This past summer, I spent a month living in London, U.K. for a program centered on experiencing theatre. London is probably the theatre capital of the world, and produces more new work than anywhere else. During our trip we saw 28 plays, some new, some classic, and experienced the vibrant theatre-going community of London, and the culture of the city at large.
I’m currently studying theatre, but before my trip to London, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do in theatre. I enjoyed acting, was interested in design, and was itching to try writing and directing. I also didn’t have a clear idea of my personal taste in theatre, what my teachers would refer to as the “theatre I wanted to make.”
During the London trip, I was exposed to dozens of brand new plays, often written by playwrights barely older than myself. Some were extraordinary, which made me think “I wish I could write something like this,” and some were extraordinarily bad, which made me think “I could write something way better than this.” Both of these feelings were useful in my discovery that I was most interested in playwriting above all other aspects of theatre. While in London, I finished a first draft a brand new play, which one of the Ohio State professors on the trip helped me edit. By the time I came back to school this fall, I had a finished play, which I directed and presented in cooperation with the Ohio State Theatre Department. Both nights we performed sold out.
Before the trip, I had only a vague idea of my “favorite” kind of play. I knew I liked comedies, and didn’t like musicals, I knew I enjoyed Shakespeare, but also work by young playwrights. But the “theatre I wanted to make” still eluded me. More or less, I enjoyed watching all theatre, did that mean I didn’t have my own personal taste or style? I wasn’t sure. But, while in London, we were seeing shows basically every day of the trip, and it was interesting to see which shows resonated with each student. Some of my friends loved the big-budget West End musicals, like Hamilton, others remembered slapstick humor. Others, absurdism, others Shakespeare. I realized that while I enjoyed watching everything, very specific styles of theatre resonated with me and inspired to make my own art. These were shows that blended comedy with drama, particularly with dark humor, shows with a nonrealistic acting style, and shows that commented on social issues. After thirty or so shows, I began to see my own taste emerging, and learned both how to embrace shows that I knew were “for me,” and I learned how to distance myself from it when it came time give a critical eye to a show that wasn’t within these parameters, i.e. “Although this show wasn’t my taste, it did interesting things in its design/acting/direction/text/etc.”
While seeing the plays was obviously influential, my favorite parts of the trip were actually my free time, when I could explore London on my own, my own way. London’s public transportation system is incredibly easy to navigate, so I gained confidence in getting around a big city, and owning my own space while doing so, something I’d probably need to learn anyway if I want to continue work in theatre, which basically only functions as a business in large cities. I also learned how to be independent in a new city, something that was terrifying at first but by the end of the trip made me feel more grown up. Throughout our month, I would sneak away by myself to explore a public garden, or a hidden museum. I learned how much I enjoy spending time with myself, with helped me to make the realizations about myself I mentioned earlier.
The most influential parts of my trip actually came from people who came with me from home. My trip professor, Jennifer Schlueter, was our guide through the London theatre landscape, and in class discussions encouraged us to think about what a show made us feel, but also why it made us feel that way, and urged us to consider all elements of the theatre making process, including writing, acting, directing, design, and dramaturgy. I learned to critically analyze the theatre I was seeing, and how it was delicately designed to effect me, while simultaneously embracing the emotional immersion that happens whenever a person sees a play.
The other people who deeply influenced me were the new friends I made while on the trip. It’s easy to say “I made new friends,” and while it sounds sweet, it doesn’t really capture how deeply I connected to these people. I was lucky in that I found three people I immediately clicked with, and throughout the trip we shared our passion for theatre, our doubts, and our dreams. They became a support system while living in a culture that is surprisingly different from our own, accompanied me when I wanted to try something new, and made the trip a blend of fun, learning, and risk-taking.
This trip showed me what I want to do within the theatre industry, and because of London’s particularly hospitable climate for new playwrights, encouraged me that my career path really is possible. I discovered newfound confidence in my chosen path of study, and was spurred into creative action by the most personally inspiring art I saw. Without London, I don’t know if I would have finished my first play, much less directed it and presented it to an audience. Since London, I have grown more precise in my artistry, more confident in my own work and thoughts, more independent as an individual, and more cognizant of the culture of my art form internationally.