An Important Statement from our Executive Director

by Reynolds Whalen
Performing Arts Abroad Founder and Executive Director
January 30th, 2017

At Performing Arts Abroad, we promote cross-cultural understanding, embrace diversity, and encourage inclusiveness. We live at the intersection of two professional fields—international education and the performing arts—that exist for these very purposes.

We understand the need for a visa system that prevents those with malicious intent from entering our country. Part of our job is to make international travel as safe and meaningful as possible, and we support further development of processes designed with this intent.

However, the recent executive order to bar refugees and other citizens of specific nations from entering the United States stands in direct opposition to our mission of creating a more understanding world through artistic cross-cultural collaboration. It threatens the well-being of artists we know in our community and a number of PAA participants and their families.

This order further intensifies xenophobia and distrust of people based on their culture, religion, and appearance, and we adamantly oppose it. We urge the current administration to lift the ban immediately, and we encourage our colleagues and fellow artists to join us in doing the same.

If you are a student reading this who is concerned about your immigration status and how these policies may affect you or your family, I encourage you to read this excellent resource from the Office of International Services at Indiana University who is setting a great example in our field.

Now more than ever we encourage you to explore the world, push yourself out of your comfort zone, reach out to those different from yourself, and form relationships that challenge you to be a more compassionate person. Our society needs informed artists to boldly proclaim truth and stand up to oppression, and it needs it now. This is your moment to speak up.

PAA Music Volunteer Sarah Pinto embraces one of her students in Costa Rica

Five Friends You Make Studying Abroad

IRE - 1We at Performing Arts Abroad are incredibly proud of the Study Abroad programs we offer in Ireland, England, Italy, and New Zealand, as well as the participants who go on them. Students are applying now for Spring semester, and in honor of them and the $1,500 scholarships we’re offering (more info on that here), I wanted to take a look at the type of people you’re sure to run into while abroad.

For the purposes of this post, we’re sticking with people who are also international students like you. This way you can look in the mirror and ask, “Oh wow, which one am I?”

#1 The Homebody

Whether you’re in London or Barcelona, Limerick, Ireland or Dunedin, New Zealand, chances are you’re probably going to want to get out there and explore! There are new places to see, new streets to roam and new foods to eat, and most of your fellow international students will be right there with you.

Let’s hit the town!

Then there’s the Homebody. The Homebody rarely ventures out, and when they do, it’s not for long. You might ask why they came all this way to experience the thrills of a dorm room in a far off land, but who knows?

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Yes but it’s an ITALIAN twin size bed.

Maybe they’re pacing themselves. Maybe they’re like this at home. Maybe it’s their first time traveling on their own and it’s all a little overwhelming. Whatever the case, don’t write off the Homebody. They make hanging out at home more fun, and once they’re more comfortable being in this exciting new place, who knows, they may even evolve into…

#2 The FOMO

FOMO stands for Fear of Missing Out, and you couldn’t keep this person home if you tried.

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The FOMO only has X number of minutes in this amazing country, and by golly they are not going to waste a single one of them! Going hiking this weekend? The FOMO is there. Seeing a play tonight? The FOMO is there. Visiting the market, having a party, or taking a tour of the most haunted basements in London? You can always count on the FOMO.

Check...check, check, checkcheckcheckcheck.

Check…check, check, checkcheckcheckcheckcheckcheck

Remember though, it’s not a good idea to try to keep up with the FOMO the whole time. You can drive yourself into the ground having so much fun, and if you burn out early you can unwittingly turn into a Homebody. Whoa, we came full circle there, didn’t we?

#3 The Insta-Local

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Nobody wants to look like a tourist (especially when we are one) but the fact is, no matter how hard we try, we’re going to stick out in a new place.

Sometimes it's best just to lean into it.

Sometimes it’s best just to lean into it.

Whether it’s because of a language barrier or our unfamiliarity with the local transit system, it takes time to get your bearings and feel comfortable in a foreign city.

That is, unless you are the Insta-Local. The Insta-Local immediately blends in seamlessly, either through instinct or a concerted effort. Within hours they can navigate the local transit system blindfolded. Within days they’ve got the local sports team’s jersey, know all the cheers, and can tell you everything about league standings. Within two weeks they’ve developed an accent that will stay with them the rest of their lives.

