Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Let’s Samba!

September 1st, 2009 · No Comments

I do not enjoy crowds, and so I will not attempt to describe what it felt like to be surrounded by hundreds of people, either somewhat intoxicated or just super excited to be there. The Notting Hill Festival was a Brazilian party extending as far as the eye could see. The dancers, moving to the beats, the fast pacing Samba steps making every inch of their very exposed bodies jitter with excitement. I could tell they were exhausted, but they kept moving and smiling even though their feet were giving up in those 4-inch silver glitter heels… I wished I was wearing them too. As they passed me, I wanted to join them, to Samba with them and to sing their vivacious songs (I don’t speak Portuguese but I guessed my fluency in Spanish would get me by). I pictured myself in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil at the biggest street festival in the world, dancing. Immersing with a culture not so different from my own, I would probably feel right at home. This was a good feeling, until I was pushed around by the crowd a bit and realized that it was probably time for me to head out, an hour was enough… but now all I want to do is Samba!

Digital Camera: $300

Flight to Rio De Janeiro: $650

Standing with millions of people at Carnaval: PRICELESS.

Tags: Flow

All’s Well That Ends Well… Or Not: The Tale of a Teen Pregnancy

September 1st, 2009 · No Comments

Tonight I went to the play All’s Well That Ends Well which was preformed at the on the Olivier stage at the National Theater. Though I greatly enjoyed the performance of the play, I question Shakespeare’s choice for the title.

(spoiler alert) The play began with the main character, Helena (who loves Bertram), cures the King of France of his illness and is therefore granted the choice of any man she desires for her husband. So naturally she chooses Bertram, whom does not like Helena (mostly on account of her social standing) and is appalled by the thought of taking her hand in marriage. However, he cannot turn down Helena’s marriage proposal by the King’s decree, so instead he decides to become a soldier and leaves Helena before he beds her. After leaving he sends Helena a letter saying that he will have no wife in France until Helen is impregnated with his child and possesses his family ring. After reading this Helena leaves France in search of her husband. When she arrives in Florence (where the war is) she decides to stay with an old widow and her daughter, Diana (with whom Bertram is in infatuated). She then convinces Diana to seduce Bertram and to blind fold him before Helena comes in and makes love to him (Bertram still believing that he is with Diana). So, through Diana Helena comes to possess Bertram’s ring and becomes pregnant with his child. At the end of the play she confesses what she has done and Bertram vows to always love her, yeah right!

All is not well at the end, for Bertram is still a jerk and Helena is still married to him. This is the classic story of many present day teen pregnancies: boy does not like girl so girl decides to trap boy by forgetting to take her pill (opps!) and boy is stuck putting up with girl until the child is raised. In All’s Well That Ends Well is Shakespeare trying to suggest that this method of entrapment actually effective? Or is he poking fun at those who believe it to be effective? Neither of these options make the play contingent with the play’s fairytale motif. Also, both options make this comedy funny only in a very twisted way.

I can see why this play is considered one of Shakespeare’s problem plays. Like Troilus and Cressida, it seems to confuse and confound the audience. Why did Shakespeare choose to make a mockery of the Greek and Trojan heroes in Troilus and Cressida? And why did he choose to name a tale about a teen pregnancy All’s Well That Ends Well?

However, I can see the value in All’s Well That Ends Well as a social commentary. Though the King assures Bertram that he will personally boost Helena’s position in society, Bertram still does not want to marry her because she is the daughter of a poor physician and he is a count. This reflects the English society’s belief at the time that a person’s class is permanent and does not change from the day they are born to the day that they die. The fact that Bertram finally accepts Helena once she is pregnant also reflects the norm of the time: that if a man impregnates a woman then he is forever after responsible for her well-being. In All’s Well That Ends Well Shakespeare uses these two social to show the disjointed nature of the British upper-class’ social rules. In this way I feel that Shakespeare is trying to critique the contradictory nature of these social guidelines. I am very interested in how other people read this play.

