Every society has its own way of expressing itself through performance. By studying theater abroad, you get a unique window into your host culture that your friends studying other disciplines will never see. You will also have the chance to broaden your performance style to include local traditions. In many cultures the study of theatre is rooted in religion, so don’t be surprised if rituals, prayers, or other sacred practices are involved when preparing for a performance. Just like your day-to-day training at home, you will need to be open to new experiences and ways of thinking when studying theater abroad.
Why Study Theater Abroad
Theater is about telling stories and capturing a wide range of experiences. When you study theater abroad, you are exposed to different ways of capturing the human condition than you would at home. You get to study different performance styles in the places they originated with masters of the art form, some of whom have been training their whole lives.
Contemporary Western approaches to acting often blend techniques and approaches from different places. Studying performance abroad gives you unique local knowledge to become a well-rounded performer who is able to draw on a variety of methods when approaching a role; this includes different ways of training your body to move, ways of interpreting classical texts, adapting to performing in a range of physical spaces, and much more.
Technical theater artists who study abroad get exposure to some of the newest, most cutting-edge technology which may not have reached their home country yet. They also get to work in a variety of spaces that are often much older and grander than what they are used to.
Shakespeare is famous for the line “all the world’s a stage,” and indeed, every culture has its own approach to performance. As a result, choosing a location for theater study abroad programs must depend on your goals as a theater practitioner. Do you want to train in a premier institution for classical Western theatrical performance? Do you want to improve your stage presence and movement vocabulary with a departure from the standard realism taught in Western universities? Do you want to explore the impact of theatre on the current national consciousness and economic system? Are you interested in ritual and its intersection with gender, class, and religion? Your specific interests should dictate your choice of destination.
England, the birthplace of Shakespeare, has more theater study abroad programs in London alone than in many entire countries combined. This includes the West End (arguably the most important site for musical theatre in the world), Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) where actors such as Sir Kenneth Branagh, Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Peter O’Toole, Alan Rickman, Vivien Leigh, and more received their training, and literally thousands of theaters and performance spaces to explore. England is the perfect place for theater practitioners wanting to train in classical and contemporary Western styles, while having hundreds of options for shows to see in your free time.
Japan offers opportunities to train in a number of centuries-old movement techniques and performance styles, such as Suzuki, Noh Theatre, and Kabuki. This is an ideal location for theater practitioners looking to expand their movement vocabulary and improve their stage presence.
Kenya has thousands of young people taking theater into communities to spark social change and development, several universities offering top-notch performance studies instruction, and important playwright and literary voices, such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Kenya is a great place to witness the collision of traditional and modern, and to evaluate the social impact of theater on a country that is changing and modernizing at an extraordinary pace.
Indonesia boasts over 300 ethnic groups rich with performing traditions, such as Balinese and Javanese mask and dance traditions and elaborate shadow puppetry. This is the perfect country for anyone interested in ritual performance and theater’s effect on social hierarchies and religious diversity.
Courses & Programs
Many theater courses abroad focus primarily on the performance styles of the location where you are studying. For example if you are studying in Russia, there may be an emphasis on the Stanislavsky method, whereas studying in Germany will likely focus on Hagen or Theatre of the Absurd. Courses in England often focus on Shakespeare and his contemporaries. In many Asian locations, you may not be speaking text at all, but rather focusing on the body and its movement through space.
When considering when to study theater abroad, you should consider the seasons in your destination. This means the physical seasons in terms of the local weather if you will be training outside, but also the theatrical seasons. You want to be in your destination when there are plenty of performances to attend in your free time.
In many Eastern traditions that rely on highly stylized movement and vocalizations, young actors are often trained by one specific master of the art form in a mentor-mentee setup. This is sometimes applied to theater practitioners coming from abroad, especially if this is your primary interest. In many other locations, it is important to train as an ensemble, so you can expect to work together in a small group.
Most universities have beginner level theater courses open to most applicants, as well as more advanced courses with prerequisites. These may be met by coursework you’ve taken at your home university, but you should also expect to audition or present a technical portfolio for these higher-level courses.
Theater departments, conservatories, and training academies offer high-quality instruction, but are often very insular. Graduates from theater programs often lack the breadth of knowledge and adaptability necessary to succeed in the professional world, and must fill this gap in their education while simultaneously auditioning and applying for jobs. Why not get a head start on this by studying theater abroad during your time as a student?
Theater study abroad programs give you the chance to explore theater in a completely different cultural context, making you open to new techniques and experiences that make you more attractive in the professional world.
In many auditions, you are going up against dozens or even hundreds of other performers with similar training and background. When you have a line on your resume about performing on the stage at the Globe Theatre in London, training in ancient movement techniques with Japanese masters, or taking theatre into the streets in Kenya, casting directors will take note. These kinds of experiences make you a more versatile performer and an attractive option for filling a wide variety of roles.