Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

My Theatrical Experience, Part Two

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

Since being in London, I’ve seen a total of 11 shows/concerts (Proms, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Bedlam, The 39 Steps, The Habit of Art, Billy Elliot, Wicked, Deathtrap, Les Mis, Les Mis’ 25th Anniversary Production, and Passion). I’ve enjoyed everyone of them and there are a couple I’d love to see again.

After Deathtrap

In my last theatre blog, I talked about stage door and how I was slightly disappointed about the response from the actors. (Summary: it isn’t as popular as it is in the US, probably because of the whole extreme privacy issue.) Since then, I’ve had a bit more success at the Stage Door, including meeting the majority of the leads of Wicked, Jonathan Groff after Deathtrap, and a couple of the Les Mis 25th Anniversary cast, including Marius and Valjean. I’ve decided that the privacy issue is most definitely part of it and there are two types of actors: the one who signs and mumbles a “thanks” and the one who talks to you about the performance. (While this is true in the US as well, 99% of those I’ve met fall into the later category, where it is the opposite here.) At Wicked, two actresses (the witches) commented that there were actually fewer people at the door than usual, which leads me to believe that is more than just a privacy issue. I noticed a major difference in the type of the show where people did stage door and where the actors were involved in it rather than walking away at a brisk pace: the  stereotypical West End show (Wicked, Les Mis) where the actors expect it because of a huge fan base and the more intimate, less glitzy shows (Deathtrap).

The other thing that has struck me about theatre here is how self-aware the shows are. Most of them have made fun of some part of British culture, including apologizing until it was past ridiculous. In The Habit of Art, the show confronted theatrical issues, which led to several people commenting on how it was likely the most elitist piece we had seen. But Deathtrap did the same thing in a very non-elitist way. Still a play-within-a-play, the play didn’t interrupt the other play (I can’t really say more without giving away the plot) and the commentary on the superiority of writers over their actors was still present without being theatre-specific. Instead of inside jokes, the literary jokes were more common place: Arthur Miller and sales cases vs. the National Theatre’s specific theatres. In most of the shows I’ve seen in the US, I feel that the show didn’t make fun of theatre the way it does here. I think this isn’t because the English are more aware, but are less likely to be openly critical of anything and more likely to deal with it with humor and irony.

I’ve enjoyed my theatre experiences and I hope when I visit London I’ll be able to see other shows. (Or Deathtrap again.)

Tags: 2010 Stephenie · Theatre

All the World’s a Stage

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

While I did take an American theatre class this summer, it was at Villanova, which let’s face it, is no Dickinson. And anyway, I’m not qualified to the point where I could say anything valuable about the theatrical worth about the three plays we saw as a group, so I’ll try to stick to more tangential attributes of the three outings. (For the record, my rankings, from most to least favorite: 1. “The Habit of Art” 2. “The Merry Wives of Windsor” 3. “39 Steps”)

via Google Images

I did not find the backstage tour of the National Theatre particularly fascinating. It just struck me as a lot of inside baseball about producing plays; perhaps if I knew more about the nitty-gritty of theatre, I would have enjoyed it more. But as we walked through the facility, something slowly began to hit me: there is nothing remotely comparable to this venue back in the States. On top of it being spectacularly massive, the NT also receives substantial subsidies from the national government. I’m not sure if I’m willing to make the blanket statement that Britain is more willing to spend taxpayer dollars on fine arts, as the NEA at home is a great, strongly funded institution. There can be no question however, that when it comes to the particular art of theatre, Britain has a certain national pride in the craft that leads to much stronger support for it.

We’ve heard from both Rick Fisher and John The Tour Guide that the Globe is a silly endeavor, with Mr. Fisher going as far to call it “fake Shakespeare.” That said, it was undeniably cool to lean on the stage and pretend to myself for a minute that Shakespeare’s company performed in a similar setting in the same place. And there was an element of the Elizabethan audience (infamous for its rowdiness) as the Nalgene bottle full of wine belonging to the gentleman standing next to us slowly was emptied as Falstaff’s nefarious plot was uncovered. By the time “So Merrily” was performed at the end, our neighbor was literally punching the stage as he thought he was tapping in time with the song. So while I didn’t enjoy the play as much as that guy, I had a good time at the Globe.

via Google Images

39 Steps was my least favorite of the three plays, but I still enjoyed it. The number one takeaway for me was that British humor is simply different. I found the play funny on the whole; that said, there were multiple moments where I did not laugh at all and the Brits in the audience were rolling on the floor.

