C?est La Vie

By By Gabriellet Gaston, Red Pulse Writer and By Gabriellet Gaston, Red Pulse Writer

By Gabriellet Gaston, Red Pulse Writer

When the average American is asked to describe the French, there are perhaps some stereotypical answers: lazy, arrogant, incessant smokers, unwelcoming and apt to give wine to children.

If you were to ask two particular students in the theater department to do the same, you would definitely get some different responses.

“Generosity” and “unity” were the exact words Actor Training Program junior Julia Alexander used to describe her recent interaction with French citizenry. Alexander’s perspective also happens to be a rather unique and exciting one. She and fellow student Stacey Hull, also a junior in the program, returned Sunday from a two-week trip to Arras, France. They worked and played with fellow performing arts students at the Université D’Artois, where they had the chance to share some of what they study and see how other students create.

They were accompanied by department of theater professor Jerry Gardner, who taught the French students some beginning modern dance techniques and Butoh. He said the French students have a “wonderful instinct and sense of play.” Hull and Alexander were also impressed by the work they created with their French counterparts.

“It’s amazing to see how much you can understand when you can’t understand the language,” Alexander said.

Neither she nor Hull found the language barrier to be problematic. The French students were all incredibly welcoming, as were Université staff and administration.

“Everything was so relaxed and simple,” Hull said. “It seemed so exotic before, but now it seems so tangible. You can really live there and study there.”

Alexander and Hull didn’t just study, however. They managed to sneak away and visit some of the most beautiful and historic destinations in both Arras and Paris. They strolled under the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Élysées. They walked in the footsteps of some of the most prolific and tragic artists in the Montmart district of Paris, and even managed to pop over to London and fit in some shopping.

Beyond the fact that this was a fantastic way to spend the better part of their Fall Break, they traveled to France on a sort of scout mission for the rest of their classmates.

During the upcoming Spring Break, Gardner and his Junior Movement class plan to be the first group of students to share their knowledge and passion for the performing arts as part of The French Theatre Connection.

The idea for a student exchange began a year ago when a professor from the Université D’Artois visited the U’s theater department and was impressed by the students and their work. A dialogue was started between the two universities and the idea for the French Theatre Connection began.

Creating an international exchange program for 12 students from the ground up has not been a simple task, however, and the work is far from over. The students, headed by program graduate Heidi Hackney and junior Natalie Blackman began the intense process of applying for funding through grant writing.

Gardner, who was asked by the Université D’Artois to return as a guest professor, hopes the remainder of his students will be able to have the same uplifting experience.

“(In France), art is everywhere,” he said. “Here, it is barely visible.”

The exchange experience doesn’t necessarily center just around the performing arts8212;it goes deeper than that.

“This is about strengthening our bond with the other culture, but it also expands our own appreciation of global awareness,” Gardner said. “Over there, you can sit down with someone and have a conversation about the political, the social, the financial and the artistic, and know that they are not separate.”

The students also saw the shortcomings of their own solely American perspective.

“They know so much about us, our politics and culture, and we know nothing about them,” Alexander said. “It’s sad…and a little embarrassing.”

As Alexander, Hull and Gardner recount their adventures to their classmates, the air begins to hum a little. The French Theatre Connection is well on its way to opening a world for students they might not otherwise see. But if these students are successful , they will have given themselves just a little taste of “La Vie en Rose.”

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Editor’s Note8212;Gabrielle Gaston wrote about the experiences of fellow students in the University’s Actor Training Program and the trip they recently took to France to establish ties with a university there.