A Long Distance Summer
Ben Philipp and Emily Gill are lucky people. They were two of six Study Tour Award winners for the 2007 PQ Tour. Four months later, they sat down (at separate computers in separate states) to discuss the experience of the Tour and the PQ. Transcribed by Emily Gill, who really should be grading papers.
Emily Gill: What better way to procrastinate than putting this together! What are you avoiding today?
Ben Philipp: We're getting ready to go into technical rehearsals for Urinetown, my thesis project at University of Georgia.
EG: But now I have to guide someone else through their great, big final project. A BFA senior project at University of Montevallo. I'm not sure which is more stressful.
BP: Good question. Let's talk about happy things.
EG: How about the USITT Study Tour. When did you first hear it and why did you decide to apply?
BP: The idea to apply came from my professor, Sylvia Pannell. During an advising session we got to chatting … EG: As always happened during those sessions…
BP: Yes. Took the sting out of singing up for 8AM drafting classes… anyway she told me about the Study Tour, and I was immediately interested, but it seemed far off so I really didn't think anything of it until I met up with Sarah Sophia Turner, a UGA alum and participant in the 2003 Study Tour, that I really decided to apply.
EG: Why's that?
BP: It was very dramatic… Sarah intently looked into my eyes and said, "Do it, it will change your life."
EG: And how can you refuse that? It's funny, Sarah was the first person I heard talking about it… when I went to visit UGA as a prospective student and she was talking about all the various opportunities and cool stuff she had done… It kind of sat in the back of my mind for a few years and then when time came around again, for the PQ, I knew it was something I wanted to do. And I had a similar conversation with Ms. Pannell, and Dr. Hill, too. And Tina Hantula at UGA was a big advocate of going.
BP: What did you write in your application essay?
EG: It was kind of nuts, it was titled "Please Pick Me" and was pretty informal but earnest. I was designing a Beckett play for an Atlanta group with a German guest director. His style of working was so different from anything I had seen -- it really made me feel like a bumpkin. But I wanted to go to Prague and see what was outside my little American bubble. And get a tan in Croatia.
BP: And you collected un-exchangeable Serbian currency.
EG: Ha! Yes, I made a bow out of it for my dad's birthday! It was only about $8 worth. Hey kids, keep your exchange bureau receipts! Advice from Auntie Em!
EG: Now, Ben, you've traveled through Europe before more or less on your own. What was different about being part of an organized tour?
BP: Back in 2003, I backpacked through England, France, and Italy with a close friend. We were pretty much on our own figuring out where to go, where to eat and sleep. In comparison, the Study Tour left no cathedral unexplored.
EG: Or national theatre…
BP: Yes, or national theatre scenic or costume shop. Richard Durst and MIR really put together a good program.
EG: And Martin!
BP: Oh Martin! Yes, don't forget tour guide Martin Klimenta! Our shepherd! We were in a pretty large group, but there was "no child left behind."
EG: Except when I was absorbed by the Germans at the Prague Cathedral.
BP: Okay, no capable child left behind.
EG: I was taking pictures and just followed some hiking-sandaled feet, then the feet turned around and started pointing at things and speaking German. A very "you're not my mommy!" experience. It was worth it though. I got some really pretty pictures. Abruptly changing the subject, which place would you most like to revisit?
BP: It really is a tie between the island of Hvar or Croatia…
EG: Oh! How I pine! Where we went to that great restaurant on a roof!
BP: And the really pretty beaches and landscape… and Montenegro.
EG: To give it a second chance?
BP: Yes! Remember the crazy storm that roared across the beach resort at Budva, and the power outage and pandemonium?
EG: But I loved Budva, and the history was really interesting. Such an interesting mix between east and west. Croatia was very Italianate, where Montenegro and Serbia were something more exotic, not as immediately familiar, or comfortable, to be really honest. I think it was because everyone in Croatia spoke nearly perfect American English.
BP: Because of the TV and movie imports?
EG: Yeah. So I think there was some kind of assimilation into what we're used to, whereas I felt more alien in Montenegro and Serbia -- definitely rural Serbia. But it was STUNNING.