Tags: 2010 Dennis · Theatre

Museums are big, but not all of them

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

I’m going to try and clear up my statement. I might or might not succeed. I JUST CAN’T LIVE WITH THE HUMILATION ANYMORE.

London is full of museums, some big and some small (how am I doing so far?). But I don’t just mean the sizes of the buildings; I also mean the scope of the collection. The British Museum, being the largest historical museum, and the National Gallery, being the largest art museum, offer an array of different exhibits that don’t have anything to do with one another. They are a buffet, if you will, of art and history. You can go and look at something in particular, say Ancient Greek and Roman history at the British Museum, or go and browse the whole collection.

And then there are medium museums. The Museum of London, though a large building, hosts artifacts and pieces of only London’s history, not that of the whole world like the British Museum houses. The National Portrait Gallery is an example of a more specific art museum, because it holds only portraits associated with England, unlike the National Gallery, which exhibits all types of paintings from all over the Europe. Museums like the Victoria and Albert Museum fall into this category as well, because it offers a more specific collection. It’s exhibits are more unique, like fashion and jewelry, which makes it less enjoyable to some people, but extremely enjoyable to others. The Tower of London (can I count this as a museum?) boasts the Crown Jewels and a collection of armor and weaponry, but everyone comes for the Jewels. I count this as a medium museum because it doesn’t have a large collection of anything, but the Tower is an exhibit itself.

Now for the small museums. Like the medium museums, there is range here. There is the John Sloan’s Museum, which is so specific as it holds mostly architecture designs and the items from Sloan’s personal collection. But there are smaller museums, like the Charles Dickens Museum that I visited. Obviously, this museum was solely about Dickens and his life, but the museum was limited to sketches of the author, old prints of his books, and a surprisingly little collection of things that Dickens owned and used. It was really disappointing. Small museums offer visitors such a specific topic that its hit or miss. If someone hated Dickens, they would not go to the Dickens Museum, where as if someone hated paintings of the Virgin Mary, they would still go to the National Gallery.

That is my explanation. I hope it I explained myself clearer than in class. Any questions? Comment!

Tags: 2010 David

What should we do tonight? We could always go see a play.

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

We have talked a lot about the accessibility of beauty and the arts in London. Free museums, buskers in the tube stations, art on the walls of the tube stations, well-kept public parks and green spaces, free concerts, and, finally, affordable, professional theatre. In the U.S., quality theatrical performances are reserved for the middle-ish and upper classes because of the high cost of tickets. In the UK, much of the arts are subsidized by the government, so even big productions in the West End attract an audience of diverse financial means. Here in London, it is not uncommon for students and other last-minute types to pick up tickets for 15 or 20 quid. In my four weeks in London I have seen four plays, what would have amounted to at least a hundred dollars in ticket prices in the states. It feels so much more elevated that our default entertainment is the theatre instead of the movies. I can’t speak for everyone, but I would take Les Mis over The Expendables any day.

I have been fortunate enough to attend a number of performances over the years in the U.S. including theatre, ballet, opera, concerts, etc., but always as a special treat, a luxury. In London, the arts can be a regular part of your life regardless of income, and I think that is possibly the best thing about this city. As fun as dressing up for a special night out and having a fancy dinner can be, I’m even more satisfied in jeans and a sandwich from Pret if it means I can go to the theatre on a regular basis.

Each of the plays we saw as a class were very different from one another so it’s hard to pick a favorite. We saw Shakespeare (The Merry Wives of Windsor), a comedy (The 39 Steps), and a somewhat experimental drama (The Habit of Art), outside of class I saw a musical (Les Mis).

I wonder, with increased accessibility, (and therefore increased exposure?) to the arts, do more people choose to pursue the arts as a career in the UK than in the U.S. or other parts of the world? Does England have a higher percentage of the population working as actors, artists, or musicians? Thoughts?