Wha--? How? I didn't even know there was a beach here!

Wha–? How–? I didn’t even know there was a beach here!

The best part about being friends with the Insta-Local is that they’ll know the coolest hotspots in town that only the locals know about. We don’t know how they know, but they do. It’s like a 6th sense.

Like the pub where you have to bring your own instrument.

Like the pub where you have to bring your own instrument.

The polar-opposite of the Insta-Local is the “Everything is Better Back Home” friend. We were going to give this person their own number, but they’re super annoying. Don’t be the EIBBH friend.

"I like the pizza back home better" "I swear I will stab you with this pizza cutter."

“I like the pizza back home better than here in Italy.”
“I swear I will stab you with this pizza cutter.”

#4 The Party Animal

4th7 copyWe all go abroad for different reasons. For some it’s the adventure, for some it’s curiosity, and for some it’s a chance to get away from home. For the Party Animal, it’s the lower legal drinking age.

There’s no doubt about it, there are exciting clubs all over the world and the Party Animal will find them.  You won’t see them much, and the “study” part of study abroad may or may not happen.  (These are rarely the PAA participants.  We’ve found that performing artists have a drive and intensity about them that precludes debauchery.  Mostly.  Obviously we’re very proud.)

#5 The Best Friend

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This is an exciting time in your life, and you’re doing something that will stay with you forever. I love hearing my mom’s stories from her semester in Spain in the 60’s. (For some reason their housing was in a convent. The old Spanish nuns and the precocious American college girls weren’t a great mix. But I digress.)

You’re on an adventure, and chances are you’ll find that one buddy to be adventurous with.   You’ll wonder where they’ve been all your life, and be grateful they have just the right amount of goofiness in them to match yours.

They’ll give you the courage to do things you might be to scared to try otherwise, and won’t make you feel guilty on those weekends you’re just tired and want to stay home. Keep an eye out for the Best Friend.Eymundson 7 copy

PAA Welcomes Caitlyn Conley!

Barcelona

Barcelona

Performing Arts Abroad is thrilled to announce the newest member of our team, Caitlyn Conley!  Caitlyn started on July 11th as PAA’s new Program Advisor.  She will be helping potential participants select the program that is the best fit, and encourage them to realize their dreams.

Here’s a quick interview so you can get to know Caitlyn a bit better. You can also read her bio on PAA’s Meet The Staff page on our website.

You’ve mentioned that you live your life and pursue your art based on a set of values. What are these values and how do these play out in your art and day to day life?

I definitely believe as artists we all need an artistic perspective or a base of why we do what we do that intersects with our outlook on life. There are 4 words I love keeping in mind in my work as an actor, writer, an educator and any other role I fill. Those words are connection, generosity, communication and specificity. I love connecting people and I totally think art is an incredibly generous thing we give each other. I use these words to keep me on track with my values and so far they’ve been able to get me to places that have people who not only share similar values, but also similar outlooks on life and creativity!

 

You have an incredible background in international travel, acting and the performing arts, and writing / blogging. Where do these aspects of yourself intersect? How do you see this playing into your role with us?

It is so awesome how much they all not only run parallel to each other but also find ways of intersecting. I really believe the skills I learned in training to be an actor have totally prepared for me a life of travel, education and writing. As a performer I gained so much self-confidence and the ability to comfortably connect with others face to face. I learned how achieve objectives and clearly communicate my thoughts. All of these things help me everyday but they especially are essential in traveling and meeting so many new people. As an advisor, I look forward to being able to utilize my knowledge and experiences to help others achieve their goals.

 

Me in a refrigerator box in a production photo from “True Believers” a play that took place at Comic Con.

Me in a refrigerator box in a production photo from “True Believers” a play that took place at Comic Con.

 

What excites you the most about Performing Arts Abroad and your job here?

So many things!! After my first day with PAA I went home and told my boyfriend I was in the scene from Annie where she’s in Daddy Warbucks’ house for the first time. The people working here have created an incredibly supportive environment full of knowledge, experience and wanderlust. I love being in an office where everyone is talking about the places they just returned from or going to, everyone is excited for each other’s opportunities and celebrates their success.

