Classes

So. It seems the biggest thing to write about here is the academics, because of the proportion of time it takes up. I think for the first time ever this is the dominant feature in my life (wow, that makes me sound like such a slacker). Luckily, all my classes are actually really, really interesting. As demonstrated below:

1. Directing I

Oh, this class. It’s so nice to be able to actually do a real, practical theatre class, and even better is the fact that the drama department here (and I take it to be true of college drama departments in general here) aims to actually prepare you for work in the theatre. I guess they don’t really have drama schools in the same way that we do, so to become an actor or stage manager or whatever you would actually go to a proper university and be a drama major. There are classes in dance, make-up, audition technique, lighting, musical theatre performance, everything. Also academic stuff, like theatre history, but not that much. So the result is that you are being actually trained for theatre (and trained thoroughly: even actors must take classes in technical theatre and directing, and vice versa), unlike at British universities where it is more about the academic and theoretical side of drama (not that I’m an expert, not doing a drama degree, but it’s the impression I get). ANYWAY, in short, I love my directing class. We discuss how to find work as a director, how to draw up rehearsal schedules, how to choose a play, how to work with actors, etc. as well as reading five plays and writing short papers on how we would approach directing each one. The main project is each choosing a play from a long list of about 50, writing a directing analysis of it, choosing music for it, writing a hypothetical rehearsal schedule for it, and then choosing a scene from it, finding actors, and blocking, working and running it in class, in front of everyone else. That part is a little scary, but should also be fun. I haven’t chosen my play yet but I’ve narrowed it down and will choose this weekend. Does anyone have any particular thoughts on Neil Simon?

The professor is an actual director who has acted and directed in New York and everywhere else for years, and he is the artistic director of a theatre festival that happens at UVa every summer. The classes are full of anecdotes and stories from his career. It’s awesome.

2. US Southern Documentary Film

This one is a small seminar (there are eight of us. Eight. No getting away with not doing the reading here.) mainly for fourth year American Studies majors, where we watch and discuss different documentaries about the South each week, but mainly we work towards our twenty-five page (that still makes me gulp every time I think it) research paper on the subject, which I think serves as a kind of dissertation for the fourth-years. But for me, I guess it’s just for fun and games. Oh god. The stuff is interesting though, and the professor (my only female one) is really nice and laid-back, and obviously very very clever (I could barely understand the thing she wrote that she made us read). It’s all very interdisciplinary, combining history, sociology and film studies. Good stuff.

3. Viewing America, 1940-1980

This is my most ‘normal’ class, this is the kind of thing everyone else has most of. We have two 50 minute lectures per week, in a big lecture hall of about 100 students, and then one 50 minute discussion class in a group of about 15. The subject matter is pretty standard US history, but with a focus on how events were viewed by the American people, so we look at a lot of documents and video/audio clips and we have to watch a film from the time period each week, plus the standard reading on the topic. We’re also doing a group project to create a website and lecture unit for the last week of class on a topic not covered in the syllabus. It’s all interesting, and a fairly large amount of work each week, but it’s a pretty good class.

4. American Drama

Oh, this one as well. This might be my favourite class. Well this and Directing. It’s another seminar, but with about twenty students, and the professor is a very experienced American Literature teacher who obviously knows his stuff but is very gentle with it and isn’t too overwhelming. It’s the students who are a bit more overwhelming actually, I think they’re mostly fourth-year English majors and my God, I think they’re the most intelligent people I’ve ever come across. But a really nice friendly group too, and the classes are really enjoyable. Each week we look at a different American play (last week ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, this week ‘Death of a Salesman’, next week ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’, etc. etc.) and we spend the first class just discussing the text itself, then we spend the second class looking at reviews of the original production and subsequent revivals, and also ways in which the play has created a legacy in pop culture (looking at videos on YouTube and suchlike), generally focusing on actual productions and reception of the play. We’ll also be writing papers for this class, but only (only! ha!) 12-15 pages, I think. So, you know, easy.

You feel so… properly studious in that class, sitting round in a circle of those chairs with half a desk attached to them (you know the kind I mean?), discussing the psychological intentions of Miller’s protagonists, or whatever. It’s also nice in that the professor says he hates giving grades and that he is doing the class simply because he wants to instill in us a love for these great works of drama. That’s something I’ve noticed more of here (especially in this class and Directing) – they seem to be actually teaching us with the real purpose of either directly helping our future careers, or just helping us to be better educated and better thinkers for life – rather than just covering a syllabus to get through it so that we can get the required credit. So amazing.

So, yeah. Work takes up like, all my time (I have only been able to write all this out since I am pretty much done with classes for the week but am still stuck in a library waiting to go to a meeting, so may as well do something) and yes, a lot of the reading is pretty tedious and hard, but the classes themselves are brilliant, and I enjoy all of them. Lucky girl.

Natalia xxx

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