Tags: 2010 Rachel

St. Bartholomew the Great: The Church We Should’ve Gone To

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

Throughout the entire month in London, people have moaned that the churches/cathedrals we went to were lacking: there was no spiritual awareness, that it was too touristy, etc. While this is true to some extent, I felt that we went as tourists, not inquirers, like we did when we visited the synagogue, mandir, and the mosque. We weren’t going to a local parish where they were as keen to brag about what went on there or where they felt it was strictly necessary to outline more of Christian theology.

Yesterday I ventured over to St. Bartholomew the Great, just a few blocks away from the Museum of London. It’s the oldest active medieval parish church in London, so naturally I had to see it. (Bonus Fact: Parts of Shakespeare in Love were also filmed there.) I wasn’t sure what to expect as I was walking up to it; the church was set off from the main road. The gate you have to go through is where Richard II stood when he met with the leaders of the Peasant’s Revolt. Upon entering the church and paying my meager entrance fee (3 pounds), I was asked where I was from (Apparently the smiling gives it away if the accent doesn’t…) and handed a guide of the can’t miss bits.

As I walked through, I got a since that this was what Westminster Abbey would look like if it hadn’t been messed with and wasn’t always undergoing some form of renovation. I passed the medieval baptism font (where interestingly enough, Hogarth was baptized). There was modern art throughout that the church had commissioned to take the place of older pieces and to go over empty spots on the wall. I was somewhat annoyed by this, but I felt that it added a living dimension to the church: it’s still shaping its image, showing its continued importance.

Sounds a bit like Westminster Abbey with famous bits so far. Well, it was, but considerably less magnificent.

Then, I stumbled upon the video that told the church’s history. Think the history lecture we got at the synagogue but extended to include how the church is still active in the parish. (On my way out I noticed there were pamphlets on what to do if you wanted to get married there, join the church, or have a christening.) The video addressed almost every issue, especially how the church is still relevant today, that people had raised.

Even better, there was a chapel that reserved for people who wanted to pray. It was out of the prying eye of the tourists (all five) who were ambling through the church. (The entry fee was waved if you were there to pray.)

By the end of my visit, I had felt that I had an experience more akin to those at the other places we visited. If I had had a lay guide I am positive that I would’ve felt that I were there as a visitor rather than a tourist.

Tags: 2010 Stephenie · Churches and Cathedrals

Watching an Arsenal Game at the Rising Sun

September 21st, 2010 · 2 Comments

Of all of the pubs which I frequented during my one month stay, the Rising Sun was my favorite.  Now, you might ask why I would be interested in going to this tiny pub with limited outdoor seating, and frankly food which was lacking in sophistication and cooking skills.  Seriously, Dave got frozen peas with his Fish n’ Chips.  And the answer is, of all of the pubs I went to during a football match, the clientele at the Rising Sun were the only ones that I saw as being truely interested in the games at hand.  And I think that the smaller atmosphere of this pub actually facilitated this.

Tonites game was Tottenham Hotspur versus Arsenal.  From the reactions of the pubgoers to each of Arsenal’s four goals against the Spurs, they were vastly Arsenal fans.  When an Arsenal player was fouled as he brought the ball through the penalty box, the fans were outraged.  And the exitement of the sucessful penalty kick got the entire pub cheering afterwards.

During the second fifteen minute half of the extended time period, the fans would also cheer as a group whenever an Arsenal player gained possession of the ball or stole it from a Spurs player.  For example, if the Arsenal player avoided losing posession, a large contingent of the pubgoers in front of the bar would exclaim say “OHHHHHH!” in unison.  This actually reminds me quite a bit of the reaction towards gaining possession during football games at the sports bar I go to back home.  At many of the other bars, it seemed that the football matches on the flatscreens were more of an afterthought, and most of the customers were ignoring them.  However, that may be because Arsenal wasn’t playing in those games.

If you want good food and an excellent selection of beers and spirits, go to the Jack Horner.  The food is quite a bit more expensive than the other pubs, but the Fish and Chips are some of the best that I have had throughout my stay in London (and that is many a fish n’ chips).  I would also recommend trying the Fullers ESB.  Another favorite pub of mine was the court, mainly because they served Everards Tiger, an ale with light coffee notes.