Tags: Rebecca · Theatre

The Park Situation

September 1st, 2009 · No Comments

Although they all act as places of rest for the public, the parks of London all seem to have unique identities, stemming from where they are geographically. Take St. James park for instance: Located between the Prime Minister’s house and Buckingham Palace, the park highlights elaborate flower formations and the vast amount of birds that live in the pond that runs through the park. Because of the high volume of tourists that are running through the park, a sizeable cafe is located right in the middle of it all, offering overpriced espressos and a view of the ducks for all that are interested. In turn, all of the paths lead in the park point right to tourist attractions, like the Churchill Museum, Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey.

Regent’s Park on the other hand is much more low-key. Surrounded completely by houses, the park acts more as an area for relaxation than a way to direct foot-traffic. With long and circular paths, the park is a great area for both exercise and recreation. While there is a cafe in the park, it is small in size and offers more reasonably priced food and drink.

Even more inconspicuous are the numerous parks around the Bloomsbury area. The same concept as Regent’s Park but on a smaller scale, most of the parks just have sitting areas surrounded by a single path. Those parks that special will even have a plaque or two to famous figures.

It is staggering to think how something so simple as a park can be transformed to fit the specific needs of the area it is in. However, given the fact that London survives on the tourist dollar, it should come as no surprise that something as simple as a park would be transformed to streamline the tourist industry.

Tags: Paul

The Too-Perfect Bath

September 1st, 2009 · No Comments

Recently the Dickinson gang (including those Sciences weirdoes) took a trip to the picturesque town of Bath. Originally a resort town for the nobles of England, the town has thankfully spread out to let us mere mortals in. Situated between two hills with a river running through the center of town, it all seems too good to be true, and in a way is. The commercial center of the town is filled with shops of all variety, from stores like Tesco and Boots, to expensive boutique stores. Additionally, the town market was centered towards serving functional goods rather than souvenirs. After all of the obvious tourist traps in London, I was admittedly a little miffed at not being able to find too many places to criticize (That being said, it was pretty inexcusable to charge 1 pound just to enter the park. I guess I’m just spoiled from the fee-less parks of London… and everywhere else). Of course there were things like the street performers and tourist spots like the Roman Baths, but after hiking to the top of one of the hills through a purely residential area, all of that seemed to slip away. Perhaps this is the actual aim of Bath, to make it a place of recognition but at the same time be able to exist outside of its tourist identity (If only most parts of London could take a note).

Tags: Paul

Unexpected but much appreciated

September 1st, 2009 · 1 Comment

It has been awhile since I have actually stepped back and appreciated how much work and effort goes into a theatrical production. My last personal experience with a theatrical production was playing in the pit orchestra in a high school production of “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” during my sophomore year. The last time I had performed in a play or helped with costumes and set was in fifth grade. Needless to say, I had allowed myself to forget the hard work and dedication required to put on a successful theatrical production. Obviously I have attended numerous plays, musicals and operas since then, but I only viewed it as an audience member paying attention to the final product. I had forgotten to appreciate the intricacies of sets, costumes, rehearsals, props, and production staff. This held true even up until last night when we saw Arcadia. I loved the play and found the script to be beautifully written in order to convey a powerful message concerning time and how it passes. Yet the details of the lighting, set, props and backstage work escaped me.

It was not until this morning’s discussion with Rick Fisher that I began to understand the intricacies of lighting, sets, and other backstage work. I wish we could have talked with him before seeing Arcadia. Looking back, I can understand the importance of lighting beyond the obvious cues it provides. Truly, it made me more appreciative of the lighting design we experienced with Arcadia. It was simple but artistic in that it successfully conveyed not only the time of day but the difference in the time periods. At that time I had decided to appreciate the lighting and other backstage works of the plays we would be seeing in the rest of our time in London. I thought that would be the end of it. Yet, I found that our backstage tour at the National Theatre really drove home that point. Not only did it further my newfound appreciation for the collaborative effort required to produce a theatrical even, but it also revitalized my excitement for the theater. A few years had passed since I had been truly excited to see, experience and appreciate a theatrical production. But, with this new appreciation and insight about the production of a play I find myself with a new found passion for the theater. This is something I did not expect from our time in London. I thought I would find myself discovering passions for the city, its architecture, parks, museums, et cetera; not for theater. It is a wonderful discovery and one that will be far too easy to indulge in while we are here and in Norwich. Hopefully, I can take this with me when we return in June but for now I am more than content to take this new knowledge and explore the theaters and plays of London and Norwich.

