Madeline Taylor (’17) majored in Theater Studies and minored in both English and Russian Culture and Language during her time at Duke. She studied away a total of four times through the Global Education Office to places both in the U.S. and abroad. The summer after her sophomore year, she participated in the Duke in London Drama program under the guidance of Professor Bradley Rogers. Below, Madeline shares some of her experiences.
On why she decided on Duke in London…
“I went to study at Duke with the intention of studying abroad extensively. When I was looking at Duke as a prospective student, I had already picked out abroad programs that I wanted to do, and the Duke in London: Drama program was actually one of the reasons that I chose Duke itself! However, the program runs biannually, and I had to wait a year for the program to be offered again.
So, during my freshman year, I took around six or so various drama or performance courses. And then, during my sophomore year, I took ‘The Theater Today’ with Professor Rogers. I came to Duke with an extensive knowledge of theater, but this course just opened my mind to theater history, legacy and theory in a completely new way. I really admired the way that Professor Rogers was able to think critically and speak with such depth and consequence about theater, and when I heard that he would be leading the Drama program in London, I was completely sold on it.”
On what surprised her about the program…
“Because I’m so interested in traditional theater, I think I only really focused on that aspect of the program when I applied. I didn’t think much about the fact that we’d also be studying so many other forms of performance. Don’t get me wrong – we saw tons of modern plays and musicals like you’d see on Broadway. But we also saw the English National Opera, the Russian ballet, premier dance companies, performance art, Shakespearean pieces, devised work, street performers. … I was always surprised at what we’d be seeing next, but never disappointed. It greatly expanded my vocabulary of storytelling, and it showed me how the tools of storytelling are transitive even between mediums.”
On what skills she developed while abroad…
“Learning how to connect the theory with the practice of theater was the most valuable skill I learned from this program. We gave attention to both the theoretical and the practical sides of theater. Not only did we critique and deconstruct performances, but we had to perform ourselves to learn how to be effectual and put our theoretical knowledge to the test.
We went on a backstage tour of the National Theater – which is actually my favorite theater company in the world – and learned about the process of creating a show, from props to set design to production. Once you can see the thing – the show – right there in front of you, it’s easier to see how the theory affects what you actually see and create. In this instance, we saw the set for the Young Chekhov series. An actual lake was built onstage, with real trees and grass and multiple-storied buildings. Understanding why things had to be arranged as they were to work in conjunction with the story was an impactful lesson that I’ll never forget.”
On her favorite day of the summer…
“We would wake up in the morning and have class downstairs every day. Class discussions were always lively – sometimes nearing debates – and this class has a major schism in terms of our ideas about Show Boat. I always felt surprised to learn about things I didn’t know that I didn’t know.
After class, we had time off, and I was able to explore. Our dormitory was actually adjacent to a cemetery, so it was spooky yet charming to sit outside and read on a cement bench. Our next class was acting, where we studied Shakespearean text with an actual past member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
And following that, my friends and I jumped on the tube and literally ran to St. Regents Park to catch a show that we wanted to see – Jesus Christ Super Star. We were sprinting through the streets of London, past 221B Baker Street, past famous historical landmarks, just to catch this production with an actual British rock star playing Jesus. We normally saw shows for class each night, but this one was not on the list. Even though we had a free night, we still chose to go out and see another show. It was a magical performance. ”
On what advice she has for other students considering the program…
“Even if you haven’t studied theater before or are just beginning, this program is about so much more than theater. It teaches you the rhetoric of daily life, since even daily life is performative. It teaches you that how you tell your story matters just as much as what the story is. It implicates the larger society in how we behave individually and as a group. Just give it a try, and it will certainly entertain you.”
On how her study away program affected her life now…
“I’m a professional actress, and being able to see these shows and examine them has made me both question my storytelling and consider the integrity of the story. It’s certainly helped clarify my vision in terms of what stories I want to be a part of telling. But this program also showed me just how easy it is to take a risk. Seeing so many daring shows pushed me to want to be better myself, and I carry that with me beyond my Duke life and into my career.”
How did/will this program play into the rest of your undergraduate experience?
“I knew that Duke had the right curriculum that would allow me to go abroad, and I loved the experiences so much that I never stopped going to school. I went to school every semester and summer until I finished everything that Duke requires, so I actually ended up graduating early.”