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New York City: Theatre, Film, and the City

Quinn Cavin ’19 – I learned more in five days about storytelling in New York City than I learned in months in Crawfordsville. It’s simply a matter of the extreme diversity of art in New York City and the acceptance of experimental and bold stylistic choices. I saw the most inspiring shows I could imagine and had the greatest week of my life.

Acting Workshop with Marc Weitz (far left).

Acting Workshop with Marc Weitz (far left).

I was wildly surprised by where incredible theatre can come from. I saw shows on Broadway, Off Broadway, and in small local theatres. The best theatre is not congruent with size, funding, or location. I saw the largest show I have ever seen at the largest proscenium I have ever attended, Fiddler on the Roof at the Broadway Theatre. It was far from the best piece of theatre I have ever seen. The large crowds destroyed any notion of intimacy I had with the actors. Because I was not emotionally attached to any of the actors, I could not sympathize and was not invested in the story. I was not seduced by the choreography and underwhelmed by the music. However, in a theatre seating less than 30 people, I saw the most indescribably fascinating and surreal show I could even imagine. Ship of Fools was far from flawless, inexperienced, and potentially vexing to some viewers. But it was majestic and raw. Fiddler on the Roof felt boring, because it was safe and simple. However, I may never forget, but may always struggle to explain the symbolism and effects in Ship of Fools because it was the most unique and sophisticated spectacle I have had to pleasure of experiencing.

My full attention and emotional investment was captured by Sleep No More. Unlike large Broadway musicals, I was eminently close to the actors, within 6 feet at any given moment. This is a testament to proximity’s relationship with emotional engagement. I have never been so monumentally engulfed by a narrative, as I was with this this loose interpretation of Macbeth. Another contributing factor to my submersion is that I had choices within the show. I chose where to go, who to watch, and the view I wanted. Because the actors could interact with the spectators, we were a part of the story, too. On nearly a dozen occasions, I had some variety of physical contact with the actors. Whether this was being taken into a small hut and spoon-fed tea by a nurse, clothing a naked, wet, and crazed Lady Macbeth, or being a young woman’s last kiss after being poisoned by Hecate, I was living the story. I was inundated by the characters’ struggles and plights. I wanted to help them and I felt genuine sympathy for their quandary. It was the greatest theatrical experience I have ever encountered.

Meeting Jessica Phillips was a really important reinforcement for my understanding of how to be successful in the film and theatre industry. I collected several tidbits from conversations with her, like the necessity of networking, where social media resides within the business, and edict of interacting with the hierarchy. As important as these concepts are, the most important part is perseverance and dedication. Auditioning is critical. Especially early on, actors should audition for everything they can, if they think they are qualified or not. While between jobs, creating content is essential. Actors can make their own jobs if they are writing scripts and helping produce theatre or film. Between constantly auditioning and crafting, an actor cannot take a break.

In short, I fell completely in love with the city. The diversity of theatre to experience and people to meet is unflinchingly boundless. I was heartbroken to leave it behind.

2016 NYC Theater Immersion

Rory Willats ’17 – It isn’t about knowing a celebrity. It’ about building a community

A week in New York City gave me the opportunity to see some inspiring theater, to eat some unforgettable food, and most importantly, talk to and learn from performers, writers, and other artists working in the city. These are people wading through the jungle of NYC theater every day to find and make their own work. Some of my most memorable talks were with Nick Rehberger, Jack Moore, Ashley Black and Emily Koch. My biggest take-away from these conversations was a shift in my understanding of an old cliché; “It’s who you know”. It truly did seem to be that who you knew mattered to finding success in the city. It wasn’t, however, though helpful, dependent on knowing a celebrity or bigwig in the theater scene. Rather, who you knew was about who you had as a support group. It’s more about your cohort, the friends to remind you of your passion, to keep you on your feet, to find a way to enjoy a 400 sq ft. apartment in a city where leaving that apartment seems to cost $20.

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Acting with the Camera exercises at The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens.

