So, guys, I did tell you I am godawful at keeping up with blogs. I've had a helluva year in London, though, so I think my priorities have worked out to my benefit. I wanted to check back in with you, now that I'm off to do a bit of research for my MA and then heading back to the USA for a bit to finish my dissertation, to let you know what this year's been like. I hope you enjoy my short but sweet reflections.
This year in London has been a massive year of growth. It's been exciting, full of opportunities, and full of love and care from friends new and old. Since my last blog post in October 2018, I've gotten to intern for the HeARTs Project - a public health study which explores the impact that participating in community arts programs have on people's physical and mental health. In January I got to devise for and perform in "Babylon: Beyond Borders" at The Bush Theatre, which was absolutely thrilling and groundbreaking - as it combined live-streaming with live theatre, and connected 4 countries on 4 different continents, in 4 different time zones. I created and benefited from an incredible community of friends, from Europe, Asia, the UK, and America. I travelled around England, and went to Europe to visit Spain, Austria, Greece, and France. I learned the pleasures of spending full 5-7 hour days in the library (breaking for snacks, lunch, and Facetimes with Mom, of course). I finally made it to the British summertime (after weathering the dreariest January - my birthday month! - I've ever seen), and celebrated June 21st (the longest day of the year) outside at a cookout (burgers in England! It's crazy!), watching the sunset outside my window at 11pm.
This year was challenging and confusing at times, but incredibly rewarding. Staying indoors to read and do critical summaries of dry academic articles when I wanted to be rehearsing for a production, or in a dancing/singing class? It was torturous at times to be out of my comfort zone. However, it all paid off. I have read and wrote more often and more widely (across many genres) than I have in years. I'll be glad to get back to a more active job and lifestyle once my dissertation is over, but there is such benefit in having your brain muscles thoroughly stretched and strengthened. I've grown intellectually in really important ways. I'm a better critical thinker, armed with a shiny new vocabulary, and I'm even more aware of how much I have to learn about the world and the many people who live in it. It's true that the more you see, the less you know - but it's a great feeling to be humbled by how much there is to explore. For me, a good feeling accompanies letting go of the idea that I can ever really know everything. That reminder to let go and stay humble has been an added blessing of all this studying.
One of the reasons I went back to school for a Masters was to find my "why." Doing theatre and performance just for my own pleasure and benefit was not cutting it for me. The drive and determination it takes to build a great career as an artist needs a "why" that can push you through the hard times, when performing isn't fun, when money is tight, and when jobs are scarce. I've had a hard time, throughout my performance training and career, pinpointing my "why." I would always write something down on my application - for camps, for colleges, for apprenticeships - but they never really rang true.
I am still in the process of finding my "why." I think of it like an archeological dig, where a scientist digs and then tenderly brushes away dirt from the individual pieces of dinosaur skeleton she finds, so that all those pieces can then be fitted together to create a full T-Rex or Triceratops, and the full picture can be experienced by humanity. Digging in my own heart and mind means exposing myself to different realms of knowledge, different experiments done, different experiences had by laypeople, scholars, and professionals, so that I can get a full picture of what theatre's job is in this world. Why has such an old artistic discipline, that of live storytelling, survived for so long, and delighted so many? Healed, and strengthened so many? For me, answering this question will help bring into clear focus the part of my "why" that has to do with serving other people.
In my research, I'm taking a look at what the work of theatre-makers in Northern Ireland is doing to help heal communities fractured by conflict. There is research that supports the hypothesis that effective applied theatre arts programming supports the self-efficacy and collective-efficacy communities need to re-cultivate after civil conflicts so that they can move forward towards health. Basing my hypothesis on this research, I think that I'll find that the result of 20+ years of community theatre and applied theatre practice in Belfast and Derry is a population that is well poised to become healthier and more whole. I'll be looking at the work of the Playhouse Theatre in Derry/Londonderry, the Theatre of Witness project, and the work of a number of excellent theatre makers who've helmed a number of independent projects since the 1998 ceasefire.
Mental health is incredibly important to me. The fact that theatre has been helping many people in post-conflict zones to become healthier, and to decrease their symptoms of PTSD and depression, really lights a fire in me to know more. I am doing research that will inform my "why," and will hopefully shed a light on one of the many important purposes theatre serves in this world.
I say my time in London has been a time of growth, because saying that "it's been amazing" wouldn't communicate the depth of this experience. I've really grown and changed as a result of all the unique and brilliant people I've met, the things I've learned (from experience and from books), and the challenges I have met and overcome. I'm closer to understanding the reason "why" I am a theatre-maker, and a performer, and I am closer to being the person I want to be. I am who I am at the end of this year partially by design (because I did what I planned to do), and partially by accident/surprise. This is how a lot of my growth has happened. And I think I'm starting to really like it that way.
