Day 5: Exploring a place from the street view

Our fifth day featured a workshop with Jonathan Harden, a native of Belfast now living and working in London as an actor. I've known Jonathan for nine years now, as he's a frequent contributor to NYU Steinhardt's Ireland Study Away program in the summer. I asked him to do a version of a site-specific theatre workshop here in Bedford Square that he usually facilitates in Belfast. It's a way of discovering more about a place than simply what's presented as part of the "package." So often on these kinds of experiences, we can just get the tourist version of a city, whereas Jonathan believes (and I've seen that it's rightly so) that when we start to ask others about their experiences in a place, particularly if they live or work there, that we begin to see the place beyond what we get through a tourist's lens.

Jonathan began the workshop with a mapping exercise at an outdoor workshop space at the corner of Bedford Square, exploring birthplace, place of heartbreak, place never to return to, dream place to visit, etc. Students then created still images of Heathrow airport, their accommodations at NYU, and a moving machine image of Heathrow.

 Jonathan Harden (right, red scarf) setting the group onto a task to create a map of their world.

Jonathan Harden (right, red scarf) setting the group onto a task to create a map of their world.

These activities led into an exploration of the people and spaces around Bedford Square, the location of the NYU London facilities. We'd obviously been moving in, out, and around these facilities all week, but Jonathan described this exploration as getting down to "street level" on Google Maps. How can we really understand a space or location beyond simply moving through it? He set the group out into the surrounding streets to interact with people, both outdoors and in shops, asking them for their name if they would share it and their relationship to the area. Jonathan also asked the students to identify spaces or locations in the area that were incomplete or unfinished, and these became the sites for short performances about the people they encountered and questioned in and around Bedford Square.

 An example of a performance outside an incomplete site just off of Bedford Square.

An example of a performance outside an incomplete site just off of Bedford Square.

Following these outdoor performances, Jonathan wrapped up his workshop, and we discussed how these activities and new understandings of this particular location might influence or affect some of the final projects for the course. We moved into a lunch break, only to return an hour later to enter the British Museum. The excellent exhibitions from all over the world tied nicely into the Global Honors Seminar, and students had the chance to move through the museum at their own pace.

 The Great Court at the British Museum.

The Great Court at the British Museum.

As for me, I had a lovely visit over tea and cakes with Steinhardt alum Peter Lockyer and his wife Melanie, and then headed out to Brixton for a home-cooked meal with Orla Hasson and her husband Paco. Excellent ways to finish out the day: with great people, great conversation, and great food.