Originally, I thought “It’s who you know,” was a bitter way to express dissatisfaction that the theater scene isn’t a meritocracy and that, “if only I had known the right person – that’s all it took for what’s-his-face and I’m better than him!” And there is certainly merit to looking for upper connections in the business to learn from the best. In our lunch talk with Jack Phillips Moore, Literary Associate at The Public, he encouraged us to email those in the business we admired and ask to grab coffee and talk about their work. After all, “everyone LOVES two things: coffee and talking about themselves.” Jack emphasized that people in the business recognize the struggle of the emerging artist and usually want to help. I took from this that it is advantageous to know people in the business, to find the best and learn from them. However, that doesn’t have to be a product of fate. Rather, you can take it upon yourself to meet the who’s of the, “who you know.” It isn’t that the only way to make it in New York is to have a connection when you move. You can move and make the connection.

Jack also talked about how through connections with friends, through being willing to work hard and developing a cohort, the connections that create a career are made. He told us to volunteer to help on as many projects as possible. Which will later yield work is impossible to know. His position at The Public stems from a job he got only because a friend of his told him about it and encouraged him to apply. Similarly, Nick Rehberger, who played Fyedka, and Tess Primack, ensemble and swing for four roles in the production of Fiddler on the Roof, talked after the show about their journeys to Broadway. Both leant heavily on their friends from undergrad for support and business connections. They told each other about auditions and entertained each other through nights of crummy apartment living and rejections.

This was reinforced when I met Emily. After our last show of the trip, I stopped by a friend’s birthday party. I had met this friend, Stephanie, at a workshop for a show the previous summer. I didn’t, however, know any of her friends. Nervously, I started chatting with the woman next to me. I would later find out that her name was Emily, she had just left a run of playing Elphaba in Wicked for two years and that she wasn’t allowed to talk about her next project. She was tearing up the city, knew great connections and now I had met and befriended her. All through a connection from a weekend-long gig months ago

Originally I found the phrase, “it’s who you know,” disheartening. I don’t have an agent. I don’t know casting directors. I know very few people in the city. However, now I realize that what’s more important is knowing good friends, building a good support system. And now, I’m encouraged by the phrase. I’m graduating with a strong, caring and generous cohort from Wabash and am ready to lean on them for support and inspiration as I tackle the theater scene at large.

Reflection on New York Immersion Trip

Henry Swift ’18 – New York is the capital of the world, it’s the Big Apple, it’s America’s metropolis. It is a melting pot that brings people from every walk of life in the same area and forces them to cooperate. New York is America’s theater capital because it is so diverse. It has shaped the American theater since there was an American theater. Broadway is big and beautiful and showy, but the real action in theater is happening off Broadway. The off-Broadway shows that we saw moved me more because they explored more emotions and issues. Off-Broadway shows like Nat Turner in Jerusalem used theater as a tool to explore issues that Broadway shows cannot touch.

The crew in front of the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.

I learned that New York lives up to the stereotypes. Everyone walks fast, no one makes eye contact, everything is kind of dirty, the people are not friendly, but it is diverse, and no one cares what you do. This is all true because it has to be. The city is huge so people walk fast to get to where they’re going, no one makes eye contact because they are surrounded by strangers, it is diverse and accepting because there are so many different ethnicities represented in the city that people do not have time to care about racial differences. New York is New York because it has to be.

New York was brilliant, it was loud and bright and private and overwhelming. I learned that the appearance of a show or restaurant does not tell us about its quality. The worst looking restaurants and the most modest shows were my favorites. Teachers have been telling me that looks are deceiving since I was a first grader, but the trip gave me a better idea of what they meant. This trip helped through another step of my education and helped me to think critically about what makes something worthwhile.

Really Immersed in Using German Language

The Wabash guys got a fun break during the week learning to make authentic German pretzels.

The Wabash guys got a fun break during the week learning to make authentic German pretzels.

Erich Lange ‘19 – As we begin the second week of our trip, I have finally grown accustomed to the fact that I am actually in Germany.  I am no longer in a classroom in Crawfordsville  speaking German with nineteen and twenty year olds. For the first time ever, it has become necessary for my classmates and me to utilize our acquired German language skills in nearly every daily interaction — from purchasing a Döner Kebap at the corner store to asking a local resident for directions. Over the past two days of our immersion trip, our capabilities have continued to grow.

