, then the sun came out, then it snowed, then the sun came out, and now it’s raining again. This weather is so confusing!!!

Other sidebar: I notice here – and pardon me if I’ve already mentioned this – that the role of the teacher (tutor) and the structure of the classes here are much different than what I’m used to at home. At New Paltz – and even in high school – I’ve never taken a class where I felt like my answers are wrong. Certainly in math or science or history classes there can be wrong answers. But I feel that English Literature is intended to be interpretive. Analyzed. Questioned. At New Paltz, I never felt compelled to sit in a class, desperately praying that the professor doesn’t call on me because my answer may be “wrong”; instead, I’ve always been excited to give my input or interpretation of a text, and see how it compares with others’. Here, on the other hand, I’ve already had the experience of being told that my interpretation is wrong. Surely, if a student goes off on a completely irrelevant tangent, then yes, it can be “wrong.” But I – as well as other students – have been interrupted, stopped mid-thought – and told, “No.” It boggles my mind in an unsettling way to think that I can’t freely speak my mind. Here, I get the impression – with certain tutors – that their answer is the definitively correct answer – no ifs, ands, or buts. Kind of depressing, if you ask me.

Well, I should wrap up this post. I have to write four papers by next week. One, thankfully, is a short story for young adults, so that should be fun. I’m a little nervous – given what I’ve just said about the tutors – about how well I’m going to do on these papers. I know what I’m used to, and I know that I almost always score well, but I don’t know how that measures up with the standards given here. Oy.

xx