Losing pounds (and euros)!

Ok here is a riddle- what do you get when you cross a love for education, theatre, and money from a university? Nikki’s undergraduate research grant! Yes, I will indeed be spending my summer researching TYA (theatre for young audiences) in the UK, specifically spectacle in theatre and what aspects most excite children. During my free time however, I intend to throw myself into the culture, embrace the history (read as pouring myself into everything Elizabeth the first) and explore the ins and outs of the UK. I will be interviewing many Artistic directors of famous TYA companies here, as well as the playwright David Wood, and see many different shows! Danica is funded by the Summer Undergraduate Research Grant program run by Northwestern’s Office of Undergraduate Research, which also sponsors these blogs.

Tips for Traveling alone

At times, it can be lonely. What can be fun is listening into other people’s conversations, and make up stories about their lives.

If you happen to be someone who sings to yourself or has a tendency to accidentally talk to yourself, and then realize only after you pass someone that you are talking to yourself, and then laugh at the whole situation, which only makes you look crazier — its ok, as long as you don’t mind mothers pulling their children as far away from you as possible.

Finding People to talk to:

Conversation Starter: Don’t be afraid to start up conversations at the theatre/ on the train/ in line. People like human connection, especially if you are an exotic foreigner (ok, so Americans aren’t that exotic, hate to break it to you but we are everywhere, but still relatively different!). Some of the best people you may meet are in those little conversations.


Pay it Forward: Find every moment you can to do something nice for someone else, including but not limited to: Helping someone bring their stroller down the stairs, helping someone with their bags if it looks like they are having trouble, picking change up for someone if it falls out while they are trying to pay, holding the door open, saying “thanks and have a good day” every time you leave a store.

Things, though quite kind, you probably shouldn’t do to a stranger unless extremely necessary: trying to walk someone else’s dog, picking up after someone’s dog (while the owner is present, bag at the ready), asking someone if they would like you to carry their wallet and passport, combing someone’s hair (unannounced), asking someone if they want your left overs because you hate food waste but don’t have a fridge, giving someone if they want a horsey back ride (piggy back ride is slightly more socially acceptable, only slightly though) .


Adoption: The urge to be “adopted for a day” by some elderly couple is definitely a real thing. If, after some listening in, you think you have found the right couple, here are some ways to start the connection (blanks refer to filling in wherever you are at): “What do you think of the _____” “Have you ever been to ____ before?” “Have you been to places like _____ before” “What led you to ______” “How old do you think ____ is?” “Isn’t the weather wonderful/horrible? I can’t believe we are having such great/bad weather!” “What else have you seen since you have been here?”

Things that maybe you should avoid starting the conversation with include: “Please be my adopted grandparents for the day.” “I am thinking we all need ice cream right now. Your treat?” “You look like you could use an extra grandchild to spoil. I happen to be available starting now.” “I need some human interaction, you two are humans.” If you do accidentally slip and start the conversation with any of these, my advice would be slowly walk away, facing them but avoiding eye contact, find another couple (IN A NEW LOCATION) and start the process over again.

The Addiction

Hi my name is Nikki, and I have been off of peanut butter for 32 days now. Unwillingly. You know, for the first month you don’t even realize that you are missing it. Sure an occasional “oh peanut butter would go really well with this” occurs, but it is more a drifting thought than an aching need. On day 30, I was traveling around the South Bank, looking for a good fruit smoothie. When I got there, I was looking through their menu and I thought something was missing. And then it hit me. Peanut butter was nowhere to be seen. They had berry smoothies, green smoothies, even a banana and honey smoothie, but no “peanut butter protein power” one, or “peanut buttana jive”. Naively, I asked the workers if they had it as an additive. While they looked apologetic as they stated “no sorry”, they clearly didn’t understand the gravity of their answer. I realized at that moment I had never gone this long without the delicious oh so manufactured jarred good, and the count begun.

If any of you readers happen to be popping to England in the next couple of weeks, please bring peanut butter. You will be greatly rewarded.

Mid-Pret Crisis

Dear Sally,

I am currently traveling through London, but I have been having some trouble lately remembering where I am. The other day I was sitting in Pret A Manger, passing the hours working on my laptop before seeing an amazing production of The Crucible and as each hour passed I fell deeper and deeper into the “where am I” pit. At one point I looked up, heard some people talking in British accents, and had to verbally remind myself where I was. Thank goodness for my wits, for I was mere seconds away from asking the locals “so how long have you guys been visiting the states?” However, I fear that something like this is bound to happen again. Do you have any advice?


Mid- Pret Crisis

A Parents guide to TYA Theatre Going

Fun guide to parents/grandparents when taking kids to the theatre, based on discussions I have had with the pros! (Some are obvious, some seem counterintuitive at first, but then make complete sense).

