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What another amazing week in England! This next week was spent doing a variety of amazing things, but the things I feel I can really take away from this week is that I have really started to develop a mental map of the city and I am starting to understand what I really like and what I don’t: artistically, that is.
To kick things off, I will say again that the London Underground is an incredible form of public transportation. Once you know how to navigate it, you can get almost anywhere within the city. I have been doing quite a bit of exploring on my own and with the whole London group for class. A really cool thing that our theatre teacher, Philip, has been doing with us is that he takes us for theatrical tours around certain parts of London. So far, we have had two of these eventful mornings. The first of these tours brought us to the more northern part of London to read bits and pieces of plays written about the places we were walking through. Some of the places we walked by were the sites of very old markets, such as the Smithfield meat market, and more sacred places near St. Paul’s Cathedral. Everyone participated in the readings, but making sense of the scripts ended up being a little more difficult than I thought. Most of the text was in Middle English, and I tripped over oddly placed consonants and combinations of vowels that I had never seen before, as did most everyone else. It became very evident who was an English major and had taken Geoffrey Chaucer classes in the group. The second outing took us to places that were much more centered around Shakespeare, his writings and places that his plays became public. We even got to see the banqueting hall where Twelfth Night premiered and the Globe Theatre! Other places that I have explored this past week on my own have been places such as Denmark Street, Camden Market and Brick Lane. Denmark Street is a musical street. Almost every shop in the area is dedicated to selling musical instruments, musical scores or musical memorabilia. Camden Market is a bit of a hodgepodge of sorts. One of my friends described it as a combination of Saturday Market in Portland and Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. Sounds pretty accurate so far. If there is anything you might want to purchase from legitimate (or not so legitimate) sources, Camden Market is the place you would want to go. People from all walks of life come here and create an explosion of fashion, merchandise, food, music, art and smut. The third location, Brick Lane, was recommended to me by several people as a place to go to if I wanted to find really good and cheap ethnic food. The day I visited I ended up getting some pretty good curry. I definitely intend to go back and explore this place in much more detail.
Another field trip that we took in the past week was to a British cultural hub. Our visit to Westminster Abbey and The Houses of Parliament was humbling, fantastic, overwhelming and left me a bit awestruck. Something that America that doesn’t have is an extremely old history. Nothing connected to our history is too much older than 300 years. To me, Westminster was a testament to everything English and all the great things that the country has done as a culture. Its religion, legends, great figures and great moments in history were illustrated and brought to life through frescoes, tapestries, inlaid mosaics, dated inscriptions and countless statues. I have also never seen more gold in my entire life. The throne was essentially a wall of gold with a velvet throne protruding from it. Another thing that struck me while visiting Westminster was that the English are much more concerned with preserving things than Americans are. The English have kept Westminster not only just a national landmark, but it is also one of the centers for their government. Parliament, consisting of the House of Lords and the House of Commons meet there to discuss, pass and reject laws. The architecture of the rooms and their processes of passing laws have not undergone much change for hundreds of years. People are concerned with keeping things in the past respected and relevant. Not only is the interior of Westminster breathtaking, the outside is also quite a site. Long vertical lines start from the ground, intertwine amongst stained glass windows and then seem to shoot off, almost like rockets, all the way up toward heaven in the form of grand spires. Also connected to Westminster is the iconic Big Ben. It was a foggy day (like any other day) and Big Ben loomed in distance as we walked around the great cathedral. It is possible to spend a day in one room in Westminster and not absorb all of the details along with the symbolism and cultural implications that come along with them.
