Georgetown in London and Stratford-Upon-Avon: Shakespeare in Text and Performance

By Alexandra Bowman, COL’22

I won’t lie–my study abroad experience felt like more of my ultimate dream vacation than a graded class. Having returned to the United States and been asked by plenty of people about my jaunt, I have sincerely said to each one of them that my two weeks spent in the UK were the best two weeks of my life.

This summer, I had the opportunity to be part of this summer’s “Georgetown in London and Stratford-Upon-Avon: Shakespeare in Text and Performance” cohort. Our eight-student group enjoyed a complete immersion in the Bard’s life and literature. We witnessed six Shakespeare plays, frequently discussing the production with actors and Shakespeare experts the morning after the performance.

We spent our first week in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the river market town where Shakespeare grew up and lived most of his life. We stayed at the Quilt and Croissant Bed and Breakfast, which was just as idyllic as it sounds. On a typical morning, I went for an early morning jog, often along the river and through the charming, right-out-of-a-movie British village of Stratford. I would return and have a pre-ordered bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese before heading with the group and Professor Barnett, to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Typically, we would meet with our docent to discuss the previous night’s performance. Twice, we had the opportunity to speak with a Royal Shakespeare Company actor. We met Leo
Wan, who played the legendary Shakespearean jester Touchstone the night we saw As You Like It.

I’ve seen Shakespeare plays before, but being able to discuss a production and the creative interpretations of the director and actors was a unique benefit of the course. One particularly engaging point of conversation for our group was the relative success of the RSC’s The Taming of the Shrew, which was performed with the genders of the characters swapped (Petruchia, a woman, abused Katherine, a man). Let’s just say that some of us (me) thought the performance worked better than did others.

After a week in Stratford, we picked up and moved to London via a brief train ride and enjoyed a welcome dinner with Professor Collins and his family. Of the three plays we had the pleasure to see in London, our group held a general consensus that the Bridge Theater’s explosive production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with its amphitheater staging complemented by smaller mobile stages pushed through an audience member-filled mosh pit (look it up), was the most entertaining. Plenty of the plays we saw took creative risks, and we tended to agree that “Bridge Dream”–with its Beyonce and hip-hop-laden musical score, giant beach ball, and frequently airborne fairy actors–boasted the greatest success with those wagers. Seriously, look up this play, it was absolutely bonkers.

I am grateful, moreover, that Prof. Collins and Prof. Barnett designed our trip with plenty of extra time built into our itinerary for us to explore London. Having only been overseas once before, with family, I relished the chance to independently explore and engage with the culture
of a country that has captivated me since I was first able to read. On our free time, I spent hours in the British Museum and National Galleries. On my own time, I saw West End theatre performances, including “The Book of Mormon” and “The Play that Goes Wrong.” I spent a lot of time on the Tube but enjoyed every second. I visited both the real 221B Baker Street and the
fake one on North Gower Street used in BBC Sherlock. I toured Westminster Abbey and strolled past Parliament, a scaffolding-encased Big Ben, and 10 Downing Street–often having to nudge around anti-Brexit protests (don’t worry, I was sure to not get involved in any demonstrations!) I snapped pictures right beneath the London Eye that I can’t wait to paint with some new art supplies I bought from Tate Britain. I frequented some of London’s coziest independent bookstores–and had probably too many fruit butter scones.

I would like to be a filmmaker after graduation; this trip, which enabled me to immerse myself in the world of one of humanity’s greatest storytellers, represents my ideal summer excursion. Furthermore, as a passionate Anglophile and literature devotee, I was overjoyed to learn of a chance to study abroad in the UK before my sophomore year–in some of my favorite
subject areas, no less. While I haven’t written my second paper for the class yet, I can truly say that the two weeks I spent in the UK for this class were some of the most formative, gratifying, and delightful I’ve ever had.

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