Tags: 2010 Tyler · Pubs · Uncategorized

Fox-y England

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

When I read Watching the English at home, I thought Kate Fox was mostly being funny. Now that I’ve spent a month here, I know she wasn’t. But there is one amendment I think she needs to make to her book: her analysis of the English seems to be mostly restricted to the older generation. I suspected this while I was reading the book, but I couldn’t be certain. It did seem strange to me, though, to imagine that young adults would be unwilling to tell people what they did for a living or to talk to people on the tube, for example. Even in America, it is rude for older generations to brag about how much money they make, but young people are allowed to compare notes about hourly wages and the like.

 A few weeks ago, Jesse and I overhead a young couple strike up a conversation with a similarly-aged man on the tube. Simply starting to talk to the man goes against the rules of Fox’s book. According to her, people just do not create conversation with strangers. Not only did the couple talk to the man, they wound up asking him what he does for a living. But some things Fox said still does apply to younger generations. The couple made sure to wait for the appropriate social cues before inquiring. The man mentioned his job and they reciprocated, asking him what he did.

But that isn’t to say that Kate Fox was wrong about everything. She helped me out of some right situations, making things less awkward for me. I would never have known, otherwise, that it is customary to buy your bartender a round instead of leaving a monetary tip, for example. And Kaitlin was astutely able to deduce that the neighborhood near Regent’s Park was upper class partly because of the unkempt gardens full of scattered lawn ornaments.

I’ve definitely enjoyed (and will keep enjoying) “watching the English” to compare my observations with those intimated by Fox in her book.

Tags: 2010 Jessica

Is that a yard sale, or is it the Victoria and Albert Museum?

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

Museums in England and unlike any I’ve seen before. It’s absolutely incredible. I can’t believe how trusting the curators are. There will be an ancient Greek sculpture, for example- the original, mind you- on display with no barrier separating it from the museum-goers. There will simply be a sign nearby asking politely if the spectators please wouldn’t mind not touching it. At the Victoria and Albert, you can accidentally lean against some medieval sarcophagus without even realizing it.

Another amazing thing about the museums here is the wide variety of objects on display. I speak mostly of, again, the Victoria and Albert, where everything is wonderful yet nothing really seems to make sense. There are gigantic rooms filled with hundreds of objects, none of which really seem to fit into the same category. There is a Japanese teahouse in the medieval section, for example. In the fashion exhibit, hundreds of outfits were organized, almost nonsensically. At first, I thought they were chronological, and then I thought they were organized by the fashion capital they were designed in. Eventually I realized that both categorizing systems were incorporated into the design, but neither permeated the entire exhibit. The result was a very interesting yet scattered display.

The “Recent Acquisitions” room was my favorite. It was located off a hall that was filled with ancient Asian artifacts and next door to a room that contained miniature models of the V&A museum. The recent acquisitions apparently consisted of something like a ball of yarn, a strangely painted chair, and an ancient statue. They had absolutely nothing in common except for the fact that the museum had recently acquired them and did not yet know where to put them.

There were two large rooms- which were not available for viewing but were located underneath a walkway so we could see into them- that were filled with huge replicas of columns and gargantuan doors and enormous shrines. I could see no rhyme or reason to the organization of these rooms- they seemed more like storage areas than anything else- but they were beautiful and fantastic, nonetheless.

The organization of the rooms was so strange that it was rather difficult to find anything. This made it enjoyable in the sense that it made the museum visit seem almost like a treasure hunt; it made me look at things more carefully, to ensure I didn’t miss out on any exciting artifacts. I managed to find, courtesy of Amy, one of da Vinci’s note books tucked behind a wall, nearly hidden from sight in the Medieval and Renaissance section. The Hypnertotomachia Poliphili, a beautiful book from the 1400s, was practically stashed away in a drawer in the same area. In the Theatre section, I was able to see, amongst a vast collection of current movie posters and sketches of older plays, two patents for theatres from 1660 scattered throughout the less significant pieces.

Of course, not all museums in London are organized like the V&A. The British Museum and both the London Museum and the Docklands Museum, for example, are organized very logically. It is not hard, in these museums, to see why the curators arranged the exhibits the way they did.

But I am very curious as to why the V&A is organized as it is and, sadly, I do not have an answer. Perhaps there are just too many items from a broad variety of periods to be contained by conventional categorization. Or perhaps the curator just thought it would be an interesting display. My speculation will have to do for now, I suppose.