Thanks for reading my extremely brief blog. I hope the pictures communicate some of the great moments I didn't get the chance to write about!
Hello everyone! Apologies for the late start on this blog. It takes a lot of prep to move abroad, and I am finding that not matter how much you plan and prepare, there are just some things that go awry, and you have to surrender to the mess, put your head down, and work through it. Some bumps endured in the first month and a half here: moving apartments after the first week, finding out the phone I had bought especially for this year couldn't be unlocked, having an old phone shipped to me only to have it held in customs for close to three weeks, and not being able to open a bank account or apply for a job without a phone number (which would require acquiring said phone held in customs). Almost everything is sorted out now, so I can sit down with a cup of tea and write to you about all my adventures so far. Thanks for your patience, and thanks for taking time to look in on me.
Landing in London in 2018 was very different from landing in London in 2013. When I was 20 years old and dragging two giant suitcases over the cobblestone streets towards the apartment off of Farringdon St. I would share with my American study abroad cohort, all I wanted to do was get far, far away from everything I knew, everything that seemed boring and limiting. Landing in London in 2018, I have a life I love back at home in the States. I no longer feel limited by my roots in Southern Indiana, and have over the past three years found limitless potential for creativity and originality, for the fostering of new and emergent voices, in the small college city I grew up in. I feel closer to my family than I have in years. I have amazing friends that reflect the best in me, and who have taught me so much about what goodness and success looks like. Three years out of undergrad, I am starting to feel that I finally know myself.
So it came as no surprise that during the first month of my time in London, I dealt with homesickness as I had never felt it before.
Homesickness for me has been a thing I can look at from two perspectives:
1) It sucks. It hurts. It's comes with moments of fear and deepens the feelings of unfamiliarity and loneliness you feel when getting used to a new culture.
2) It fills me with deep, abiding gratitude for all of the good people in my life, and for the awesome place I call home. These are people who answer my texts early in the morning and late at night, making me laugh and feel loved every day even from far away. This is a place that I can be proud of, even as I explore and learn to love a new place.
Obviously, it pays to choose the second point of view. However, I am human like anyone else, and sometimes homesickness just sucks. And you have to accept that it's going to suck sometimes if you want to move forward.
But right now, I can safely say that homesickness is the only thing about life in London that sucks. Let me give you the rundown on all the amazing things that make up my life right now.
I researched my programme as much as I could before I applied and later on accepted a place here.
Let me tell you that it is even more outstanding than I expected.
We are almost halfway through the first term, and so are halfway through the bulk of the theory we'll be studying (next term will be practice).
My main course is in Arts & Management. It's looking broadly at how arts & culture is being managed in the 21st century, based on mostly Western (European, North American) practices.
I'm also taking a course in Culture, Conflict, and International Relations, which relates culture and the arts to conflicts and shifts in international relations happening all over the globe. It's an in-depth look (from an academic perspective) into how culture effects how nations around the world are run (and vice versa).
Lastly, for this term, I have a course in Cultural Memory, which is integral to the way I'll be looking at peace-keeping, as it explores how we as human beings build our cultural narratives (the stories we keep and share of the most transformational moments in our history), and thus our identities. My hope is to build bridges and tear down walls through bringing artists from different cultures together to tell stories that reflect both cultures. Studying cultural memory helps me understand how cultures create their collective stories and histories.
I go to class for a total of 6 hours every week. I have 10 reading assignments per week, leading up to written assessments (many of which also have a creative element to them). At first glance it seems like a very light load. It's not. The British educational system expects its post-graduates to really be invested in learning, be self-motivated. If you want to get the most out of your degree that you possibly can, you will have to put in that work. There is no hand-holding. This, I believe, is really good. This is also the reason I chose to come to the UK for grad school. I believe it plays to my strengths, while also challenging me to motivate and educate myself without the help and nudging of anyone else.
My programme is filled with students from all around the world. It's also filled with mostly women, and taught by mostly female instructors.
I am one of maybe five Americans in my course. Astonishingly, there are only about 5 people in my programme from the UK.
Other nationalities include: Japan, Germany, Italy, Israel, France, Austria, China, Ireland, and Singapore.
I'm living in the borough of Kensington & Chelsea, right on the edge of the borough of Hammersmith, snuggled in close to Shepherd's Bush. Shepherd's Bush, as well as my little corner of Kensington, is extremely diverse. Many people here are from countries in North Africa, India, and the Middle East. Having spent so long recording with hijabi women in Bloomington, I was feeling down about being so far from my Muslim friends ... until I took a walk around my neighborhood and met dozens of Muslim women from all over the world. I love London.
My landlord's name is Marcus, and he and his huge family (he is one of 12 siblings) are from Iran. He and his wife raised their sons here in England. He rents out the property where I live with three other girls (all of us students), and one young man who's currently working as an actor in a West End show ("The Inheritance", go see it!). We're all from different countries (US, Thailand, Japan, Germany, and the UK), so cooking together in the kitchen is a treat, and one of my favorite parts of any day.
