Don’t get me wrong: I have learned a lot about theatre at SMU. But, at the moment, I am reveling in my theatre classes here at the University of Glasgow. They are brilliant. In just two days I have never felt more excited to learn about the history and theory of theatre.
For example, yesterday I had a lecture about the Futurists, the movement in theatre known as futurism. At the beginning of the lecture we were asked by to lecturer to take out our mobile phones and turn them ON. We started class with a ringtone symphony. Then he urged us to answer and make calls as well as text freely throughout class, making sure, again, that our volume was fully turned up! He asked us to do this, saying it would all make sense later. The second thing he asked us to do was prepare some “ammo”, crumpled paper and paper planes. When he said a certain phrase during the lecture he said that we should throw the ammo at him as well as boo and hiss as loudly as we could. When he tested it out for the first time he said it wasn’t good enough and asked if any of us had any fruit to throw. Then he turned on some Futuristic music on full blast. Futurist music is dissonant, full of screeches and shrieks and has the intent to “make your ears bleed”. He BLASTED this as he passionately read an excerpt of the Futurist Manifesto into a microphone.
After the music cut out he began an amazingly informative, entertaining, and engaging lecture about the Futurist movement. The Futurists were responding to industrialization, a new society filled with new noises, lights, beeps, and buzzes (why our cell-phones were on). They also were interested in theatre that provoked an audience. The futurists often created riots at their performances (why we were throwing ammo and boo-ing). He was not only lecturing about the theatre. He was asking us to engage with our material. He challenged us “Can you write an Anti-futurist manifesto? Can you create music of dissonant noises, shrieks, and sounds?” This wasn’t homework but I wanted to do it anyway! Yes, there was still powerpoint slides, definitions, photographs, but there was ENGAGEMENT. EXCITEMENT. He was absolutely passionate about the subject and with his lecture he not only educated us, he impassioned us. This is what learning is truly about.
But Kaysy, you say, the Futurists are just extra cool. It’s easy to create such an engaging lecture when you have a topic that so lends itself to that sort of thing.
I agree with you, smart human! But let me tell you about my other theatre class: Victorian and Edwardian theatre.
This class does not lend itself as well to weird lectures, loud cellphones, and audience participation, but I feel just as engaged. Today we went to the top of the 11-story library that I just found out is secretly a 12-story library. That’s right we went to the secret 12th floor of the library where there is a Scottish Theatre Archive. We split into 4 groups and we all looked at different artifacts from playbills to programmes, reviews to photographs. We got to hands on engage with the material and because this class is 3 hours long we still had plenty of time to discuss – what stood out to us? What can we learn from the artifacts about the time period? What is limited about relying on archived material to construct history? The whole class was a discussion – what is archiving? What do cultures choose to remember and forget? How can we both study popular culture as well as the people written out of history?
Our discussion was fascinating and of course the professor had plenty of tidbits of knowledge to throw in throughout to make the class both discussion-based as well as packed with important knowledge and material completely related to the course.
I don’t really know why I am writing this. It’s partially to tell you about some awesome things I’ve been experiencing in my classes but I’ve had a few revelations about the nature of education.
At SMU I had a difficult time getting excited about my theatre history classes. We read one book for each class and we did the same thing every day – listen to a lecture, look at a powerpoint, and maybe have a short discussion.
Here, I’m already learning the downfalls of reading one book: one historian’s view on history. It does not give you a complex and interesting look at the SUBJECTIVE subject. It only tells you of the popular, the well-known, the overview. By learning about the theory of history itself I am inspired to dig more deeply, to mine the library to gain a wide breadth of knowledge instead of one historian’s view of a complicated past.
I also am finding that I much prefer doing different things everyday. How do you expect a student to be engaged when you are not asking them to engage with the material in interesting and new ways? When a professor limits themselves to powerpoint educations, they limit their students interest and engagement with the material.
Lastly, I have been loving that all my classes put a huge emphasis on discussion. Discussion is so important. I think a professor should be required to lead and inspire discussions about their subject. I don’t mean ask fact-based questions or ask the students to come in with questions themselves. I mean professors should pose challenging and interesting questions based on the readings and in class material so students can think and learn and listen to each other. Discussion is key. A professor should not have the last word. Neither should the historians that are being read – it should be the students. We should be encouraged to challenge authority! Encouraged to question! Encouraged to disagree! At least that means we are engaged, thinking for ourselves, LEARNING. I am tired of the God Complex. One professor. One book. Word of God. I love that my classes here ask me to reject that and think for myself.
I am so happy to be studying abroad. When you go to a new university you find a new way of learning. Whether you like it or not it expands your world view and teaches you a thing or two about your education and taking it into your own hands. I’ve been really inspired to learn these past few days in ways I haven’t been at home. Once again, that’s not to say that home is “bad” and this is “good”. They are both different. And by experiencing both I can expand my potential.
This is what study abroad is all about.