On the outside of that, I am so excited to be able to be someone who provides life-changing opportunities to others. Both travel and the arts have shaped who I am and I am a big believer they can be transformative for anyone who pursues them. I look forward to working with students about to embark on these adventures and hearing all about their experiences.

 

You describe yourself as a “basic millennial”. What does that mean? How does this make its way into your art and writing?

I think it’s important not to take yourself too seriously. As performers and artists, that can sometimes be tough because we fight super hard for our work and we are in a medium where an audience of 200+ people clap for us when we do a good job. Sometimes we just have to make fun of ourselves. I am super proud of what I have achieved in my life but at the end of the day I still go home and watch the Bachelorette and take selfies.

 

A selfie with my dog, Walter Jr.

A selfie with my dog, Walter Jr.

 

Tell me about a current or recent artistic project you’ve worked on.

Since moving back to MA I’ve taken a small break from theatre and film to focus more on writing and theatre education. Currently, I’m working on a book of essays about our experiences from ages 26-29 in this crazy and sometimes ridiculous, technological world we live in. Whether it involves dating, travel, careers, moving to a new city or taking the next steps in our lives, we’re all trying to navigate our way in a time that our communication and access to information is unprecedented – it really makes for some hilarious moments.

 

You’ve traveled and lived abroad extensively. Hit me with your funniest / most awkward travel story.

Oh boy.

I was in Cusco, Peru in 2010. The city had just suffered through landslides that devastated much of the city. It was pretty barren. I was 22 and up until that point I had mainly just travelled the UK. I had very little experience in places too far out of my comfort zone but I was really eager to learn about a new culture, so it was at the top of my list to try Guinea Pig while I was there.

My boyfriend and I went to a local restaurant that served it. The place looked really fancy and the food was relatively expensive so we felt that the risk for food poisoning was low. Plus, they looked like they were struggling for customers, we were the only guests there.

When we sat down we ordered the Guinea Pig, or “Cuy,” in our broken Spanish. Our waitress looked at us, trying to communicate something that seemed super important. Once she realized we did not understand her, she started making a quick running motion with her hands. We still didn’t get it, so she just did the motion faster. Finally, she opened her eyes very wide and then closed them several times. It hit us. She was telling us our food was still alive and they would have to kill it and cook it. She was warning us this may add to the time it took to prepare dinner.

I was mortified, but still committed to the cultural experience.

The Guinea Pig was served to us on a plate, fully intact. He was propped up, frozen in a running motion with a very surprised look on his face… he wore a tomato hat.

I walked down the street back to our hotel doing that thing where you’re crying and laughing at the same time.

 

The aforementioned tomato-wearing Guinea Pig

The aforementioned tomato-wearing Guinea Pig

 

What’s something important you’ve learned about yourself from traveling abroad? What piece(s) of advice would you give to first time travelers?

Oh my gosh. There are so many things you learn about yourself when traveling. Things that you just can’t learn unless you’re in the situations travel puts you in. Besides the skills you pick up from learning different cultures and languages, I learned how adventurous I can be, that I can make friends wherever I go, I can successfully navigate the world on my own, among so many other things. All of these aspects about myself have made me a happier, confident adult. I now trust my ability to make decisions and stay true to myself.

My advice would be to stay present. When we travel we tend to get overwhelmed with logistics and planning. Once those are out of the way, just relax and truly be where you are because you are creating memories you will have for the rest of your life.

Coming Home to “Real” Life

10855041_10155293338945043_7223358695315736448_oBen Abbott is Performing Arts Abroad’s Outreach Coordinator. He is also a professional actor with credits around the country including this upcoming summer at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.  

I recently got to play Black Stache in a local production of Peter and the Starcatcher.

Margot

My daughter came to work with her mom in the costume shop one day. “I hate, I hate, I HATE CHILDREN!”

When the show closed I found myself once again in that familiar post-show funk. If you’re an actor or performer, you know what I mean. The show closes and if you don’t have another project lined up right away you can go through a bit of a depressive period. I was talking about this with PAA’s Executive Director, Reynolds Whalen, and we realized that there are a lot of parallels between the post-show funk and coming home from a program abroad. It might be helpful to point them out, especially if you already have experience with one or the other.

#1 Starting is a ramp, ending is a cliff.