Conversation- though comments such as “look at that tiger!” or “do you see, the food just disappeared!” seem helpful to making sure children are involved in the story, these comments actually pull them out of the story. However, chatting about the performance after is always fun!

Phones- while TYA is geared towards children, that doesn’t mean it’s time to cruise through your emails. The shows are not only fun to watch (depending on the quality of the performers), watching the children’s reactions are priceless.

Choosing a show- If you are looking for really quality TYA, type in ASSITEJ America or ASSITEJ USA in on google, and look through the members. This is the Theatre for Young Audiences official website for the USA, and all the companies on there should be great!

Theatre for Family vs. Theatre for Young Audiences- I think I have said this before, but these are two very different things. Theatre for Family is fun for you because there are usually some jokes thrown in for parents/ older children. This is great because it really can appeal to people with five children, each three years apart. However, the youngsters sometimes get taken out of the story because of the winks at the adults, they want to be in the know too! Therefore, it is also really nice to take the young ones to see shows specifically for them, so they are in on all the jokes!

Age range- sometimes, age range is fluid, other times, it is super important. Doing a little research before seeing the show will help heighten the engagement of the child! (I saw a show a couple weeks back that was a little disturbing, and ten minutes before the show a mom with a twelve year old realized what it was about. Reading up would have saved them a little bit of money, and a little less stress!) You don’t need to follow this religiously however, it is just a good guideline — the people making the age range usually know what they are doing!

Anything Can Happen

I went to see a musical revue of this name yesterday, with songs written by none other than Stiles and Drewe (the duo that wrote Honk, Mary Poppins, and a bunch of other amazing shows), and it was great! The actors did excerpts from a variety of their shows including Soho Cinders, which intertwines elements of Cinderella with a homosexual political scandal (and if you are looking for a great soundtrack to listen to, I suggest this one. The song “I’m so over men” is a great upbeat fun song!).  There were songs from Stiles and Drewe’s  version of Peter Pan, which by golly someone needs to bring to the states. They wrote a song called Never land- which refers to never landing when flying.  If you are like me, your mind is blown (and also slightly embarrassed that you never connected Neverland with never land).




I then spent the afternoon with David Wood, and each time I chat with him I find him more and more inspirational (and totally cool). I found out yesterday that he also wrote  the play that was presented to the Queen on her 80th birthday (that was broadcast on BBC for 8 million viewers!). We discussed the difference between school performances and family performances, and different ways he  engages children in theaters and schools alike. For example, when going to a school, he tries to put the windows behind the audience, so they don’t get distracted, and stands in a corner of the room, so the audience’s focus is even more focused. Also, if he is doing a show for children 3-11, he asks that the 3-year-olds be put a couple of rows back. At first, that seemed a little odd to me, but it makes sense- if he is standing, everyone seated on the floor will be able to see him regardless of height.  It also gives the young ones a “security barrier” between themselves and the story; if they get scared during the story, there is a distance between them and the storyteller. These minor details keep the children much more engaged.

As David says “children are devious creatures, and half the time if they go to the bathroom during a performance it is because they are bored. My job is to keep children from going to the WC for an hour” and it was really fun learning some of the tricks that he uses!



Swords+Horses= Unicorns?

Ok, so in the past three days I have seen Warhorse, Julius Caesar (AT THE GLOBE!) and went to do interviews at the Unicorn Theatre (the UK’s National Theatre for young people).

Swords: The Globe is an amazing venue for theatre. Being a groundling, you really feel a part of the hustle and bustle of the play, and when Brutus and Mark Antony gave their speeches, I felt like they were addressing me, a citizen of Rome (all I needed was a toga and some sandals). Being in a space like the Globe made me understand just how easy it was to interact with the actors onstage, and next time I go, I think I will be more active and voiced, for that is what a show like this really calls for. That, and a declaration stating the illegality of airplanes flying over the globe, especially helicopters. Acting was amazing though and again made me feel that I was watching a play transported through history from the 1600s. (However, while there, I couldn’t stop thinking about if a bird pooped on me/ one of the groundlings, or even one of the actors for that matter.)

Horses: WarHorse may be my new favorite show. I can’t tell which is cool, the fact that someone was able to build two full size puppet horses for this show, or the fact that they are so believable at times you forget the three puppeteers are there. Though a simple story about a boy and his horse, it sure pulls at your heart strings. Peter Glanville, the artistic director of Polka Theatre, said that simpler puppets are sometimes better because the audience is able to project their emotions onto the puppet, and boy did that happen in WarHorse. But by far one of the best characters in the show is this little goose, who’s main objective for the whole show is to get into the human’s house. So simple, so funny, such a good performance.

