Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries from September 2010

This Blog is like Religion to Me. I Recognize How Unfunny that Joke is.

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

In this blog I’ll just give disjointed thoughts about the different places of worship which we have visited and then thoughts on our in class conversations regarding religion. First off, I really loved the Bath Abbey. It was tremendously impressive without the pomp of many of the other places we visited. It was not so heavily touted, there was no security. It was unimposing. It was geared toward humbled devotion to God rather than self-aggrandizing homage to England’s greats, and, therefore, to England itself. Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral are guilty of this fault in my opinion.

The Mandir was another great experience. Marble is one of my favorite materials both for its look and feel. The hand carvings were also astonishing and I liked that we were a part of the ceremony. It was, for me, the most moving of all the religious experiences we had. I think it was especially powerful for me as it provided calm in our hectic time in London. I would like to go out to the lawn by the bubbling fountains and sit and think. We were told that the building was constructed without the use of manmade materials and I don’t know if that was it but it was a relaxing, peaceful experience.

St. Paul’s was breathtaking, the most impressive of the buildings in my opinion. The way the dome construction opens up the whole building sets the cathedral apart from Westminster Abbey (not to hate on Westminster, which was lovely.) You can soak in much of the majesty of the building all at once. It is rather overwhelming, but extremely impressive.

The mosque and synagogue did not have the aesthetic appeal of the other religious buildings we visited. The mosque visit was unfortunately short although I believe it offered a valuable insight into the perspective of the faith toward Americans. It is a jaded perspective but not unjustly so. The short duration of the tour combined with the women who pulled down the shades when they saw us in the hallway speaks volumes about the wariness towards our presence. Not, in my opinion, a word about the Islamic faith in general. That is to say that I don’t believe the Islamic faith to be closed to the public any more so than other faiths.

This reminds me of a class discussion we had in which it was put out there that our guide in the mosque was defensive about his faith and toward the questions he was asked. The evidence which was cited to support this idea was his references to similarities between Islam and Judaism and Christianity. I believe it would be more correct to simply see Islam, Judaism and Christianity as three streams which come from the same river and flow into the same sea. Not to get too metaphorical.

Tags: 2010 Michael · Churches and Cathedrals

My Bit on Theater

September 21st, 2010 · Comments Off on My Bit on Theater

One thing that I appreciate about London is the accessibility to see theater without creating a dent in your pocket. Seeing shows on Broadway are the complete opposite, hence the reason why I’ve only been to a couple of Broadway shows although, my money has always been well spent. In London I haven’t spend more than thirty pounds to see a production, not to say that they’ve all blown me away. Les Miserables was my favorite and was similar to the style of production that I am used to seeing. Performance wise, everything was spot on- the acting, costumes, set, music, the list goes on. It took real skill for the actors to maneuver the rotating stage, which I’ve never seen before. The most unique experience for me would have to be at The Globe Theater seeing The Merry Wives of Windsor. Never in my life would I opt to standing for three hours to watch a play, except for in London of course. I’m not a fan of Shakespeare but I had some good laughs. The cast was very talented, and the transitions between scenes were very creative. I would say most of us liked the production, even though we all despised Professor Qualls for making us stand.


The funniest play would be The 39 Steps, in which there was never a dull moment. What I really loved about this play was their creativity and enthusiasm. This four- member cast created magic on stage, and engaged the entire audience. With limited crew and crops, they really encouraged viewers to use their imagination. While glancing at the audience during intermissions, I couldn’t help but notice how homogenous the crowds each play attracted. Being located in the West End could have been a reason for the very white audiences, however it’s not like ticket prices prevent anyone else from being able to see a show every now and then. Is theater going only prominent in white culture?  I also wonder if there is such a thing as the same show being better in the West End than it is on Broadway.  Somehow, I just can’t see it happening that way, probably vice versa (statement could also be very biased).  If its one thing, I wish I did set aside more of my time in London to see more theater.  I know this is something that I won’t to do when I get back to New York.  I find it ridiculous that now movie tickets are over twelve dollars each, which is the equivalent to a fifteen pound ticket to a play.  It is so unfair that Londoners have this choice!  I do hope to come back to London a couple times before my stay is over to further immerse myself in theater culture.

Tags: 2010 Melissa · Uncategorized

Some Thoughts on Theater

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

Probably Les Mis was my least satisfying theater going experience in London (and I did enjoy it: I enjoyed every play that I went to). It’s strange to say, because I had been wanting to see Les Mis for years.  And don’t get me wrong: everything about the play, from the acting to the lighting to the music was top notch. But somehow, the nearly perfect production left me unsatisfied.  My main problem with the play was that the plot was so full and neat that I had trouble being swept up in it.  So many important and often tragic events happened in so little time that I found myself lagging behind emotionally.  The ending was a little too neat to feel genuine; by the end mostly everyone is dead but the male and female leads (who of course end up together).  I left wanting something more, although I thoroughly enjoyed the music.

39 Steps, while probably not very innovative, and definitely not deep or reflective, felt full of energy in a way that Les Mis was not. I think that this was because I did not know what to expect going in, and the play was hilarious and unafraid to make fun of itself.  Probably the funniest moments in the entire production were those in which we were made very aware that we were watching a play: the use of windows an doors as props, and the scene on the train in which the actors responded physically to the train’s imagined movement.  More interesting and funny surprises were in the staging of the play than in the plot.  39 Steps was as much as a crowd pleaser as Les Mis, though in a different way, and it felt more alive to me.

