Art Scene UK vs. USA – Gabrielle Wilson

My name is Gabrielle Wilson and I am currently interning with Chisenhale Dance Space for the spring term. I am from New Jersey, USA. I am a theatre performance major with a minor in Arts Administration at Rider University (Lawrenceville, NJ.) At Chisenhale I am working as the marketing intern. It is very different from any other administrating jobs that I have had in the past. I am working closely with Laura, the Marketing head and learning a lot of new skills dealing with the marketing world.  As an artist myself I have the opportunity to see a lot of different theatre and art performances while in London. My first posts are about the differences in the art scenes here and back at home!

Upon arriving in London I knew that my life would be consumed with the arts, especially theatre. I have the great opportunity to study my craft here in London, get to work with Chisenhale, and see different art performances each week. I truly didn’t know what to expect from the different performances I have seen but there is absolutely a different atmosphere in the arts here compared to back home.

One of the major things that I have gathered is that the art scene here in London is much more experimental and “artsy.” Working with Chisenhale I am constantly surrounded by artists expressing themselves through movement and voice, pushing the limits of what art is and how it is perceived. It’s really incredible to be around and very inspiring as an artist myself. Even in the theatre pieces I have seen have been risk-taking driven. It seems to be that the pieces I have seen here are about the art/text itself rather than the full spectacle of a performance, which is all the Broadway, seems to be about these days. And shouldn’t all performances just be about the art itself?

The theatregoers themselves are very different from back home. One of the things that I learned has been that the English people are very much language oriented, they go to the theatre to listen. In the USA people go to the theatre to see, much more visually oriented. In London going to the theatre is a whole event. You might go get food first at the theatre, have pre-show drinks, and then ice cream in the intermission, and then leisurely head home afterwards. Back home I don’t believe that going to the theatre is like this. People may go eat before or after the show but no one is actually allowed to spend time in the theatre. When you arrive to the theatre you’re herded in right to your seats.

Both arts scenes are putting on incredible works but it is very interesting to see how the arts are appreciated here much more than back at home. The audience members go to enjoy a time, not to outwardly criticize it upon sitting in their seats. At home everyone judges immediately and the performance hasn’t even begun yet! Art is openly expressed here and taken for just how it is presented. It’s less about the spectacle of a performance and about the art, language, body, and the voice itself. It’s very beautiful and exciting to be around and I look forward to seeing many other pieces while here.

In my series of blogs while working here at Chisenhale I am going to stay with the theme of the arts and how it is different between the UK and the USA. In this one I want to bring up and focus specifically on the idea of an audience member. I have been to several pieces of theatre and different art shows back home and am racking up many performances here in London as well. In my opinion I can’t help but feel different when I am sitting in the seat here rather than sitting in the seat at home. It may be a crazy thought but how one conducts him/herself in the presence of art or a performance is quite different across the ocean.

The most recent show that I have gone to see was The Turn of the Screw at the Almeida Theatre. I had not ever heard of the show and really only knew that it was about a ghost, thanks to my professor’s hints. Upon getting inside I sat down quietly and leisurely and waited for the show to begin. Right before the clock struck 7:30 I remembered to grab my phone and shut it off and then it hit me, at all of the performances I have been to here in London there has not been the standard, “Please at this time we ask you to silence and shut off your cell phones and please open all hard candy now.” I was shocked. That is one the staples of going to see any kind of performance in the USA. I began to think of why and it really connects back to my previous blog. Theatregoers here make an experience of the night. It wouldn’t even cross their minds to have their mobile on in the theatre because they are not there to be connected to the outside world. They are at the theatre or any other performance to be inside of that world. Obviously in the USA people that go to the theatre and performances are there to be apart of that artistic world as well but the fact that we have to be reminded to shut off our phones (which most people still don’t and then it ends up going off mid performance) is crazy. When I go to a performance I want to be disconnected from the outside world completely and fully commit myself to the performance right in front of me!

