10/19/2015 Peter Durantine

Theatre Major Answers London Call With Aplomb

In early summer, Franklin & Marshall College theatre major Clare Fitzgerald was preparing to attend West End on Demand, a professional performance program in London. She was feeling nervous and unsure. What if she wasn't ready for such a big stage?

But when she arrived for her first lesson, Fitzgerald discovered her drama studies at F&M had more than prepared her for the prestigious conservatory's rigorous training.

"I realized that I had nothing to fear," the junior said. "Not only was I excelling in my classes, but from my classes at F&M, I already knew many of the techniques that the West End professionals were teaching us."

  • London's Victoria & Albert Museum, where Fitzgerald viewed an exhibit on theatre and performances of England. London's Victoria & Albert Museum, where Fitzgerald viewed an exhibit on theatre and performances of England. Image Credit: Clare Fitzgerald
  • Seeing the sights of London was part of the study abroad experience for the theatre major. Seeing the sights of London was part of the study abroad experience for the theatre major. Image Credit: Clare Fitzgerald
  • "This is 'Dance Works,' where all of my classes were held," Fitzgerald says. "It's a major hub for West End productions, where auditions and rehearsals are held for shows like 'The Book of Mormon,' and 'Billy Elliot.'" "This is 'Dance Works,' where all of my classes were held," Fitzgerald says. "It's a major hub for West End productions, where auditions and rehearsals are held for shows like 'The Book of Mormon,' and 'Billy Elliot.'" Image Credit: Clare Fitzgerald
  • The dance studios where Fitzgerald studied were in front of the famous grand clock at Selfridges, the  high-end department store that opened in 1909 on London's Oxford Street. The dance studios where Fitzgerald studied were in front of the famous grand clock at Selfridges, the high-end department store that opened in 1909 on London's Oxford Street. Image Credit: Clare Fitzgerald
  • "I rode the bus every morning to class from my flat in West Kensington, and would pass the Royal Albert Hall, opened by Queen Victoria in 1871," Fitzgerald says. "I rode the bus every morning to class from my flat in West Kensington, and would pass the Royal Albert Hall, opened by Queen Victoria in 1871," Fitzgerald says. Image Credit: Clare Fitzgerald
  • "We took a backstage tour of 'Les Miserables'  at the Queen's Theatre, which was definitely one of the highlights of the trip!" "We took a backstage tour of 'Les Miserables' at the Queen's Theatre, which was definitely one of the highlights of the trip!" Image Credit: Clare Fitzgerald
  • Behind the sets on the Queen's Theatre stage are signatures from all the actors who have been in the long-running "Les Misérables." Behind the sets on the Queen's Theatre stage are signatures from all the actors who have been in the long-running "Les Misérables." Image Credit: Clare Fitzgerald
  • Fitzgerald, as a first-year student, performed the lead in the F&M Theatre Department's production of "Spring Awakening." Fitzgerald, as a first-year student, performed the lead in the F&M Theatre Department's production of "Spring Awakening." Image Credit: Melissa Hess

Each year, the College's Theatre, Dance and Film Department selects one or two students for the Schaffner Summer Theatre Study and Travel Award, a $5,000 gift specifically aimed at providing students the opportunity to study in England.

"Theatre majors have to research, make a plan, and then draw up a proposal to earn the award," Associate Professor of Theatre Carol Davis said. "They need to look into plane fare, accommodations, and either be accepted to programs in which they want to participate or propose a demanding schedule of attending live performances."

This immersion into British conservatories and London's West End theatre productions are academically enriching and unforgettable, recipients say. 

"It was one of the most influential, life-changing experiences I've had," Fitzgerald said.

To secure her spot, Fitzgerald presented a proposal to the department detailing her desire to attend West End on Demand's Summer Academy, offered through the London Study Abroad Experience, Davis said. At the academy, Fitzgerald attended three weeklong workshops in acting and directing. The British faculty and students she studied with also work in the London theatre as directors and actors.

"During a warm-up for our master class of 'Les Misérables,' we did the same breathing exercises taught to me by Carol Davis in my acting classes, and I was able to immediately recognize the technique and discuss it with the amazing actress teaching us original choreography," Fitzgerald said.

Likewise in her "The Lion King" workshop, Fitzgerald found the choreography entailed using the same modern dance techniques she had learned from F&M Assistant Professor of Dance Jennifer Conley. And the conservatory's singing-the-healthiest-way-possible techniques were the same ones Gwynne Geyer, F&M's artist-in-residence for voice, had taught her.

"Clare took advantage of the rigorous curriculum here at F&M, and that made her a peer among the London conservatory students," Davis said.  "I’ve seen her grow as an actor since she has been here, through acting classes and production rehearsals."

Fitzgerald, who wants to pursue musical theatre, entered F&M determined to excel, securing the lead in the musical, "Spring Awakening," in her first semester.  

"It was clear that she was a very strong singer when she arrived at F&M,” Davis said. "Clare is someone who makes the most of every situation."

In between classes, Fitzgerald explored the city of London, visiting such sites as Camden Market, the Globe Theatre, Big Ben, St. Paul's Cathedral and several museums, including one hosting an exhibit on theatre and performance culture in the United Kingdom.

"I also attended nine West End theatre productions, but most important, I made friendships and memories that will last me a lifetime," Fitzgerald said.

Now abroad for the fall semester in Dublin, Ireland, Fitzgerald is at Trinity College, where she is taking classes in theatre and English.  

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