Students at the former site of the Tübingen synagogue.

Students at the former site of the Tübingen synagogue.

Unlike in the United States, the Monday after Pentecost is a holiday in Germany, thus we did not have “Unterricht”, or class, for the day. Instead, we worked on group projects on a topic of our choice. My group, in particular, did research on youth culture in Germany (specifically Tübingen). With the topics of our project spanning from music to politics to sports to modern slang, the best way for us to acquire the information needed for our project was to interview German students studying at the university in Tübingen. These interviews required us to not only use our German, but carry on a conversation regarding some pressing issues of the day — all in a foreign language.

Yet, immersion learning is about more than just the classroom. That’s why Monday afternoon, Professor Tucker took us on a tour of the city with the specific theme of Jewish life in Tübingen. Of course, when talking about Jewish history in Europe, the Holocaust is unavoidable. After visiting a memorial dedicated to the Jews of Tübingen, we walked a little over a mile into what seemed to be a normal, residential neighborhood. However, if you stopped to look at the sidewalk, you could see small, metal plates embedded in the pavement. The brass plates are placed at the home of Jewish families and people who were deported in the Holocaust. On the brass plate is the name of who lived there, the year they were born, when they were deported, the camp(s) they were at, and if they were liberated or killed in the concentration camps. The moment of clarity for me was when I saw the plate of Ruth Marx, an eight-year-old girl shot and killed alongside her mother outside a concentration camp.  Until then, the Holocaust had always been something distant and in the past. It was not until that moment in which I stood at the door of that little girl’s home, in the street in which she played, that I fully understood the Holocaust’s magnitude and depth.

Wabash men learning the art of pretzel making!

Wabash men learning the art of pretzel making!

On Tuesday, class resumed in the morning. Former TA Elena Mezger never fails to make the class fun and enjoyable. In the afternoon, the students and faculty participated in a pretzel-making workshop at the “Gehr” bakery. There, we not only learned how to make authentic German pretzels, but also learned the history of pretzels and how they are tied in with the history of southern Germany.

After the workshop, we had our third meeting with our Tandem partners. These meetings are a time for us to casually sit down with a German student and practice our German in a conversational sitting. This was perhaps the most fun evening thus far, as we are finally settling into using German on a regular basis, and could truly interact with the Tandem partners on more than just a superficial level. Yet, perhaps even more important than practicing German with our Tandem partners is the cultural awareness that the Tandem meetings give us — teaching us understanding and acceptance.

This experience over the past ten days has truly been extraordinary, and I could not imagine having an experience like this were it not for the incredible opportunities Wabash offers. Immersion learning allow students to not only further develop their skills learned in the classroom, but learn the necessity of cultural acceptance and understanding, and what it truly means to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely.

Weekend Excursions in Germany

David Mason ’18 – We began our weekend with a trip to Stuttgart on Saturday. About an hour north of Tübingen, Stuttgart is a bustling city with more foot traffic and geographical spread. Once we made our way through the city, we visited the Staatsgalerie art museum with its massive displays of both historic and modern art.

We had approximately an hour and a half to view whatever interested us, with a small assignment attached. Professor Tucker asked us to describe, in German, two works of art that particularly interested us. This was a great exercise in applying the German that I’ve been preparing since I began studying the language my freshman year at Wabash. We had to describe the work’s appearance from the viewer’s perspective, a task that is not all that common unless you regularly study art. Describing visual art in words is already difficult, but doing it in another language is even more challenging.

Over the weekend, students had the chance to visit a Mercedes-Benz Museum.

Over the weekend, students had the chance to visit a Mercedes-Benz Museum.

While viewing the art was visually compelling, it was also a fun challenge to attempt to read and understand the complex summaries of the different exhibits in the German language. The gallery offered translations in English as well, but I enjoyed trying to see what information I was able to glean in German before checking the English. It’s always helpful and informative to see examples of how one says certain phrases in German. Reading difficult things like that improves your attentiveness and focus when reading; in other words, it is great for comprehension.

