Valerie Dunn ’15, a drama and English major, recounts her spring break in London, as part of a whirlwind theatrical tour led by drama professors Michele Volansky, Brendon Fox and Laura Eckelman.
Over spring break, the Department of Drama led ten theatre and dance students on a first-hand exploration of the London theatre scene.
During our stay we saw four vastly different and provocative performances. At the Bush Theatre We Are Proud to Present, a meta-theatrical play of history and persisting racism, stunned us into contemplative silence. The next evening, the American dance company Philobolus awed us with shadows constructed by incredibly flexible human bodies in Shadowland. Shakespeare’s reconstructed Globe Theatre presented a bawdy theatrical event lit entirely by candles and accompanied by live music. The final performance we saw was adapted and directed by one woman who then performed as the river in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.
For students aspiring to the theatrical and dance arts, seeing so many well-crafted productions inspired us to continue our passions and question the boundaries of what makes good theater. We encountered working artists on a daily basis. Anthony Lamble, a professional scenic designer, even spent a morning talking to us about the collaboration necessary to create the final visual story of a production.
The professors also arranged tours of the Globe and National Theatres. During our tour of the Globe, we learned about London in the time of Shakespeare. We also visited the recently opened San Wanamaker Playhouse, a Jacobean space that replicates the theatre built by Shakespeare’s playing company after the Globe. Our tour guide then explained how Shakespeare’s writing evolved when his theatrical space changed. The National Theatre allowed us to gain an understanding of more contemporary English theatre. Composed of three separate theatrical stages, we learned that Sir Laurence Olivier helped found the National Theatre to nurture a love of theatre in people with all tastes. Here we ventured backstage, watched a tech crew refocus lights, ogled at huge construction spaces, and had the opportunity to handle props from previous National Theatre productions.
Traveling with the drama professors was like having personal guide-books to the London theatre scene. Because our professors are based in America, however, they often learned along with us. The shared enthusiasm for discovering theatre new and old allows us to enjoy our experiences in London long after returning to Washington College.