This week was a pretty incredible week for theatre. I saw a smattering of small time and big time shows this week. The first of which was the West End hit and innovative puppet show, Avenue Q. This show was hilarious, absolutely irreverent, honest and very entertaining. It was really strange to see a play that was set in America, especially New York City. For me, the most entertaining part of the show was watching the British actors tackle American accents. Most of them were successful, except for the lead. He would ease in to his British accent, realize that he had dropped his American one, then attempt to recover by finding a strange and unintelligible combination of the two, making his speech gobbledygook for about two second before getting back on track. The second show I saw this week was a combination of Henry Purcell’s opera, “The Fairy Queen” and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream called Dream. The focus of the show was to highlight student designers, resulting in the audience travelling around the theatre from the loft, to the audience, the house, the green room and the main stage to take us into 8 different worlds constructed from the same material. It was a strange and at times a really innovative experience. I saw some things I had never seen in a set before and might have even given me some new ideas for thesis! The third show I saw was later that evening called A Yorkshire Tragedy which I saw in a pub. The story followed a man who chose to try and kill his family instead of seeing his children suffer by losing the family land and what was left of the money that the family owned. He was mostly successful, but failed to kill one son and his wife. It was a very dark play, but was very well acted. Since the theatre was in a pub, it was a very small space and the action was right in front of you. This play reminded me of the power that live theatre has. The final show I saw this week was by far my favorite. I got the INCREDIBLE chance to see a spectacular production of Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett featuring Sir Ian McKellan as Estragon. It might safe to say that seeing Ian McKellan in this role was the best live performance I have ever seen on stage. I was completely captivated by him and all of the actors on stage. As a result of this, I feel like I have so much further to go as an actor, but I also feel like I have seen the envelope of live performance pushed. I might even see the show again. In short, I loved it. Oh, and to top it all off, I got to meet him afterward. Yes, I met Sir Ian McKellan. I thanked him for his performance and then he signed my ticket. WOW.
This was also an incredible week for music! Classical music, that is. The big concerts I saw this week spanned a huge amount of time, style and technique. The whole group had the enormous pleasure of seeing the Philharmonia Orchestra play at the Royal Festival Hall last Thursday. They played Mozart’s Piano Concert #20 and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. This was, by far, the most incredible orchestral ensemble performance I have ever been to. The piano concerto was light and fantastic, but for me the highlight of the evening was the symphony by Mahler. As symphonies go, this one is pretty huge. 70 minutes. 5 movements. 1 grand piece of music. For me, the most exquisite movement was #4. Written as a love letter to the composer’s wife, it was delicate, unpredictable and exquisite. It is rare to hear a piece of music that felt as alive as this felt.
Here is a recording of the 4th movement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69ctu9RG6Y0
The second concert I went to was at the Barbican Centre and featured the BBC Orchestra. They played a piece by a modern French composer named Dutilleux, Ravel and Stravinsky. The performances of Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G” and Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” were definitely my favorites of the evening. The second movement of the Piano Concerto was played beautifully by a very skilled pianist named Angela West, and has caused me to look into much more Ravel. As for the “Firebird Suite,” it was a pleasure to hear the piece live for the first time.
For the final field trip this week, we journeyed the farthest we have ever been outside of the city. I’m sure that we were still in greater London, but we were by no means in the city. The destination of this trip was Hampton Court: a palace of King Henry VIII. Like everything in England, the palace was very old, ornate and completely packed with history. The place was absolutely huge and it was difficult to fathom that it was only meant to house three royal people. We traveled through the private apartments of King Henry VIII and the nobles William and Mary who were housed within the same palace. The walls were covered in paintings and tapestries along with countless frescoes on the ceilings. We also got a tour of the kitchens, which were gigantic. My favorite part of the palace, however, was the grounds and the gardens. A perfect place to take a walk or a run in, I traveled by many statues and mazes made out of the shrubbery and grass. While everything was cut to a certain shape and constrained to fit a design, I did feel that there were elements of natural symmetry being used in the garden. It was a very different image from the one I had in my head of what a proper English garden would have looked like. There were also birds everywhere, especially copious amounts of ducks and swans. After touring the gardens, I went back into the square with the clock tower, and was intersected by a historical actor. He rounded up most of the men in the area and told us that were being summoned by the “king.” I didn’t really know what to do, so I just followed along. He took us into a part of the palace that I hadn’t seen before and knocked on the wall. The wall then opened up into a secret room where I saw someone on a throne acting as King Henry VIII. It turns out that I was randomly chosen to be a part of his council to give him advice whether to marry Katherine Parr. Great. If there is one thing that I know I can’t do in theatre, its improvisation. There was a lot of “yes, your Grace,” and “a wise decision, my liege,” being said on my part. In short, I was a bit terrified. After we had come up with a satisfactory amount of questions, Katherine Parr was brought in and was interrogated with our questions. Luckily for her, she passed the test. It was a pretty incredible experience seeing the palace and was another fantastic view into England’s incredible history.
More exciting news to add to this blog, I might have a volunteer position lined up at a theatre soon! Thanks to a great friend and her generous family, I might have a chance to help a professional theatre out! We’ll see how this turns out; hoping for the best.
Until next week,
Musical present of the week:
Oh, Neko Case, why do I love you so much?