Ronnie Posthauer ’15, a German major and Wabash track runner, met us at the gallery to hang out and see the exhibits with us. Ronnie has spent most of the last year working as an Au-pair in Dortmund, Germany. Naturally, he has been speaking German almost the entire time. Since graduation (the last time I actually talked to him was probably still when the spring semester of 2015 was at full-speed), his German has improved to what I would consider Native level. This means two different things: He sounded like a German when he spoke German, but he also sounded like a German when he spoke English. This was extremely puzzling initially, as Ronnie (despite the German-sounding last name) is quite American, at least according to the last time I heard him speak. He said that other people had pointed it out but that he doesn’t really notice. I’m glad I got to run into Ronnie and see the progress he’s made with his German, as it was proof that I too can achieve such a level of fluency. I heard recently in Germany that you know you’re an “insider” when people stop complimenting you on how well you speak the native tongue. Such must be the case for Ronnie.

After the gallery, and then after lunch, we all trekked to Mercedes-Benz Museum. An architectural wonder, the museum was massive and featured a downward-spiraling eight-story chronological telling of the development and history of Mercedes-Benz from the late 19th century to the present time. Each level had car displays and plenty to read and learn about the technological advancements of the company. I particularly enjoyed, as at the gallery, attempting to decipher the German-language exhibits before reading about each presentation in English. I noticed an inconsistency between the German and the English displays: The German displays completely used the present-tense while the English used the past-tense. For example, the German version would say that in 1912, the Titanic sinks. But the English version says that the Titanic sank in 1912. This is pretty much an irrelevant inconsistency, but is interesting to know for students of either language. If there’s one important thing to know from this, it’s that the translations are not literal and are edited to flow the best according to each language’s patterns and forms.

Both excursions within Stuttgart were great ways to view and learn about interesting topics that are relevant to the real world while also doing my best to follow along when reading German texts. By the time we were finished, everybody was exhausted. We quickly grabbed some dinner (for me, a Doener box with Rice) before many of us crashed. I stayed up a little later, but had no interest in going out. I have the sneaking suspicion that we are kept so busy on this immersion trip to prevent us from becoming too rambunctious and doing things that could get us into trouble. Even if that’s not the primary intention, it is certainly the effect. I say this only to emphasize that we are both staying busy and out of trouble, which may or may not be of interest to those who are reading these blogs.

Professor of history Sabrina Thomas explains the Roman settlements in southern Germany.

Professor of history Sabrina Thomas explains the Roman settlements in southern Germany.

On Sunday, we went on a shorter excursion to Rottenburg, which is both closer to Tubingen and much smaller than Stuttgart. I had no idea what we were going to learn in Rottenburg, but that only made things more interesting. A quaint and small town, Rottenburg am Neckar sits atop a former outpost of the Roman empire. Archaeologists found a museum’s worth of artifacts, ranging from currency to large structures to dining utensils. Unlike the prior attractions, everything at the Sumelocenna museum was in German. This posed a greater challenge, removing the crutch of my native tongue and allowing me to try my best to decipher the meaning of each exhibit. There was a lot to read and take in, and plenty that interested me. Before exploring the museum, we watched a short film about the ancient civilization. To say that this video was a great exercise in listening comprehension would be an understatement. One can say that this entire trip is one giant reading and listening comprehension exercise.

Once we finished visiting this museum, we had a brief lunch break. A bakery had earlier caught my eye, so I and two others went back to that bakery. I both love and fear those times where there is absolutely no other means of clarification besides asking the native speaker of German to repeat their sentence. It is utterly terrifying but also a confidence booster after the fact. One comes across many accents and speeds of speech, so that it seems like a huge feat simply to get through a meal in a different town.

After lunch, we briefly visited the cathedral, which was a gorgeous structure in the middle of town. There was a solid mix of people visiting the church (probably mostly our group, looking back) and people actually performing prayers. This reminded me that travelling to new places is not simply some big museum experience of viewing old objects used by people who have no present connection to us. Rather, I felt that I was in a real place where people still carry on with their ordinary lives. I get a weird feeling whenever people visit my historic hometown as tourists. It’s a weird feeling, witnessing other people see your home as something out of the ordinary. I’m sure that’s similar to how the residents of Rottenburg am Neckar feel when tourists like us stumble through their streets on a quiet Sunday, speaking English and pointing at everything.