Tags: Kimberly · Uncategorized

Law and Order: London Style

September 1st, 2009 · No Comments

I am a law-abiding citizen. Sure, I tend to drive five miles per hour or so over the speed limit and I’ll sometimes go through a light that might be more orange than yellow but, overall, I like to think of myself as one who is in good standing with the law. Apparently, I have a lot to learn if this good relationship is going to be kept up in London. Well, my relationship with the police force here is still as strong as ever but the same cannot be said for the mall security personnel here. At the Notting Hill Carnival this weekend, Constable Bird and I chatted for a good amount of time in a very pleasant manner while waiting for the parade to start. Today at a busy Forever 21-like store, I was unable to have a similar pleasant exchange with a grumpy security man who was an active participant in the elbow throwing that was required to get through the hustle and bustle there rather than a guide in helping calm said hustle and bustle. Again, I am a law-abiding citizen. My familiarity with authority figures is pretty low. These radically different run-ins with such figures in the middle of our stay in London coincides beautifully with our reading of Caldwell’s “After Londonistan”. Well-planned, Professor Qualls. But truly, these situations and the reading together make me wonder about the law-enforcement in London. Constable Bird said something that keeps ringing in my ears: “Do people hate the police in America as much as they do here? Everyone likes to jump to conclusions about us without hearing the whole story or understanding the situation.” Well, I still might not know exactly why the security man was so angered by my misplacing a sweater on the wrong rack, but allow me to try to reason through how that situation might tie in to the relationship between civilian and authority figure that is present in London.

Just a part of the swarm of police coming down the hill

Just a part of the swarm of police coming down the hill

Notting Hill Carnival was packed. There were truly hundreds of people swarming in every direction around the community. A parade full of loud and vibrantly dressed people didn’t help in bringing any sense of order to the streets. I’ve never before witnessed such life and excitement in one area. I loved it. That vibrancy would have been tainted immensely if any unruliness (at a level above shrieking whistles being blown repeatedly for hours) broke out. To ensure this didn’t happen, the London police made sure to come down in full uniform, some on horseback. My first impression of them was one of intimidation. A mass of black and white, the police came down to the parade from on top of a hill, spread out in a way that made sure they took up the entire width of the street. Impressive and something that sent the message: don’t mess with us. After taking a few pictures, I mentally noted the message and continued to anxiously wait for the parade to begin. The police took their places as the barrier between the crowd and the parade; yes, the police were the barrier rather than a fence-like object. It was in this moment that Constable Bird and I met. We chatted about his rather snazzy uniform (the hats are particularly wonderful) and then settled on a more important matter. He complained that the police in London have a reputation of being the hot-headed, rash, and sometimes cruel enforcer figure that the press just loves to slam for any seeming mishap. This was not my experience with London’s finest at all. An officer on horseback allowed a curious and hopeful young boy to pet his horse while Constable Bird chatted about his hat, retirement preferences, and favorite spots in Notting Hill with a curious tourist. He even took a picture with us. A cruel or ticket-hungry description could not be further from the one I would give to Constable Bird and the police force that day. Intimidating, yes; unjust, no.