Unicorn: Wouldn’t it be nice if theatres could do 22 shows a year? Wouldn’t it be nice if a youth theatre catered to all the ages, and put on at least 3 productions for each age group per year? Wouldn’t it be nice to collaborate with youth theatres all over the world, and tour to venues not only to places around a city, but all over the world? Wouldn’t it be nice to have sixty years of experience creating art for youth? Wouldn’t it be nice if theatres were able to put on shows that pushed boundaries, and know that the seats would be filled. I have found it. It is Unicorn Theatre. Since their beginning in 1947, they have catered to hundreds of thousands of children (and their grand children)! They focus on new voices and great storytelling- and next year they are doing a show about a woman in WWI who dressed up as a man and went into the military. It discusses her struggle of sending some many people to their death. WHAT!? SO COOL! feminism+antiwar= where can I purchase this play?


Thus is fate

I decided to spend some time in Stratford Upon Avon (while in England, do as Shakespeare does!), and so I spent two nights there. Shakespeare really is in there air there, and fate, one of his favorite topics in writing, played a huge part in my stay.

I still hadn’t figured out where I was to stay the night after, and as soon as I got to Stratford Upon Avon, I hoped for a third night there.

But, my room at the bed and breakfast I was at was not open the Saturday to Sunday. The hostess called a friend, and I was booked to stay at this new B and B. As the new hostess greeted me and asked me where I was from, I told her about my research grant in theatre for Young Audiences. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, her jaw dropped. Apparently, one of her good friends from the area had told her just the night before about working at The Unicorn, one of the theatres I am visiting later on. She called him, and I proceeded to spend my whole afternoon with him chatting about TYA, the Unicorn, Caryl Jenner (founder of Unicorn), and much more. He even had a puppet from one of the shows in his attic I was able to see, and incredible writings on TYA that have since gone out of print.

Do I believe in ghosts- I don’t think so, but after this meet up, I believe in the Magic of Stratford Upon Avon!

New Stories, Old Stories, as long as they are good stories

I just went to see Skitterbang Island at Polka Theatre! Similar to The Tiger Who Came to Tea in maybe one way- three actors, one male and two female in each. Other than that, a completely different atmosphere, story, and feeling.

While The Tiger Who Came to Tea constantly addressed the audience, they came in from the side of the theatre and waved hello to us before the show began, Skitterbang Island went into full swing immediately, telling the story of a girl and her uncle whose ship gets wrecked, and in the process of trying to find each other, Marie, the little girl, meets Skitterbang, a nice monster.


Skitterbangs intimate black box allowed children to see cross-legged on the floor, while The Tiger Who Came to Tea was in the theatre where Thriller Live also plays- so each child got their own ‘theatre seat’.


However, even with these large differences, both audiences highly enjoyed each performance (as did I). The puppets in Skitterbang were amazingly well crafted, and have only furthered my love for puppets and wish to master them (Maybe next summer’s adventure? Quite possibly!)

Skitterbang Island also is a new story to add to the cannon of TYA, something that David has done in the past, but also loves writing adaptations!

If you would like to really get into my research shoes, definitely check out this article by David! It discusses the difference between different types of childrens theater (ex. family theatre vs. theatre directed for a certain age group specifically) and quality vs. quantity of children’s theatre!


Tea at Browns

Today I went to tea at Browns both to read some good TYA plays (by David Wood, whom I had lunch with on Wednesday!) and was treated ever so sweetly there. It is like they knew I was in a foreign country alone… actually they most likely figured that. I was alone having tea with a foreign accent, but no matter they were so sweet. The typical 90 minute stay at a tea room ended up being 4 hours long, with four pots of tea, and two full tea sandwich, pastry and scones tray. Fabrizio, my french waiter (ironic right?) kept on bringing out the food like they were getting ready to cook me for tomorrow’s tea. If you are ever in London and willing to splurge on something divine, go to Browns, not only is it amazing, but it will make a wonderful memory. (Elegant tea in London! A must!)

Creative, or gross!

First night problems: Because I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, I settled into my room (and took about an hour-and-a-half trying to set up my Ethernet cord, which finally worked). I then headed out to the local supermarket, where I bought some yogurt. (Side story — I asked for a spoon and the man at the counter got one for me, however there was no plastic cover for it; when he handed it to me, I noticed he was holding it by its head.)  I guess my germaphobic tendencies must have hibernated upon my arrival in London…) I was just about to throw out the container when I realized it could serve as my toothbrush holder for the next nine days! Without any dish soap, I rinsed the honey and yogurt from the cup, and it currently sits awkwardly on my sink (while I hope no bugs choose to make a home out of the born-again honey holder).