Whether you’re preparing for a program abroad or a performance at home, it doesn’t happen overnight. In the case of this play, auditions took place back in January. Then rehearsals began in March and they ramped and ramped until we got to tech week, dress rehearsals, previews, and then finally opening in April. Each step along the way was a natural progression from the one before it until finally culminating in opening night and the plateau of a regular performance schedule.

Post show funk blog

Spoiler Alert *


There’s a long ramp into going abroad as well (say for one of our volunteer programs.) You look at the programs and decide which you want to do, you apply, you go through pre-departure orientation, you pack, and then finally you go! The program itself is the final culmination of months of preparation and anticipation.

But in the end, it just ends. Closing night arrives. You fly home. You had weeks or months gearing up for the start, but there’s no winding down period at the end. In both cases it’s full throttle until the finish line and then you just…go home.

#2 Goodbye Structure

For the month or so that Peter and the Starcatcher ran, my whole day revolved around that 6:30 call time. But it wasn’t just a time commitment. That show kicked my butt, and I had to be ready to give it 100% every single time, which meant budgeting my physical, mental, and emotional resources around those performances. Then one day, it’s gone. Every time a show closes I think, hey this will be great, I’ve got that many more hours in the day freed up to be productive. But along with the freedom can come a strange sense of emptiness. As it turns out the show wasn’t just a drain on my physical and emotional resources but was also the rudder that gave them direction and structure. With it gone, I have to reorient myself and find a new North Star or I’ll just flounder.

When you come home from abroad it’s an even bigger shift.  Not only are you not doing the same things, you’re not even in the same time zone anymore.  If you get to have a break after working hard at an internship or volunteer placement that’s great, but going from a packed schedule everyday to nothing can actually make you a little crazy.

#3 Everyone’s a stranger all of a sudden.

Whether you’re in a cast or a group of students abroad, you’re part of something together. Those two-show days are exhausting for everyone and the burden is that much lighter because you’re all lifting it together. On a program abroad, everyone around you is experiencing the same rhythms and sounds of life in Spain or Italy or Costa Rica or Ireland.

Pictured: Team Work

Pictured: Team Work *

When it suddenly ends, it’s hard not to feel isolated. You’re no longer part of an ensemble. Your life stops being a shared experience, and you didn’t realize how much you’d grown accustomed to the camaraderie until you all fly to your separate homes and it’s not there anymore.

#4 Where’s the rush?

I know this might be a shock, but real life isn’t as dramatic as the stage. I mentioned earlier about the physical and mental drain of the show, but holy cow was it also an adrenaline rush. The thrill of the play itself and the massive positivity from the audience all made for a daily dopamine jolt, and just like any drug, stopping cold turkey can lead to a crash.

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Hard to find this kind of attention and excitement around the house. *

When you’re abroad, there’s a constant heightened sense of adventure, and it can work the same way. Coming home means coming back to real life, which is always going to seem duller in comparison.

So what’s the best way to fight the post-show funk and the coming home blues?  For me, the best tonic is throwing myself emotionally into the next project. Whether it be a writing project, work, another play, another trip, or heck, doing some serious spring cleaning, if I can throw myself headfirst into something, I can avoid some of that let down. If I try to come off of something so exciting and thrilling and just step back into everyday life, I’m for sure going to experience a crash.

So the answer to all this shouldn’t be dread, depression or self-pity. Those are just self-fulfilling feedback loops. The answer is to charge headfirst into what’s next! Get excited about school! Get excited about that next audition or that next trip! It’s ok to relax and take a break, but you’ve got to be excited about what’s next.

Anyway that’s what’s worked for me. Good Luck!

*Photo Credit: Jace Barraclough‎

West End Musical Theater Training…for High Schoolers!

weodhs - 1Earlier we told you about how, for the first time ever, we’ve launched two new programs specifically for high school-aged students.  Well today we want to talk about one of those programs: the High School Musical Theatre Training Program in London.

If you yourself are a Musical Theater kid, then you already know why London’s West End Theatre district is amazing.  If you’re not, check out this quick primer about the West End I wrote last summer, and this post about why you should study theatre in London I wrote for a promotion we were running earlier this year.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…

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I built this while I was waiting.

