Theatre in Scotland & England: ‘A Crucible of Culture and Conversation’

Professor Mark Stevick, center, with students at All Soul’s Church in London.

If all the world’s a stage, the United Kingdom is the host and this year marks the 18th consecutive theatre trip there for Gordon professors and students. From August 10-26, 2012, Mark Stevick, associate professor of English, and Norm Jones, professor of theatre arts, will lead 30 students—the most enrolled since the course began in 1995—for a week in Edinburgh, Scotland, and a week in London, England. This year also celebrates the 300th student to participate in the study abroad seminar.

What began as a two-credit elective course has now grown into a four-credit interdisciplinary exploration of such subjects as history, art, English, creative writing, theatre, psychology, and communication, which fulfills core requirements for the aesthetics theme in the Gordon core. Here’s how poet and creative writing professor Mark Stevick reflected on the history of the class as well as their upcoming trip:

“The two-week trip is a crucible of culture and conversation, one that inspires the leaders for another year of making art, and makes some indelible life memories for the students.

We used to travel right after commencement, and in those years our itinerary included places like Dublin and Galway (Ireland), and in England, Bath (with its Royal Crescent and Pulteney Bridge—twin to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence), Stratford-Upon-Avon (home of three very different theatres and to the Bard’s crypt), Oxford (with a cooling pause at the Inklings’ Eagle & Child pub), and Cambridge (there to savor an evensong at King’s College Chapel)—and, always, London.  Day trips have taken us to Salisbury (tallest spire in the UK—at 400 feet) and nearby Stonehenge (big gray stones; little red poppies), to Ely (named for its eels, and home for a decade to Oliver Cromwell), to Coventry (with its massive Graham Sutherland tapestry behind the altar of the 1962 cathedral, itself verging on the ruins of the Nazi-bombed 14th-century cathedral), and, in Ireland, to the Aran Islands, to James Joyce’s tower in Sandycove, to Glasnevin Cemetery, chaste resting place for the 19th century’s greatest English poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and to the village of Kinvara.

In 2004, we switched to an August trip to take advantage of the thousands of theatre, dance, music, spoken word, and nearly unclassifiable performances in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival. We see as many as we can in one week: Jeff Miller, professor of theatre arts, manages three shows a day on most days.

We’ve honed our approach, so we can offer a lot of culture for a little green. Classes occur in the morning, usually with a latte, often in one of the several lobbies of London’s Royal National Theatre, or in an atrium at the foot of Arthur’s Seat at the University of Edinburgh. Students live in flats-with-kitchens in the hearts of these two capitols, and the afternoons are free for museum-going, punting, shopping, picnicking—all of which are endeavored. Evenings find us in the front row of the UK’s best theatres, in the living presence of the world’s great actors, like Judi Dench and Ian McCellen, Mark Rylance and Maggie Smith, Simon Russell Beale and Fiona Shaw, Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon—and some terrific young actors, too, whose performances mark them as tomorrow’s stars.

Each year now, two to five students add to the basic course a creative writing class called ‘Writing in the City’—and use London’s and Edinburgh’s distinct cultural and artistic offerings as material for original compositions of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. This year Jean Sbarra Jones, adjunct professor of art, will be directing an independent study in the visual arts. This trip couldn’t happen without the support and patience of the staff in the Global Education Office—present and past—for whom the trip leaders are extremely grateful.” —Mark Stevick

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