One of the other major differences that I have noticed while being in the audience is that there is a lot less moving around and getting up while a performance is going on. Now this isn’t a totally frequent thing in the USA but I have always seen several people chatting, people coming in late, and people getting up to use the bathroom. Here in London I have not seen people chatting in the audience, I haven’t seen an abundance of people getting up to use the bathroom, and I have not seen anyone coming into the performance late. I absolutely can’t stand when people come into a show late. Especially as an actor if I am onstage and I see a faint shuffle of people or rustling around it really irritates me but then again as an audience member it disconnects me as well.

In my opinion I have felt much more focused and attentive while being an audience member here in London because I am less distracted because there is not outside noises, phones ringing, people rustling around and I think it has improved me as a theatregoer. I look forward to seeing many other performances and how the audience members are behaving themselves and how they take in the overall performance. It is very interesting to see the different qualities and I can’t wait to take some of the ones I have learned here back home to the USA.

After seeing a number of shows here in London I have noticed tons of differences between the arts in the UK and the USA. This past week I had the opportunity to see The Captain of Kopenick at the National Theatre, I was beyond excited! The National Theatre is one of the most prominent theatres in London. Once we got to the theatre and after I hit the bookshop we received our tickets from our professor and headed to our seats. We had to go up to a higher level and along the way one thing I kept noticing was all the different restaurants on each floor. I peaked around to see them on each floor and they were each a full-blown restaurant! This reaffirmed the fact that going to the theatre here in London is a true full affair; the theatres themselves are providing a full restaurant for you right at the venue themselves!

Now of course back at home people will go get food or drinks before or after their show but no theatre that I have been to back at home in New York City or Philadelphia has ever had a restaurant within the theatre itself let alone several restaurants. In New York there is also a theatre district where there are well-known theatre restaurants (Sardi’s and Carmine’s) but they are still a little walks away from the theatre itself. Both of these places are swelled with people before and after the show but maybe not as crowded as the restaurants I have seen within the actual theatre itself here in London.

With every show that I have seen here whether it is in the West End or a smaller scale show every single place has had a sit down restaurant. People go to the theatre early to have a full meal, enjoy their show, have some ice cream in the intermission, and then after the show have drinks all within the theatre limits! It is a true experience and a time when a theatregoer attends a show in London, they have it all in the same vicinity so that the people enjoy their night truly just at the theatre.  The people have everything that they could want at the theatre and might not even want to go home at the end of their drinks or coffees (just to catch the last tube ride!) This is one of the most interesting things that I have noticed and have fully submerged myself in taking part of it! Now when I’ve gone to the theatre I get there early to eat and have a drink and definitely always get the ice cream! It is a nightly affair and I really try to soak it all up.  When I head back to the States I will go back to popping back and forth from restaurant to the theatre, it won’t ever be the same.

My final blog for Chisenhale Dance Space, it is very emotional for me to even think that I have to leave this place next week and head back home to the States. I have learned so much through my time here at Chisenhale and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. The skills that I am taking away from this internship have helped me in so many ways, I now feel confident in my marketing skills, which I had not even a clue about before starting back in January.

Having the opportunity to work in an arts organization with such specific visions and goals that Chis aims for has truly been inspiring. As an artist myself it has been refreshing to be in a space where pure experimentation is welcomed with open arms. I have not felt that way in a lot of spaces back at home. Having the openness and willingness to take a risk within a work is what a true artist strives for and the fact that Chisenhale supports this is incredibly inspiring.

I really wish my time here at Chisenhale Dance Space didn’t have to end, I feel like there is so much more that I can do and contribute to the organization. I have all intentions on coming back to London to live and work one day so hopefully I will meet with Chisenhale again in my future. To all of you that I have met I thank you for guiding me and making me feel so welcome. Chisenhale Dance Space and the people I have met through this organization will always be in my heart.