Amazing, right?  And our West End Musical Theatre training program is right in the middle of all of it.  Taking classes and workshopping with West End performers, choreographers, and musical directors in famous West End studios is like a dream come true.  And now you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to do it!

You’re never too young to learn how to get fake beat up.

Here’s a screenshot of part of the schedule.  (You can find all of this and much more on the program page on our website.  This is just to give you a taste).

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.11.30 AMLook at that and tell me it isn’t what you wish your life looked like right now.  What are “West End Workshops?”  I’m glad you asked.  That’s where the actual actors and choreographers in current West End shows teach you numbers from the shows they’re in as a group.  Yes, it’s as amazing as it sounds.

2015-07-27 10.13.33 copy 2So what’s the difference between the hugely popular program we’ve been running for years and the High School version?  Is it like West End Musical Theatre training-light?  No!  It’s the same program!  If you’re talented, you’re talented, it doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 36.  The only difference is the housing (you’ll be with other minors) and a couple extra people there for you behind the scenes to make sure your time in London is safe and runs smoothly.

There are two types of people.  Some of you will read this and think, “Hey, that sounds like a sweet program.  I bet the people who do it will have a lot of fun.”  Others will say “I HAVE FOUND MY CALLING, WHY AM I NOT ON A PLANE HEADING TO ENGLAND RIGHT NOW?!”  Whether you’re in the first or second group, I highly recommend reading more about it on the program page.  If you are in the second group, I recommend either starting an application immediately or contacting our program advisor at advising@performingartsabroad.com for more information.

Ben Abbott is Performing Arts Abroad’s Outreach Coordinator.  He is also a professional actor and most decidedly in the second group.

Programs for High School Students!

Do you want to know one of the toughest parts of working at Performing Arts Abroad?  It’s when someone inquires about a program and you can just tell they’d be an amazing participant.  They’re bright, they’re engaging, they’re talented, and they’re passionate.  But then you find out they won’t be 18 by the time the program starts and you have to tell them they can’t apply.

It’s not that we’re ageist.  There’s a long history of amazing young performing artists.  (Heck Mozart started composing when he was three!)  So if Yo-Yo Ma can perform for the president at 7 and Anna Paquin can win an Academy Award at 11, why can’t a 17-year-old study dance in Spain or teach music in Ecuador? Well the boring and frustrating answer is that it has to do with things like insurance and liability and other words that lawyers throw around when they tell you you’re not allowed to do something.

Anna_Paquin_Comic-Con_2012 copy 2

“Seriously?”  We know Anna Paquin, we know.

This has bugged us fro years and for months our director has been toiling away, so we are so excited to announce two new programs available to high school students!

hallelujah-squirrel-editedThey’re both modeled after existing programs that are hugely popular with just enough tweaks to tailor them for high school aged participants (and they’re concerned parents.)

The first is the High School Musical Theatre Training Program in London.  Our Musical Theatre training program in the West End is one of our most popular programs for a reason.  You get to train under some of the best dancers, actors, choreographers, and directors in the world, all in famous studios where West End shows are rehearsed.  We made some phone calls, worked out some details, and now we’re running a special summer session for high schoolers.  It’s going to include all of the same amazing perks, just with a few additional arrangements to help your parents feel more comfortable.

The second is High School Costa Rica Summer Experience, and this one we designed just for you! (Assuming “you” are a teenager who’s into the performing arts and wants to explore another country with other performing artists in a cultural exchange unlike anything you’ve experienced that will change both you and the people you work with in amazing ways.)  It’s a two-week program that winds through Costa Rica and includes everything leading workshops at a volunteer placement to collaborating with other young artists to create a performance piece combining your various talents.

You can click the links to find out more, but for right now, suffice it to say we are so thrilled about these programs and the fact that we don’t have to turn away amazing artists just because they haven’t turned 18 yet!

Wolfgang approves!

Wolfgang approves!

If you’re just such an interested dancer/actor/musician or if you know just the kid who’d LOVE one of these programs, let us know and let’s get the ball rolling!  You can communicate directly with a program advisor at advising@performingartsabroad.com or just go ahead and apply now.  (If you apply before the end of April you can get $500 off the program fee!  More info on that here.)