BP: What was your favorite activity/location/whatever?
EG: I looooooved Split and surrounding areas in Croatia, mostly because of Diocletian's Palace and the Roman ruins. I'm pretty geeky about that stuff. But while while we were in Belgrade, we got an opportunity to see, for free, a play in Serbian. We couldn't really understand it, but we could.
BP: That was great. The audience was loving it.
EG: And it was such a young audience -- going to theatre! At a big venue! It was like the audience for a Will Farrell movie in the States, but going to the theatre.
BP: And it wasn't… I mean it was kind of a heavy topic, from what we could understand.
EG: Yeah, but it was good, and funny in places, and cleverly designed.
BP: Speaking of mind-blowing theatre, how 'bout that Prague Quadrennial?
EG: Whoo-ee, boy, I tell you what! (You have to excuse us- we're Southern.) I wanna move to Brazil now, if I didn't before.
BP: I'm bound for Mexico.
EG: Oh yeah...all the things with steel pins.
BP: Yeah. How do you think the American exhibit compared with the other installations?
EG: The main difference between all the exhibits was the importance of showing process in the exhibit. I think the USA exhibit had a lot of great examples of beautiful products and realized designs.
BP: Like a giant national portfolio?
EG: Yes, and most of the exhibits were like that, because it was so impressive to see the diversity of art that can come from one place, and then it was compounded because there were so many different places. But a few countries had a different approach in that there was a single statement or theme to the work(s) presented.
BP: Like Brazil featured multiple productions of a single playwright's work. That was great.
EG: Yes! It made a single strong statement about what the country's artists could do with one common source of text. Some exhibits were unified installations -- like Hungary and the "Baghdad Airport" idea.
BP: And it was cool to see the various interpretations of "design based performance" within the USA exhibit and in others.. ...
EG: Like the chatter-box people in tutus at the back?
BP: Yes, that sounded remarkably like our music for JellyFish.
EG: That was funny! Speaking of JellyFish, what's it like to swing hula hoops drenched in sweat?
EG: It was fun to come up out of those things and look at the range of faces and the range of…
EG: Yes. People working very hard cerebrally to make some kind of serious political statement out of it.
BP: Speaking of hot and sticky, you took a Scenofest workshop, didn't you?
EG: I did. I took "Fashion at the Edge of Form" led by Libena Rochova, and it was very, very, very, very warm in the industrial palace. But it was well worth the heat exhaustion and nasty, nasty cut I got from delirious use of a box-cutter.
BP: And the nice Norwegian man got you a Band-Aid!
EG: Yes! And he made an amazing skirt out of some kind of pressed fiber stuff that we were given. My project was kind of off, but it was a great experience. How about you? Have you used anything seen and heard at PQ this semester?
BP: Different things that I got to see have most definitely inspired my class work and current designs.
EG: You bought Soviet goggles for Urinetown, I know.
BP: Yeah, but even in a less direct sense, especially when it comes to scenic design. There were some great examples of use of space and working outside the "box set" that have been helpful in solving special problems. And I'm totally stealing elements of scenic designs from Serbian and Mexican designers. Directly.
EG: But don't we all? Would you go on a future Study Tour?
BP: I would love to go on a future Study Tour! And I think this is a huge opportunity that many other student designers should look into!
EG: This is the point where you look intently into everyone's eyes and say, "Do it!"
BP: Yes! And I might shake ‘em a little.
EG: Just to make a point. And while you're doing that, tell them to apply for the award, because dreams do come true, kids. It certainly doesn't hurt when someone else picks up over half the tab, does it?
BP: No it doesn't! And we would like to take this opportunity to extend our thanks and gratitude to everyone who has made our travel possible through their generous gifts to USITT!
EG: Well done. Here's your fried Balkan cheese.
BP: And for you, some black risotto!
EG: I never thought I could be nostalgic about squid ink and pasta…
To support activities which make possible such dynamic interactions as this between two student award recipients, support the USITT Samuel H. Scripps International Activities Fund. For more information, click here.