My journey to Manchester to meet the rest of the abroad group was slightly less eventful than the trip of the rest of my group. Rather than crossing the Atlantic, I drove a few hours north from my home, stopping for afternoon tea on the way, of course. However, on arriving at Manchester, a city where I had never been, and meeting the group there, it was easy to feel displaced and far from home. This was the beginning of an adventure to delve into the mind of the most talented man in the history of England, William Shakespeare, and it seemed a daunting task.
Now, as I sit in my room, in a college dorm on the South Bank of the Thames, Shamus Jarvis is watching soccer on his computer, while Clint White is reading me poetry. It seems we’ve all found characteristics that we can love about England, qualities that help us call it home.
Outside my window, London’s newest skyscraper, the Shard, looms over the apartment buildings. Designed to have the appearance of a shard of glass that has been thrust into the ground, it provides a wonderful contrast to the emotions of the group. With English professor Heidi Snow, theater professor Chrissy Steele and resident counselor Caleb King at the helm, the group has been gently guided into the calm seas of a new territory, with no storms in sight.
What a contrast this calm group is to the turmoil this island has been in! Debate over whether Scotland should be independent was intense, and even though the measure failed at the polls last Thursday, it seemed certain many Scots would remain dissatisfied. It may be a hard journey to real unity and harmony as a United Kingdom.
Our group, full of strong individuals, has been focused on creating an ensemble that can work together to create an entertaining production of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” upon our return to campus. Everything that we have been doing is contributing towards this goal, and it is this goal that unites us.
From our arrival in Manchester, our first introduction to a British city and culture, we drove to Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. Here we saw three productions: “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” “Henry IV Part 1,” and “Henry IV Part 2.” We also had many classes from expert Shakespeare scholars to help us dive into these plays and gain a more rounded knowledge of the man. From Stratford, we traveled to the beautiful Lake District, where we experienced some of the sublime lakes and hills, hiking to Easedale Tarn. We also spent some time at Dove Cottage, a Wordsworth museum, learning how to handle old books in preparation for our time at the British Library.
Then came the eight-hour trip, including traffic, from the Lake District to London, where we spent the first week researching at the British Library for our parts, and exploring some central themes of “Winter’s Tale” from books and manuscripts. Some were over 400 years old! We are now halfway through our work at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, where we have been through movement, voice and text classes, all held by experienced Globe actors and scholars, for the purpose of performing a very abridged version of “The Comedy of Errors.”
We were also able to see a performance of the unabridged play at the Globe with most of the group standing right in front of the stage, and one of us was even motioned to by an actress as part of the audience participation encouraged in this famous theater. Last Friday, we were just as entertained in the Globe’s production of “Julius Caesar.”
All this work is helping us grow in our understanding of Shakespeare and what it means to be an artist. It is inspiring to see each individual’s special talents contributing to the effect of the whole group. All has been harmonious so far in terms of group dynamics, with each person learning humility and confidence in equal measure. Amidst a kingdom being ripped apart, the England abroad group is a great example of how easy it is for humanity to harmoniously work together.