What on earth, you might well be wondering, am I doing over here? This year, I blew town without handing out my address and phone number to most people. I didn't even realize I'd done that until about a month into this next year overseas. I'm still not quite sure what that means, to be honest.
On the first group trip to London, in October, I travelled here with the students: they gathered on the train platform in Exeter; I arrived on a train from Topsham; I handed out a bunch of paper; a London-bound train pulled in from Plymouth; we all got on and three hours later disembarked at London Paddington. I took everyone to lunch and to a museum; we reconvened a few hours after that for a play; most of us came back to our hotel together on the Tube. And since then, I've deliberately made things get a bit more fluid and dispersed each time we've gone on trips. Our chief reason for travelling this semester is play-going: I counted up, in late November, and realized that I'd been to no fewer than sixteen plays in three months--more plays than films in theatres, in fact. And on our most recent trips, I've actually come in a day early and even stayed a day later so as to put even more plays around my students' experiences: a brand new verbatim piece about the riots this past August; an amazing, gut-wrenching, muddy Hamlet touring here from Berlin. I'm growing conscious of the fact that our play-going semester is winding down; next semester, we'll still be seeing a few plays, but we'll be doing more with my actual area of specialty (back to Dickens, Hardy, Eliot, Austen), and our chief travelling will be to author houses.
What I somehow hadn't expected--because theatre and play-going have been special occasion material rather than essential, constant parts of my life--is how much I would love the critical and personal questions that theatrical production raises. I have long been pretty aware of the fact that my work is only to a fairly small degree bounded by the classroom--that much of what I do, much of where I am on the job, concerns mentoring people as they figure out how to live, figure out where they are in the world, figure out how the world works. And in these various theatres, it feels as though those questions all get vivified, vitalized, gathered up and hurled at us (sometimes relentlessly, sometimes mercilessly, sometimes even cruelly). Couple that with the fact that part of directing this program involves striking the right balance between (on the one hand) showing my students how, say, to use the London Underground or how to choose a wine to go with dinner or how to have a difficult conversation with someone who's hurting their feelings, and (on the other) not treating them like children who can't figure anything out for themselves, and you have what I'd call a very, very live pedagogical situation.
To wit: yesterday, as the students joined me (in town early for the muddy German Hamlet), I handed out theatre tickets, let the group stash its piles of laptops (seriously: eight Macbooks on my bed) in my room, and introduced the group to the tapas restaurant around the corner. "I love tapas!" half the group exclaimed. "What *is* tapas?" the other half exclaimed. Two hours later, we all parted ways, but then some of these sweet students called me up to invite me to go to dinner with them at our first theatre for this trip. I bought programs for the group (because at this particular theatre, the program is a playscript), and as I handed them out, a stranger asked if I were selling them. We saw the show. I changed our drinks reservation at a fancy cocktail bar (which has recreated a bunch of seventeenth-century punch recipes) near our hotel. We lost a couple of people getting on the first Tube and waited for them at our transfer point. We rolled up at the cocktail bar and stayed for a few hours. When two students hatched a plan to move on to a dance club around the corner at 1 a.m., I resisted their hard sell (I am a child of Just Say No, and they aren't my peers anyway), picked up our tab, and bowed out with the others who were ready to go to sleep.
This morning, it's off to a curator talk at the Tate Modern, where a many-metre high film is being projected in the Turbine Hall, and then on into our next two plays.
As far as I know, today does not involve any particular adventures. And yet the day always involves particular adventures, and so off I go into it.