Ben Abbott is PAA’s Outreach Coordinator. Before that he was a program advisor where he had exactly the conversations with disappointed applicants that he describes in this post which clearly traumatized him more than we realized at the time.

 

5 Reasons You Should Study Theatre in London

This post is part of our #PAA5Years Scholarship celebration.  In honor of 2016 being our 5th year of operation we’re offering scholarships to favorite programs in FIVE different destinations.  Today we’re highlighting London where our RADA and West End Training programs are both eligible for scholarships up to $1000.  Click here for more information.

OK, let’s just be honest. I feel like I’m preaching to the choir here. I’ve been acting professionally and in school for over a decade, and I think I can safely say that there is a higher concentration of anglophiles in the Theatre than any other profession. Maybe it’s Shakespeare, maybe it’s the long history of amazing British actors, maybe it’s the BBC dramas we all watch, or heck, maybe it’s just the cool accents, but we all want to go to England. Well guess what? You absolutely should. Not just to visit—to study!  To study theatre!   So, preaching to the choir notwithstanding, here are some reasons you should totally go.

  1. Move over Broadway, London is officially the Theatre capital of the world.

national-theatre copyYes, you read that right. The Great White Way may dominate the American psyche as the cornerstone of (especially Musical) Theatre, but according to a recent study, London has a bigger theatre audience. Bigger than any other city in the world in fact! Live theater generates more revenue that cinemas, and shows that start in London get exported around the world. You want to go where Theatre is sewn into the fabric of life more than anywhere else? You’ve got to go to London.

  1. Tickets are cheaper…

This one is especially on my mind because I’m going to New York City in a couple of months, and I thought I my try to see a show on Broadway while I’m there. Why not check out what’s popular right now? After looking into it I decided I didn’t want to spend twice the cost of my plane ticket on a single seat in the nosebleed section. Broadway tickets are crazy expensive, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to buy them from the theatre itself. When you have to turn to one of those second hand ticket sellers, it can get downright obscene.

Meanwhile, the average ticket price for a West End show is $70—significantly cheaper than Broadway—and people there are freaking out about how high that is. If the cost of tickets gets too high, so they say, only the older and more affluent will be able to attend and that’s seen as a huge problem.  Gee that sounds like it would be terr–wait a sec.

3. …which means a much wider cross section of the population attends shows in London.

When I went to London I saw at least one show every day from large to small venues and I was amazed at the age range of the audiences—at least compared to the US. It has a lot to do with those lower ticket prices (I’ve written about this before, but the government subsidizes non-profit theatre, so even the big commercial theaters have to keep their prices lower to compete) but it’s also just a cultural thing.

According to research done by Ticketmaster:

Theatre is more popular than attending sports events or concerts – 63% of the UK population has attended theatre in the last year, compared with 53% for concerts and 47% for going to sporting events.” And “16-19 year olds are more likely to attend the theatre than any other age group.”

There’s actually quite a lot more where that came from; you should check out that whole article here.

As I said last time: “It’s cheap enough that people—like, regular, normal, real people—can go. It sounds like a magical fantasyland from over on this side of the Atlantic.”

  1. History

I’m amazed I’ve been able to restrain myself from talking about this dude for so long:

Shakespeare shades

This is what comes up when you search for “Badass Shakespeare.”

It should come as no surprise that the country that invented the language has gotten pretty good at writing and speaking it. I’m proud of America’s playwrights and our contribution to English Drama, but come on. Shakespeare was spittin’ verse a century before we (as a country) were even born, and they haven’t stopped since.

badass shakespeare

Also this

  1. It’s not like America hasn’t produced many fine actors but…

Look, I’m not dissing American actors. We’ve got greats like Brando, De Niro, and Hoffman. I’m just saying when they cast a wizard in a movie, they’re not gonna call Al Pacino if you know what mean. ianSeriously, what is the deal with the gravitas those Brits have on stage and screen? It’s not just the accent; it’s a different style and philosophy of training. A style and philosophy that you can learn at places like RADA (yes this has officially turned into a plug.) Basically, go! Go study in London and see what it’s about!

 

Ben Abbott is the Outreach Coordinator for Performing Arts Abroad, so if you have some reaching out to do…he won’t do it for you, but he can help coordinate it.