Tags: 2010 Jessica

Museum Musings

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

The way I feel about England’s museums (BM in particular) is the same way I feel about Tom Brady. They are both morally flawed, but too beautiful for me to honestly give a damn. So in that spirit lets forget about the mistreatment of Greece and Bridget Moynihan and just admire the physical beauty and inherent cultural value of the objects themselves. Sure, the jewelry collection in the Victoria and Albert represents the opulence, indulgence, and filthy wealth of the upper classes and royalty, but look how sparkly those diamonds are! The intricate cloisonne! The colorful enamel! The gemstones! Don’t hate the tiara because a spoiled rich woman owned it, admire it for its elegant design and exquisite craftsmanship.

Hair ornament in the form of an orchid, made by Philippe Wolfers, Belgium, 1905-7. Museum no. M.11-1962. Image from the Victoria and Albert Museum website

I also must say, setting aside moral issues and countrys’ bruised egos, what is truly in the best interest of the objects themselves is for them to be left alone. Art and artifacts should be handled and moved as little as possible to avoid damage and the acceleration of deterioration. Professor Earenfight, who curates the Trout Gallery and teaches the museum studies course at Dickinson, likes to say that art and artifacts are like the elderly. They are set in their ways, used to their specific atmosphere, and the best thing for them is to disrupt their comfort as little as possible. The bottom line is, virtually all of the objects in London’s museums are priceless and definitely irreplaceable. The transportation of any of these objects across countries and continents is absolutely horrifying from an art conservation/curatorial point of view.

In any case, how great is it that we can get into all of these places for free? Sure, government subsidization lends itself to government censorship, but the fact that I can just wander in off the street, as I am, and walk right up to Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait, or Joseph Wright’s An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, or the ship burial treasure from Sutton Hoo, or the Rosetta Stone and countless other treasures more than outweighs any negative aspects for me. London’s collections are among the finest in the world, and they are open to everyone. Now that’s beautiful.

Tags: 2010 Rachel

St. Paul’s: Cultural Icon

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

England’s religious identities are many.  The influx of Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus over the past century has turned the nation into a melting pot of both cultures and faiths.  With the complexity of the social makeup of the city, it’s hard to pin down a “religious identity” for the whole of London.  That being said, I think that one place of worship certainly has to be regarded as the national symbol for faith and strength- St. Paul’s Cathedral.  While the religious denotations of the church are ever present, I don’t think the fact that it is a place of Christian worship is necessarily what gives it its majesty or its importance to Londoners across the metropolis.  It is, above all, a symbol of a culture; strong and resilient, huge and complex, beautiful in its intricacies.  There are two major times in London’s history during which the citizens of the city- Christian or not- have needed St. Paul’s.

Rebuilding after the Great Fire-

The Great Fire of 1666 ravaged the city whole.  It gutted the mostly wood-lined streets and left a smoldering heap in its wake.  The old St. Paul’s Cathedral (on whose ashes Wren’s St. Paul’s is built) was utterly destroyed.  Wren sought to bring a new, majestic design to the table- he wanted a Renaissance-style dome to crown his masterwork and to be visible for miles around.  While the design was initially scoffed at, his beautiful dome was completed and stood as the tallest structure in the city for three centuries.  The cathedral is a symbol of Christianity, to be sure.  But it is also, almost more importantly, a symbol of London’s rebirth from the depths of the catastrophe of 1666.  The visible and towering symbol of Britain’s strength most certainly gave Londoners hope that their city was not only being restored, but taken to new heights.

The Blitz-

In terms of pure physical damage to the city, the only event that comes close to the devastation of the Great Fire is the Blitz.  Nazi bombers annihilated much of the city in waves of attacks, night after night.  Much of the history of the city was lost in the bombing raids, but the most important symbol of London’s strength miraculously remained.  The iconic photograph of St. Paul’s, seemingly engulfed in flames but standing tall and true, is the embodiment of the church’s significance.  Wren built the cathedral from the ashes of one fire with the intention that it would be a symbol of the strength of God and the strength of the city.  The fact that the symbol itself resisted a second fire, an even greater test of resolve, is testament to its stature as the guiding light of London’s people.  Christian or Muslim or Sikh, it’s impossible for Londoners not to stand in reverence (or, at least, in awe) of this building.


Tags: 2010 Patrick