I even found the Habit of Art more interesting than both in way, although it certainly did not hold my attention in the same way.  Risks were clearly taken, right down to the bright florescent lighting used throughout the play to create the feel of a rehearsal.  Although I had trouble sympathizing with the characters, and had a negative visceral reaction to some aspects (like the urination in the sink, and the apparent stench of the apartment), but I guess that even my negative reactions were an accomplishment on the part of the play, since they were clearly intended.  The Habit of Art stayed with me longer than the other plays we saw because it had me reflecting on why it was written as it was, and on the connection between the lives of the actor-characters and the lives of the two famous “artists” in the play within the play.  So although I was not amazed at the end of  The Habit of Art, I was definitely satisfied.

I am definitely glad that London is home to so much innovative theater, and that we had the opportunity to experience some of it.  I wish that I had time to see more plays in London, and I look forward to finding out what the theaters in Norwich have to offer.

Tags: 2010 Emily · Uncategorized

Get It?

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

For academic purposes I frequented a variety of pubs during my stay in London. In this time I noticed that small decisions made by the management go a long way in determining the atmosphere of a pub. At a favorite of mine, The Rocket, on Thursdays they lower the price of all their shots and have specials on mixed drinks and bottled beer. It was no surprise that on the two Thursdays in which I went to the Rocket we encountered a bunch of young people, in one case a large group of American Freshmen. At another pub I went to, there were no specials and no pitchers. There were, however, a lot of nice beers from around the world and on every table. The clientele, therefore, was mostly older men and was much quieter. I had another varied experience at The Bank of England. The difference in this pub was the high ceilings and grand décor. (Hardly a small decision I realize, but still.)  The atmosphere in this pub was definitely classier, and the high ceilings gave off a feeling that, despite the amount of people in the pub, one was never crowded.

One thing I noticed about the pubs was the lack of traditional pub games. I haven’t seen any darts and only been to one pub with pool. Pool was sweet though, despite a crushing defeat that I suffered at the hands of a girl. The only time I’ve ever lost to a girl throughout the entire course of my illustrious life.

Here’s another thought for you. I hate pubs/bars with loud pumping music and no dance floor. What is the point! To make conversation impossible and awkward?

I find Orwell’s remarks on pubs to be quite accurate as well. I find the idea that the perfect pub is impossible to find ties in well with my previous idea about atmosphere. It may be the one coherent thread in this post. For, you see, in my mind, the perfect pub would be both chill and cheap. But these two things are mutually exclusive! Because if the prices are cheap then lots of rowdy people will come and be drunk and order lots of shots and you’ll get that annoying loud atmosphere that completely clashes with the chill one that is ideal. And there you have it folks.

Tags: 2010 Michael · Pubs

Try as I might, I can’t think of a clever name for this RELIGION BLOG…

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

Religion is something I always felt I should know more about, and this time in London has been an interesting opportunity to do so. I particularly enjoyed visiting the Hindu Mandir. Part of this is because I had never been to a Hindu temple before, and part was because, I think, of its presentation.

The volunteers at the Mandir were very kind and helpful, and I really enjoyed the Hinduism exhibit there. They assume, it seems, that most people who come to the temple do not know anything about Hinduism, and they are probably right. I didn’t really know much at all, aside from a few little details I have picked up over the years. I thought the exhibit was educational without being boring or preachy, and I thought it gave me a good perspective on Hinduism before the temple service. I think it is because of this attitude of openness that I enjoyed the Mandir the most.

I also enjoyed visiting the synagogue. I already knew some things about Judaism, but I still appreciated the crash course he gave us. I also really liked looking around a synagogue because I have only ever been in one once before. I think I benefitted from the interaction with our “guide” because he was interesting and earnest, and it seemed like he really enjoys teaching people about the synagogue. Plus, he’s had a lot of practice since school kids come there frequently for tours.

I loved the Christian buildings we went to, but we weren’t really there to learn about religion. With the cathedrals, abbeys, and churches, the tours were mainly geared towards the architecture and history of the buildings and the people buried there, rather than towards the actual religious ceremonies that take place there. At Westminster Abbey, we did learn a little about the royal ceremonies that occur and we did get to see Evensong at St. Paul’s, but, because the branches of Christianity are generally very well known about, it seemed as if the actual religious aspects of the churches were viewed as less interesting. It seems like the churches in London have become more secular than anything. They are burial places for great people and memorial sites for war heroes and the like.

The only religious building I was somewhat dissatisfied with was the mosque. This is not meant to disparage our guide or the religion in any way, but it seemed to me as if we were not welcome there. And maybe that’s completely fair. I certainly “didn’t belong” at the mosque, though I did my best to be respectful and non-threatening. But I don’t know much about the culture, so what I interpreted as stand-offish, defensive, or unwelcoming behavior may not be entirely accurate. I do wish we had gotten to learn a little more, though, because I still feel as if I don’t know as much about Islam as I would like. I did learn a little- and what I learned was very interesting- but it was mostly a refresher course, I felt.

I still feel like I need to learn more about religion in order to be a fully enlightened individual. I don’t like to be judgmental, especially without knowing all the facts, so I think I would definitely benefit from further study on the subject. But I’m glad we were at least exposed to these places of worship so that I can have a firmer grasp on the basics of these religions and so I can take stock of what I still need to learn.

Tags: 2010 Jessica

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