My Semester Abroad

By Tatiana Chavez

This semester I had the privilege of going abroad to do an acting term at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, thanks to AOK and the incredibly generous support of Arlene and Alan Alda.

Now that I am back home, it all feels like a dream. I was completely immersed into a different culture, started going to a new school, and I was alone. I was surprised at how okay I was with that. I didn’t feel anxious on the flight, and as soon as I landed I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I met my roommates, and learned that one of them was from DC—so I definitely knew I was in the right place.

On my first day of school everyone welcomed me with open arms, and with busy schedules. I was given a script for “Therese Raquin” by this fabulous Irish playwright who I learned was going to be my director. Her name was Patricia Logue but we called her Trish. I was instructed to read through the script and to buy the novel and become familiar with it. I was nervous because I had learned that only “third years,” which are their “seniors,” were in shows. So I had to get it together. At lunch I was reading my script and everyone was telling me that they love Trish and that I’m so lucky. I felt it.

Rehearsals started that same day and I was just so impressed with how quickly we got the ball rolling. Trish played no games and got us up on our feet within five days of rehearsal. Before I knew it I was great friends with my cast mates and I was feeling more like myself as each rehearsal went on. Looking back, I thought I was totally outgoing and comfortable before I got to Royal Welsh but when I got there, I realize now I was totally scoping out the place so I seemed shy. In my head, though, I felt like I was showing how excited I was to be there.

After “Therese Raquin” closed I started going to skills classes and working on my final projects, which included a British comedy project, a radio project, a voice project, and a stage combat exam. The comedy project is one of the most fun processes I have ever been a part of. We were taught by Marilyn Le Conte, which was a blessing. She is so insightful, witty, and generous. She gave us masterclasses on comedy, and together we chose to present scenes from “Abigail’s Party”, “The Odd Couple”, and “Hay Fever”. I played Sorel in “Hay Fever.” Sorel is a bratty and posh daughter of this crazy family that hosts guests and drives them mad until the guests leave. This project helped me work on pace while doing a RP (Received Pronunciation) accent, and taught me how important it is to strategically squeeze out all the funny bits from a script.

The radio project was so cool: we got to go to the BBC studio in Cardiff to record it. We did a small radio drama and made random sound effects into the microphone that they can use in the future.

For the voice project we chose a monologue and a poem and we were coached by two voice teachers for three weeks. We took a field trip to the National Theatre in London and got to go on the set of “Follies,” the musical, and do our pieces. It felt so great to be on the stage and look out onto the huge rows of seats, and to feel my voice fill the space. The lesson of that project was on being able to have the feeling of an intimate conversation while performing in a big space.

For the stage combat exam, we practiced choreography using staffs and physical contact. I had so much fun working with the tutors, and I was so sore and bruised up the next day. I liked it though. It felt like I was fighting in a movie scene. I always felt safe because we practiced eye contact, and good communication while doing fast choreography.

As for skills classes, one of my favorites was definitely dialects. I learned that it is so important for British actors to know a lot of dialects. So many British plays are written in different parts of the UK and the actors need to speak with the accent that matched the social class or location of the play. It was so funny watching the British students do Southern accents. I learned a little Irish, Northern (barely, that one is so hard), MLE (multicultural London English), RP, Scottish, and Essex. I like to think I picked up on some of the Welsh accent because there were a few welsh students that I liked to imitate.

The work it took to get through this semester was very rewarding, but being in good company was even better. I made some great friends at Royal Welsh and I am so excited to see where life takes them. By the end I wanted to transfer to their school, I felt like a full time student there. Royal Welsh really prioritizes their students’ growth and education, as opposed to private universities in the US that just want your money. The student body was tiny, so it was a very tight knit community that was very inclusive. The feeling I had in Cardiff is hard to put into words. Cardiff is a town where I felt like I was off the grid in a good way.

My time in Cardiff gave me the space and time to grow as an artist, and I cannot thank AOK and Arlene and Alan Alda enough for the opportunity of a lifetime. One year ago I could not imagine actually doing what I did this year, and I couldn’t have done it without their support. I will always cherish the memories I made and lessons I learned in Wales. I’m so grateful to AOK and the Aldas for their support, they made me feel like anything is possible. I wouldn’t have that feeling without their help!