Abroad in London: From A Theater Major to A Global Theater Maker

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Theater Immersion.

West end shows? National Theatre? Only 10 pounds?

I am a Theater major at Wesleyan University, and I spent a semester abroad at Queen Mary, University of London in Spring 2018.

One of the reasons that I wanted to go to London was how vibrant and accessible the theater scene is. I saw one or two shows per week, and in total I saw over twenty incredible and politically engaged productions during my time abroad.

Many theater organizations in London offer student-discounted tickets, and some theater shows don’t even charge anything from students.

At Queen Mary, I took a course called London Performance Now where students see shows, and then discuss and analyze them in class.

I had the chance to see productions from at a gay bar to in a West End theater, from Hanna Gatsby’s well-known stand-up comedy Nannette, to a dance theater performance featuring actors with disabilities.

Through both in person experience and discussions, I got a chance to understand the vibrant and diverse landscape of the London theater world.

Just Make Theater!

The best class I took was Making Contemporary Theatre with Mojisola Adebayo.

In this class, there’s no boundary among different departments of theater – acting, design, directing, playwriting etc., in each group, everyone is making theater and contributing to each of the departments above.

This class challenged my previous misconception about the process of creating theater in which we had to be limited to our pre-assigned unequal roles, but if we make theater as an ensemble, there are so many more possibilities of what theater can be.

The final assignment for this class was to make a piece as a group that touched on a political subject.

I was grouped with three other students of color, and each of us brought up our own cultural backgrounds and upbringings into discussions.

We first started with the idea of “vision” – how do we as people of color “see” each other differently from the lense of a white person.

Then we played games that involve seeing and showing, and one of the ideas that came up was the “colored museum” which used to be very popular in the western societies through the white colonial gaze.

In the end, we decided to make a political piece that imagines what if the concept of the colored museum exists today, and how’d people of color break the cycle of oppression and suffering now in the present world.

I was blown away by such radical way of imagining theater.

Not only does it grant each person equal opportunities in the rehearsal space, but also it is what the current American theater industry needs.

It structurally dismantles the system dominated by both whiteness and maleness, and puts those who are often being silenced or oppressed on equal terms to those who often are of more power.

I feel so lucky to be exposed to such techniques when I was there and I’m dedicated to bring this mindset of theater making to wherever I go in order to create a space with equal opportunities for everyone.

The Next Step: Global Theater Maker!

Since I got there, I wanted to get involved in the British East Asian theater community. I first joined a FaceBook group called British East Asian Artists.

Then I subscribed to the newsletters of Yellow Earth Theater, the only British East Asian theater company in the U.K, through which I found out about an amazing conference on British East Asian Theater and Southeast Asian Theater called Sight: Unseen.

The two-day conference was hosted by both Tara Arts and Goldsmiths, University of London.

It was a unique opportunity for me to learn and discuss about Asian diasporic theater in the British and Southeast Asian contexts with other local professional artists and international playwrights.

It was the first time that I actually enjoyed networking, because in such a small yet supportive community, everyone there was genuine and generous.

What I learned the most from that conference is that what we share as artists is the desire to create a world of humanity, through which we empathize, understand and celebrate each other’s beliefs, cultures, and dreams.

As a result of the conference, I have made friends from all over the globe that I still keep in touch today.

It also made me realize that the world of theater is so much wider than that of European and American theater canon, and as an international theater artist, I need to continue exploring theater beyond what I have already known.

As a senior, I soon need to figure out my post-graduate plan.

Despite facing anxiety and uncertainty, I am determined to become a global theater maker, to put on shows through different international theater festivals, and to immerse myself with diverse theater scenes and cultures; I am confident that my time abroad in London and my exposure to theater globally will bring a unique perspective to wherever I go.

Wenxuan Xue is a theater student at Wesleyan University and studied abroad with IFSA at Queen Mary University in London, England in Spring 2018.

Article by Wenxuan Xue