Sunday, January 14, 2007

The other class

The other class I'm teaching this semester, not the survey, is essentially a spring break trip attached nominally to a course so it can be called study abroad. That is, I meet once a week for 50 minutes with 11 English majors for the first ten weeks of the semester to prepare for a trip to London, where we'll do some touristy stuff and see four plays. Then we'll come back and write papers on them.

"Fifty minutes a week?" you ask? "How does that add up to three credits?" Well, apparently, the time spent in London counts as the other thirty classroom hours. I am as unhappy about this as you might imagine. It's not that I want more work to do--the class meets in the late afternoon, so my preferred 150 minute format would take us well into the evening. But what the hell am I supposed to teach in ten 50-minute classes?

So here's what I am teaching.

Week 1: syllabus, policies, tour prep, and questions

Week 2: present briefly on a site in London that you know about from a work of literature. Craft and hand out brochure detailing it's literary appearance and information about its current situation--still around? open for business? tourist details?

Week 3: Read play #1: Equus (starring Daniel Radcliffe--aka Harry Potter--did I mention that 91% of the students are female? and that the main character is called for to do a nude scene?)

Week 4: Readings on West End and its place in London culture.

Week 5: Play #2: The History Boys, One of the problems of this course is that I am limited to what's playing, what I can find out is playing, and what is not already sold out. I could not, for example, get tickets to the National's production of Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

Week 6: Historical London: Read an assigned chapter from A.N. Wilson's London: A History, and create a handout that summarizes important events while highlighting 3-5 potential sites that we might visit while in London.

Week 7: Play #3: Attempts on her Life: by Martin Crimp. Edgy and kind of avant garde...will likely baffle many of my students, at least as far as I can tell. it's out of print, and I've never read it, only about it. So I'm getting a copy and reading it post haste. Thank god for e-reserves.

Week 8: Cultural Capital. I'm having them read Horkheimer and Adorno on the culture industry...the first paper assignment after they return is to take a stab at a cultural studies approach to a tourist site and it's use of cultural capital. The assignment may bomb, but dammit, I can't run this class if I don't have a little room to get them to think critically about the whole idea of tourism.

Week 9: Maybe Merchant of Venice. I'm stoked that Flavia just posted this great item on Theatre for a New Audience's production of the same play, 'cause I think this one's be a pretty straight up one for the tourists who come to Stratford on holiday. You us.

Week 10: The rest of London: Prepare a quick presentation on one other site in London you hope to visit and what its "educational value" will likely be. I've got at least one Princess Di buff in the class, so I'm kinda psyched to see what she'll bring in. I'll be presenting on the Tate Gallery, which I am so stoked to visit. Oh wait...I haven't mentioned that I've never been to London? or off this continent? or that I'm really just a provincial lad who lucked into this whole cosmopolitan/academic role by virtue of, well, who knows? Well, no one asked me that when they asked if I'd teach this course, so hey...we're all learning here!

Week 11: Itinerary review and Travel Etiquette: Suggestions from my readers here warmly, desperately welcomed.

The trip (Spring Break is late this year, so London in late March will be cold and rainy, I
m guessing...just a shot in the dark).

After that? a few weeks wherein we meet briefly to talk about the trip, pass out assignments, workshop the papers, etc. They turn stuff in at the end of the semester, and we're done.

I'm really resisting the fact that this course is going to be so light...yes, it's true that many of my students are from rural areas and have never had the opportunity to travel outside of this and bordering states, let alone to another country (like, ahem, myself). So maybe all that's good. but one short class day on any text longer than Ode on a Grecian Urn seems like it borders on irresponsible pedagogy. We'll see what happens, indeed. Ultimately, I'm kind of excited...I mean who wouldn't be by the prospect of taking 11 college students to see Equus (and naked Harry Potter )?


Mazi said...

Very Interesting!
I am having a Media theory class, which deals with kind of the same subjects but from a slighty different perspective. I would be happy if you read my latest blog:

Dr. Crazy said...

Things re: travel to London:

If I were taking a group of similar students, I think I'd spend a bit of time on the following:

1) Pronunciation of place names. Nothing can make a person feel more intimidated and podunk-y than screwing up on something like "Leicester" square.

2) Clocks are often in military time, which is a bit disorienting if one's not used to it, particularly in the afternoon.

3) Oh, and another one related to time. People will often say that something is happening at "half-nine" when you ask for the time, which means either 8:30 or 9:30 (I can't remember which - which, as you might imagine, is the problem).

Those are the things that occur to me thinking back on my first trip to London (which was also my first trip out of the country). Also, make sure to encourage your students to try Indian, Caribbean, etc. food while there! Actually, I had some of the best Chinese food I've ever had in London, too.....

Anonymous said...

Cool!! I took a summer class (getting rid of the Shakespeare requirement) in Stratford for a month one year. It was great! We had tech people from the RSC come in to talk about their work --- costumers, makeup artists, vocal coaches, there's a theatre historian there who gave a history of past productions of the plays we were seeing, and talks my some of the actors. We only spent a weekend in London so I didn't see much ... it might be fun to sign up for one of those "literary tours" that walks you through where Dickens and Johnson lived etc.

On the survival mode: jet lag is pretty severe that first day. Related: everyone kept warning us about watching for cars coming from the opposite direction (cause they drive on the left, dontcha know) and I guess a couple American tourists get killed every year or so 'cause they're too jet lagged to remember this.

If you want decent food or fresh fruit/veggies, just go to a Marks and Spencer and keep some in your hotel room --- the food is very boiled. And salty.

And they kept telling us to pack light --- believe them! I didn't like to leave stuff in the dorm room or the youth hostels I stayed in and I had _way_ too much. (Related: my friend can tell you never to bring the complete works of Shakespeare on the trip --- shell out the extra money to buy the paperback editions over there)

A word of warning to you --- the drinking age is much lower there, so some of your undergrads may take advantage or not know how to handle drinking yet. Have fun chaperoning!

Ok, that's way too much info for a comment. You can tell I really loved the whole thing!

--- trystero