I'm a foodie, so I'm going to talk about the food now. London borrows cuisine from all over the world. I've loved eating at Turkish, Iranian, Italian, and British restaurants (big fan of the meat pies here). As a cook and a student trying to live on the cheap, I am obsessed with the selection and the prices at my neighborhood grocery, Lidel (which is owned by, and set up in the style of, Aldi's), and with the abundance of good French-style pastry in even the local bodegas and hole-in-the-wall cafes. London - you've heard correctly - is extremely expensive when it comes to rent, so finding a cheap grocery store with a great selection (especially of fresh fruits and veg) takes so much stress off my mind, and keeps me in the kitchen churning out amazing meals that make me happy (instead of crying on the Tube because I had to pay 5 pounds for another tiny sandwich from Pret).
The nearest theater to me is The Bush Theatre (of Shepherd's Bush), at a 12 minute walk from my door. I recently saw "The Adventure," in their studio space. It was a three and a half hour epic about an Indian couple - their love, their work, their struggles, and their family, over the course of seven decades. Let's just say that I'm definitely going back as often as I can.
In my first month here, I have been studying hard. Going from a conservatory degree to an academic degree that demands some serious study and research from you was an adjustment that I just tackled (not without some moments of silent screaming and a bit of imposter syndrome, but I tackled it anyway). As I've gotten the hang of it, I've also been exploring London's many neighborhoods (Notting Hill is a new favorite, Southwark is an old favorite but still has my hear and attention), and hitting up all the markets, museums, galleries, and various events I can (not to mention all the breathtaking architecture I can stand around and gawk at).
I've travelled to Brighton, Coventry, Greenwich, and took a train just south of the city for a football match at the Crystal Palace stadium (where I'll be watching an Arsenal v. Crystal Palace match just weeks from today!!! Yaaasss!). I've enjoyed the Borough Market (twice already because, come on now), a Southwark vintage Flea Market, and Portobello Road Market. I've kept the Aubrey Dance Break tradition alive by attending dance classes in: Argentine Tango, Scottish Square Dancing, and West African Dance. I shared true stories from my life at a King's College London live event for World Mental Health Day. I've enjoyed countless cups of tea, and many baskets of Fish & Cups (with fresh peas - mushy is not my style).
I've been to see some fabulous theater in London. Most theaters give steep student discounts, so I've been able to see amazing shows like "The Jungle" (Playhouse Theatre), "Eyam" (Shakespeare's Globe), and Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" with Ralph Fiennes (The National Theatre), just to name a few, for a pittance. Looking forward to catching more shows at theaters like the Donmar Warehouse, ad the Young Vic, and to tracking down amazing troupes like The Factory.
Now that I've gotten the hang of studying, it's safe to say I'll be getting out a lot more. I've joined the choir at my local church, signed up for King's College BeActive (which provides loads of amazing sports and fitness classes and meet-ups for the whole year), and made a list of more cool sites and events to attend. So keep an eye to my instagram (Follow me at @aubdaub) to see what I'm up to next!
Making this year count
I mentioned homesickness at the top so I could bring us around at the end to this point : I love London.
London feels like home to me, despite the homesickness, because it was here, five years ago, that I started to figure out what my values were, and how I wanted to live. So, when I touched down here on September 5th, 2018, five years wiser and more tuned in to who I am and what I want, I felt welcomed. I felt like here I could continue to stretch and challenge myself in ways I want to grow. I felt the gooey warmth this fabulous place brings to the center of my heart each time I am in it.
It is my intention to expand into that warmth every day I'm here, and to take advantage of every little thing that London has to offer to me. This is why I've returned (and also for the pastries - let's be real, it's not all about serious career advancement here).
I'm a big planner. I love being able to look towards my goals and see clear steps laid out that I can climb to reach those goals. Otherwise, the goal is disconnected from my reality and I get discouraged. Today, I created a mind map of the things I really want to focus on while I am here, and the goals that - when I reach them - will really make this year life-changing and affirming.
The overall goal (made up of all the smaller goals I laid out in my map) is that, when I set my feet down on Indiana soil once again in October of 2019, I'll have all of the tools and connections I need to make my dream organization a reality. Also, that when I return I am an even healthier, happier person, with a more informed and compassionate view of the world and all the people living on it. Both these overall goals are important, and always intertwined.
As I drew out each region of my mind map, and started setting baby steps for myself to complete over the next week, I felt again (for the 1,000th time since landing here) the giddy excitement of BEING HERE, right here, the place I have dreamed of being for years, and now get to enjoy, to work from, to celebrate and immerse myself in.
Here's to this year! #anaubabroad
Thanks for reading!