The weekend exploring other towns outside of Tubingen was highly informative and definitely gave me more perspective on the southwestern region of the country. A key part of the immersion experience is attempting to step off the diving board into the deep-end of the new language, which is exactly what I got to experience, even if for a few hours. Thus, I would say that the weekend component of our immersion trip was successful. I definitely wish to return to Stuttgart to see the TV Tower, among other things. However, this was a great exposure to other parts of Germany

Meeting Alum In Germany a Highlight

George Go ’18 – Over the past few days, we’ve continued our excursions in Germany. This included visiting the Bebenhausen Monastery and the Schloss Museum, as well as having the privilege of learning about Germany’s political system from Wabash alumnus Dr. Jared Sonnicksen ’01, who is currently a post-doc at the University of Darmstadt.

Students in the interior garden of the Bebenhausen Monastery

Students in the interior garden of the Bebenhausen Monastery

On Wednesday morning, the group took a hike to visit the Bebenhausen Monastery. Although the trek up there a decent ways away, I think that I can speak for the majority of our group about how jaw-dropping the scenery of Bebenhausen was once we first arrived. Once we made our way down, we stopped and explored the monastery. An interesting fact about the monastery was that it was originally Roman Catholic and then reformed into Protestantism. The monastery showed this to us when we took a closer look at the building’s unique architecture.

The next morning we were greeted by Sonnicksen. After Wabash, he received a Fulbright to continue his studies at the University of Bonn with the help of a scholarship. He then taught English for 3 years, and struggled a little bit with the culture shift between Germany and America. Sonnicksen discussed how different the political system in Germany is compared to the United States. He talked, for example, about the Gewaltenteilung, or separation of powers. This included their parliamentary system being broken up into the Bundestag and the Bundesrat.

Dr. Jared Sonnicksen '01 explains the German political system.

Dr. Jared Sonnicksen ’01 explains the German political system.

Later that evening, we took an excursion to the Schloss Museum of “Alte Kulturen,” or old cultures. In this museum, they have ancient artifacts dating back to around 40,000 years ago. These cover the time of the ice age and the cognitive revolution in human development, and they represent some of the earliest art objects every discovered. We were able to see first-hand ancient figurines of various animals carved out of Mammoth ivory and then discovered tens of thousands of years later in caves outside of Tübingen. The museum also included pieces of ancient culture from areas such as Greece, Italy, and Egypt. We saw things such as ancient ceramic art, swords and armor, and sarcophaguses throughout the museum. Towards the end of the museum, we got to see sculptures of Roman and Greek figures including the goddess Athena to famous war heroes such as Alexander the Great. Although it has only been the first few days of our trip, it is easy to say that we have seen a lot of interesting things thus far.

Teaching Experience Enriches Career

Tyler Yoder ’15 – So with our last night in Chicago winding down, it is time to look back on our experiences today and throughout the week. Teaching this week in Chicago has been life changing in multiple ways, and I feel like all of us have taken home some valuable lessons.

Even though I have already completed the student teaching portion of my licensure, I was still excited to get this new experience teaching in a large urban school. What I found is that there are tons of ways teachers can effectively instruct their students around the restrictions that teaching in an underfunded school district can bring. I’ve found that the passion that these teachers have for their students is beyond amazing, and it’s something that future teachers should absolutely look to for inspiration.

Being in a school like this in practice is very different from simply discussing urban school in a seminar at Wabash. When you’re in the school, your words and your actions could have real world consequences, so the way that you try to bond with your students is incredibly important, and it could influence how students view you for years to come.

Getting to eat dinner with some alumni in the area who are involved with schools nearby was an eye-opening experience. Hearing some of their stories about their practices, their schools, and themselves can paint a picture of what a successful teacher for an urban school looks like, and they have great advice for anyone willing to listen.