The store I visited today was packed as well. With sweaters for two pounds, it’s not a mystery why. Again, I was a bit intimidated by the security personnel there. They wore all black and were positioned at almost every clothing rack. Searching for your size while someone is scrutinizing your every move is less than calming (and size is also a very personal matter so not only are you not calm, you’re also a bit embarrassed and/or annoyed. Unfortunately, I was all three- not calm, annoyed, and trying to avoid embarrassment). I put down one of the sweaters on top of a clothing rack when I found a rain jacket I wanted to try on. I had literally just sat the sweater down when this man very harshly demanded to know if that was my item. When he found out that it was, he informed me that I was not allowed to place my item up there. Let’s set up the mental image here. I have a huge purse in between my legs, I’m wobbling as to not run into people, and I’m trying to figure out the size conversion in my head. I’m a bit of a mess. In one of my not-so-bright moments, I look around the store and ask the man where he suggests I put the item in question. He didn’t appreciate that question. Rather than answer me and try to make the situation better, he proceeded to stare me down. He just stared at me. Taking the hint, I hung the jacket back in its proper place, gathered my things, and went on my way (only after running into a person in my efforts). Yes, the situation was a tense one and I was less than polite but I don’t think my reaction deserved such a harsh reaction. While the police at the carnival actually did what they were meant to do (keep the carnival calm and running smoothly), the security man did just the opposite in scrutinizing something incredibly trivial and then refusing to offer any solution to the problem he created in the first place. What is interesting to me is the fact that of these two men, if they walked into a pub in their work attire, Londoners would probably prefer the security man’s presence over the officer’s (at least based on my understanding of the police/citizen relationship here).

Caldwell seems to make the point that London’s law-enforcement is often times rash, not well-thought out, and sometimes quite unjust. Now, Caldwell isn’t focusing on how the law treats college-aged tourists, I understand. Still, my limited exposure to the police in the area makes me believe that the law here strives towards not only fairness and equality but also ensuring the safety of the community. Balancing these is an incredibly difficult task especially in more intense situations than a street fair. But does the security man’s attitude not tell us something of the everyday person’s dealings with authority? In my totally biased opinion, it seems that those who are trying to keep the peace in London are truly trying to do just that. Still, clearly there are those who nitpick at things for reasons of lesser credibility than the greater good (I’m sorry but my sweater was truly not in anyone’s way!). I’m interested which authority figure type is more prevalent in the city: Constable Bird or angry security man. Is London a city under the protection of those who are hoping to keep the peace or under the rule enforcement of those who follow the letter of the law rather than its spirit? I’m not sure but I’m interested in figuring it out…

Tags: Audrey

All the pieces come together

September 1st, 2009 · 1 Comment

I’ve always loved performing. I danced (mostly ballet) from age 5 until I graduated high school. I also participated in a theatre camp during the summers of middle school, my best role being Sinister the Prime Minister in The Emperor’s New Clothes. I had to stop acting in high school as the play season interfered with bowling season (though I did work on the stage crew one year), and I’ve found myself too busy at Dickinson to get involved with the theatre or dance scenes in college. I often miss being on stage; therefore, I greatly appreciated today’s activities: a talk with Rick Fisher and a backstage tour of the National Theatre.

I found Mr. Fisher to be an engaging speaker and one could easily tell he loves what he does. I had never really thought about the intricacies of stage lighting before this morning. Obviously, lighting is important to any show. The audience needs to be able to see the performers. I learned this morning, though, how carefully lighting must be designed in order to set particular scenes. Natural lighting can tell the audience the time or location of the scene: night or day, indoors or outside. Different colors of light can set the mood of a scene, and flashes of light can help the audience perceive characters’ emotions. I liked what Mr. Fisher said about lighting: that the best lighting isn’t noticed, it’s just right. I feel this is exactly the way to view lighting–it completes a performance.  This statement reminded me of a speech given by my high school band director. He told us that no section of a band is more important than another; without one of the sections a piece seems incomplete. He then proceeded to have us play our music without the low brass, then without the percussion. While these sections aren’t the melody of the piece, the song just doesn’t sound right without them. I feel like lighting serves the same purpose in a performance. Lighting isn’t something one might think of or notice when seeing a play, opera, or recital, but without the right lighting, a show is imperfect.

Our tour of the National Theatre was eye-opening. Walking through the building, I couldn’t possibly imagine the creativity needed to design a building to house three stages, numerous workshops, storage, etc. I loved going backstage and seeing all of the work that goes into putting on a show. We don’t always appreciate stage crews, costume designers, or prop artists. They aren’t the people we see when we attend a performance.

Today’s discussion and being back stage gently reminded me that the actors aren’t the only people that make a great show.

Tags: Sarah · Theatre

I got it from my mama

September 1st, 2009 · 9 Comments

Since I’ve studied Italian for five years, hearing that we had to attend an Afro-Caribbean version of Carnevale caused me to instantly form a few preconceptions. I mistakenly thought that they would be similar; the parade’s commencement immediately smashed this idea. I’ve never seen a gathering so crowded and openly risqué. The sheer number of people was staggering to me, as were the number of food options. I could barely keep up with all that I saw as I was walking, and I enjoyed taking in the smells, sounds, and culture in general.

One thing that irked me, however, was the role of the women in the parade. Scantily clad and dancing in high heels, they wore a full face of makeup and clearly had put a lot of effort into their appearance. They all strutted down the street confidently and didn’t mind posing for pictures. I can’t decide whether I think they were liberated or confined by their role in the parade.

On the one hand, these women line up almost exactly to societal standards of sexuality. Their unnatural appearances reminded me of magazine ads: airbrushed, changed, and deliberate. They literally covered only the barest necessities of their bodies, and there is no doubt in my mind that they were sexualized, both by the parade in general and the infinite number of gazes upon them. Everything from the way that they looked to the way that they moved exuded sensuality.

However, they were entirely unbothered by it. Perhaps their ability to flaunt their bodies in such a way was actually a form of liberation. Some of the women were far from the stick-thin models we are pressured to look like, yet they still flaunted their assets, no pun intended. The fact that they were able to put society’s standards for women (which are normally at least somewhat hidden) completely on display was very interesting. None of them showed the slightest glimpse of shame or regret for their actions, and their confidence was almost inspiring.

I think their role in the parade can be seen as a release, but I’m curious to hear what others thought.


Tags: Amy

“It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter.”

September 1st, 2009 · No Comments

Possibly one of the most personally thrilling aspects of being in London are our ventures out to its numerous theatres. I have always enjoyed the performing arts – backstage, onstage, and in the audience. Besides finding performing onstage a thrill, I enjoy theatre for its ability to transport, reflect, commentate, and juxtapose. It takes a subject (society, culture, science, etc) and turns it into a picturesque/edgy/nonsensical/expressive form for an awaiting audience. Some interact with the audience face-to-face, while others prefer to let the audience engage with the performers from their seats. Either method has its immediate advantages and disadvantages, but both demand some reflection.

London has provided several different uses for theatre. I guess it sounds odd to see theatre as a “tool”, but it undoubtedly has some uses. Take, for instance, the plays of Noel Coward (the subject of my research paper). His plays (usually comedies) make some social commentary of British society during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s – the time during which he wrote his plays. Theatre can be used as ways to mock, mimic, reflect, or reinforce themes found recurring in society. Even today, we learned about the play An Inspector Calls from Rick Fisher, the show’s lighting designer. As a commentary on wealth and the prevalence of blissful ignorance, this play aims, in part, to lead the audience towards some sort of understanding of self-reflection and self-improvement. Certainly a single show does not always solve these issues, but J.B. Priestley – the author – certainly saw the point of confronting them.

On the other hand, theatre can, and does, entertain. Take the list of musicals available in the West End. Several are highly entertaining and well-done. No, they do not always include profound thought or interesting social commentary, but the story is usually popular and well received. Some are edgy, but many have glitz and glamour and are eagar to please audiences (e.g. Legally Blonde the Musical). I can’t really argue that this theatre is useless and without meaning – primarily due to the fact that I have seen some of the shows on that list (I am still holding out on Sister Act the Musical, though. Don’t worry.).