Classroom Not Really That Surprising

Matt Scott ’17 – One of the biggest things that I believe happens to students upon arriving at their (Chicago) schools is the culture shock.  However, that isn’t the case for me.  I went to a school that was similar with a large amount of black students who enrolled.  It wasn’t as large of a number as Kenwood, but it was very similar.  Going into the first day, I knew pretty much what I was getting into and knew that there wasn’t going to be many surprises.  However, one thing I noticed is that there isn’t a lot of disrespect to the teachers as I thought there would be.  My high school had students who didn’t care who was the authority figure and disrespected almost everyone in the building.

I think another thing that I was expecting based off my own personal experiences was that there would not be many students who really care for their education.  While that may be true, there are also many students who truly care about being in class and working hard to get a good grade and hopefully obtain entry into a college. It is hard to see because there are indeed many students who are there just to get by, but hidden amongst those students are students who truly hang on every word of their teacher and strive for success.

If I could offer some advice for the students who are coming next year, I would make sure that you are fully invested in being in a place and school so much different from your own.  Even though you may think you have an idea about what school will be like, it is likely that it will be so much more different.  Enjoy the city and life that most are probably not accustomed to because it may change the way you view the city and city life.  Finally, enjoy teaching with the kids and host teacher.  You may not know it yet, but there could be a possibility you end up back in the CPS system, or working in a school you never would think you’d want to work in.

Chicago Classroom Might be Good Fit

Kyle Morgan ’17 – Teaching at Kenwood Academy High School has been incredible because it has been unlike any other teaching experience I have ever done. I have had the opportunity to teach classrooms that have more diversity than any other classes. My host teacher teaches African American History, which is something I have limited experience in.

Another new experience for most of the guys was public transportation.

Another new experience for most of the guys was public transportation.

I will openly admit I was nervous about teaching in a school that is more than 90 percent black because all of my teaching experiences come from rural areas in Indiana and Illinois. Yet, I can honestly say that my Wabash education fully prepared me for the challenges. On my very first day I led discussions on stereotypes facing urban students and specifically African American males. This led further into discussions about what students here in Chicago know about rural Illinois and the stereotypes that exist about where I come from. From there, we as a class explored solutions that could possibly help solve those problems. My students had the opportunity to learn about my background as well. I told them that I have little experience with diversity but was very excited to learn from them as well as teach them things that I know. They were very receptive and open to my experiences and what I bring to the classroom. I know my host teacher was very excited to have a young teacher in her classroom, and I brought a new way to connect with students, who I am not that much older than.

This has been an incredibly rewarding experience because not only have I experienced a new classroom setting with a fresh set of challenges, but I have enjoyed  doing it. I have received so many wonderful compliments from students and teachers at Kenwood, which has made my experience worth it. This experience has reassured me that I want to teach children someday and maybe even here in Chicago.

Classroom Experience Was Welcoming

Patrick Myers ’17 – When getting into to Chicago I had no idea what to expect. I had doubts about the hostel and also the school that I was placed in. The teachers and students in the CPS schools are similar yet different from the ones that are in my hometown. Curie Metropolitan High School has roughly 3,000 students, and Hispanic students make up 90 percent of the student body. There are also 22 history teachers in the department, and for the most part they get along with one another and collaborate well together.

Another part of the cultural experience is trying new cuisine.

Another part of the cultural experience is trying new cuisine.

The classroom setting and students were much different from what I expected. I expected the class to be a mess and not safe, and for the students to be very loud and not well behaved. Well, I could not have been more wrong about my expectations. The students were very well behaved, and responded well to me being in the classroom and were willing to ask me questions about my education and where I was from. Most of the teachers that I have observed created a good classroom atmosphere and the students responded well to the teachers’ actions and how they handled the classroom.

The urban education experience, so far, is something that everyone at Wabash should have the opportunity to do.  So far, this trip, has given me a new perspective on how education can reach different ethnicities in the classroom. Also, being a white teacher in a predominately Hispanic and Black classroom is something new that I had to face. I thought that I would have a very difficult time connecting with the students, but I actually had no problem with the students and they respond well to my questions. The advice that I would give future students is just take everything in and have a fun time, and do not go into the trip thinking that it is a waste of time. This trip has been amazing, and the school experiences have been even better.