But London theatre also combines the two in order to deliver entertaining yet serious shows. The two shows we have seen – Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida and Stoppard’s Arcadia – exemplify their successful combination. Both reflect on the ways of the past and comment, albeit loosely, on British society. Both entertain their audiences by pricking their minds and engaging their attention through clever language or comedic timing. Both frustrate and confuse their audiences due to fast-paced or even outdated language. Both step into the far reaches of complex issues ranging from love and thermodynamics. Both were enjoyable in this way, or, at the very least, deserving of some appreciation as works of performance art.

Theatre has several universal properties (namely the several noted above – social commentary, entertainment, etc.). London has adapted these properties to fit its own diverse audiences by providing a long list of plays, musicals, and other forms of performance art in the theatre. Each has its own purpose. Each attracts a different type of London theatre-goer. I often walk outside the auditorium during intermission simply to look around and listen to the other people around me. These people may or may not be seeing the same show that I am watching. It’s at this point in my experience of London theatre that I wonder who you can really pin down as a London theatre-goer. Can you even identify them?

I hope my next outing to see All’s Well that Ends Well will help bring me closer to providing an answer.

**The title of the post is a quote from Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.

Tags: Brandon

Ruminations on the Theater

September 1st, 2009 · No Comments

I’m going to be perfectly honest: I’ve never been a big fan of the theater. I’m the sort of person who will go see anything and be able to appreciate it or be critical of it for seemingly valid reasons, but I’ve just never really enjoyed live theater the way I do films: the choice of only one or two settings has always felt extremely limited for my wild and vivid imagination, I’m a bit hard of hearing and can’t turn the volume up on live actors, people don’t suddenly break into coordinated song and dance routines in real life, there’s a huge margin of error for mistakes and unwelcome variation between performances, and it’s much harder to blow things up and create huge messes on a stage. I’m a fan of realism and authenticity, and sometimes I just can’t suspend my disbelief with plays the way I can with movies.

All of this being said, I’ve always been fascinated by the production aspect of live theater. I was heavily involved with the production and tech crews at my high school, and I used to enjoy nothing more than Hell Week before opening night, sitting in the black box theater in the wee hours of the morning, flicking lights on and off, organizing props, and putting finishing touches on the set. After hearing Rick Fisher speak about his experience with the theater and taking the tour of the National Theatre today, I’ve started longing to go back to stage managing and tech production. I’m attempting to see as many plays as I can during our time in London in order to try to condition myself into enjoying being an audience member, but I think I will always prefer being a part of the action rather than watching it. I kind of wonder if this is a problem: enjoying working very hard towards an end product you don’t really care for.

I’ve never been an avid play-goer before this trip, but I feel as though the West End has a bit less glitz and a bit more pride than Broadway. Perhaps pride is the wrong word, and perhaps I’ve been seeing and hearing of the wrong plays, but I often think of many Broadway plays as being a good and expensive night out, but the West End seems to treat the plays as more of an art form and something that everyone should be able to enjoy and appreciate. If the advertisements on the Tube are any judge, the West End has its fair share of mindless plays based on popular movies, but the simple fact that there are cheap seats, student discounts, overwhelming amounts of Shakespeare, government funding, and seemingly many more British film and television stars on the stage as well as the screen (working for meager amounts of money) makes me believe that in England, the theater is more of a cultural institution meant for everyone rather than deep appreciation for few, or simple entertainment.

I grew excited last night upon learning that Arcadia was written by Tom Stoppard, who also wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and co-wrote Shakespeare in Love. I seemed to have forgotten, however, that his work, while usually hysterical and thought-provoking, is also very dense and requires a fine-toothed comb to find all of the hidden jokes, references, and subject matters. This, coupled with the fact that I was inexplicably exhausted and that my hearing can be likened to that of a seventy-year-old man’s made me unable to completely follow much of the play, but apparently I wasn’t alone. I think reading it would make things clearer.

I’m foregoing the next performance at the Globe simply because I don’t know if my back could handle another few hours as a groundling, but I’m attending All’s Well That Ends Well tomorrow night in its stead in a valiant effort to see more plays, learn to appreciate the finished product rather than just the behind-the-scenes work, and learn to like Shakespeare.

Tags: Chelsea · Theatre