Every other year, LMU Theatre Arts has a faculty-chaperoned study abroad opportunity in Germany and Croatia. The four-month conservatory-style program allows Theatre Arts majors to delve into European arts, performance and culture, for an unforgettable semester abroad. We asked Sika Lonner ’22 to share her life-changing experience from a rigorous and fulfilling spring semester abroad.
What attracted you to this program?
I knew about this program before I applied to LMU, and it is among the many reasons I chose to come here. The idea of training in a rigorous, conservatory-style program for a semester was extremely appealing to me, and I wanted time to specifically focus on theater and my development as an actor.
One reason I chose LMU was because I wanted to receive a B.A. rather than a B.F.A. degree. I felt it was important to both me as an artist and me as a person that I receive a well-rounded education. I knew this study abroad opportunity would be intense and push me as an actor, as well as enhance my experience at LMU. It gave me time to be completely focused and immersed in theatre without the distractions of other classes or attention pulls. I loved the idea of studying theater techniques where they originated and getting to work with European professionals on European styles. Plus, I wanted the opportunity to travel and see more of the world while young.
What was a typical day in the program like?
It’s hard to describe a typical day because there was so much variety to our classes, but I will do my best! On a *typical* day I would have breakfast with my host family before heading out. Classes started at 10:15, but most of my classmates (myself included) would arrive at early to have a cup of coffee, reconnect, and rehearse anything we would be performing that day in class.
The morning section of class was usually an acting class. These acting classes had an amazing range over the course of the semester from Stanislavski Technique to Le Coq Technique to all kinds of movement and voice work. Since these are all acting classes, they were super immersive and we would all be on the mat acting, moving, and rehearsing the whole time.
For lunch, most of us would head to the marketplace in Bonn where there was a wide variety of food trucks and vendors selling different cuisines and we’d bring it back to AiB (Akademie für internationale Bildung) and eat. Our afternoons were either filled with an acting class or workshops, and sometimes desk-work classes. At 5:00, we were free to go, though we would frequently stay later to rehearse our homework together. Then I would commute home, have dinner with my host family, and take the evening hours to catch up on my personal tasks before hitting the sack.
One thing I loved about the program was that the classes were so varied, and so this schedule was frequently adjusted to compensate for guest professors, study field trips and travel, and rehearsals.
What types of classes did you attend and what were they like?
My classes were incredible. Most of our classes were acting classes, but we took a few classroom courses as well. We took German, which is taught like a standard language-learning class. We only learned the necessary basics of the language and I didn’t find the class overly difficult or stressful. I also took the optional course, Balkan Spirit in Drama, which I thoroughly enjoy and highly-recommend. It is a literature-based class where we read and discussed plays from the Balkans and learned their cultural and historical context. Neno [Pervan, LMU professor and trip chaperone] is such a passionate and engaging lecturer and the class gave good context for our week in Croatia. Neno incorporated some fun acting exercises into the class, which helped us as actors sink deeper into the characters and themes of the plays we read. We also had a lecture class in Berlin about Brechtian epic theater, which provided context for our acting training and the plays we saw, as well as a deeper understanding of German history.
One of my favorites was our Stanislavski Technique class with Ilja Bocharnikovs of the Moscow Art Theatre. We worked intensely on exercises called “etudes” which were like semi-improvised scenes in which the goal was to portray an animal or character as realistically as possible. They were challenging but so helpful.
We had a class in Le Coq technique, which I also loved. In that workshop, we did neutral mask work in which we wore neutral masks and focused solely on physicality and acting with the body. Our classes in Croatia were a huge highlight for everyone, and those classes spanned a wide range – from scene work, to voice work, to exercises in physicality and physical acting. In Berlin, we had a class that focused on breath work and voice in addition to our Brecht class. We also had an amazing class with Skaska (who co-directed our show) that focused on devised and ensemble movement. Come April, all our time was devoted to the show and every day we rehearsed for our upcoming performance!
Did you do any additional traveling?
Yes! The ability to travel was such a great opportunity in this program. As part of the program, I traveled to Berlin for two weeks to study with some amazing teachers there and learn more about Germany’s history. We all lived together in the same hotel, which was great for bonding since we ate together, commuted together, took class together, and explored Berlin together. The Berlin weeks were a huge highlight for me!
Outside of travel with the program, I did a lot of independent traveling. My first trip was a weekend trip to Bruges, Belgium, which I could not recommend more as a weekend destination. The whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is beautiful with some great museums and historical sites. It is easy to travel to as well, roughly three hours from Bonn by train.
Over Spring Break I traveled to Copenhagen and Stockholm, which was incredible. If I thought Bonn was cold, I really had another thing coming. The palace in Copenhagen was probably my favorite palace I visited and the aquarium there is very beautiful and a neat way to learn about coastal wildlife in Denmark. In Stockholm, the Skansen Museum and the Vasa Museum were runaway hits!
Over Easter I went to Paris and had a great time there. Ate some of the best food I’ve ever had too. And then after the program ended, I traveled to Athens, Prague, and Munich, as well as hiking the West Highland Way in Scotland. All in all, the opportunity to travel and see so many countries and learn about so much history up close was life-changing and a unique and amazing experience.
How did the trip expand your point of view as a theatre professional?
The trip exposed me to many new styles and theories of theater that I had been either unaware of or only peripherally aware of. We took many different workshops with many different teachers, and different stems of thought really clicked with different people. For example, I had never heard of Le Coq technique before, but I loved our week-long workshop, and found that it really helped me settle into body work and physical theater. Not only were we training with these varied techniques, we also had the opportunity to see some truly amazing theater, unlike anything I had ever seen at home. Many times, lessons that we learned in class finally “clicked” for me when I could see an actor using these techniques on stage.
Studying and learning techniques in Europe where many of them were originally practiced was an amazing and unique experience. I remember in Berlin going straight from a lecture about Brecht to a performance at the Berliner Ensemble (Brecht’s theater company). Getting to work with teachers from Russia, Croatia, Germany, France and beyond provided a wealth of diverse thought and instruction that really opened my eyes to new techniques and approaches to theater.
What was the final performance and how were you involved?
Our final performance was a production of The Conference of the Birds. We were performing in a local theater and working with a professional production team and rehearsing all day, every day, rather than just the evenings like at LMU. Every student on our program was an actor and so we all acted in the show, as well as designing and creating our own headpieces as a study of costume craft. While every person had their own character and their own speaking role, we all formed a very active and cohesive ensemble. Everyone was on stage the entire show, from the moment the audience first entered the theater to find their seats until we took our final bow. We played EVERYTHING, from birds to humans to the crumbling pillars of ruins.
The show was extremely physical, blending together all of our classes in movement and physical theater. By the end of the show, we were all drenched in sweat, but it was extremely rewarding from an acting perspective. The show ran close to two hours, but we were all so immersed in it that we would always joke afterwards about how fast the time flew. As someone who deeply identified as a “non-dancer,” I was shocked with my own progress in physical theater and choreographed group movement. It was a really rewarding show to work on, and gave the word “ensemble” a whole new meaning to me.
Do you recommend this program to other students?
I would highly recommend this program to other students, but I would recommend that they research what the program entails to make sure it is a good fit for them. It is a phenomenal opportunity for artistic and personal growth, but the schedule is rigorous with intense classes all day and sometimes on the weekend as well, but at the same time the classes are so fun. There are definitely demands and challenges of living abroad while taking such a full course load, but it is a really incredible opportunity to see Europe, gain unique training and international perspective, and focus completely on acting. It is an amazing trip for students who want to be professional actors and are looking for an immersive, focused, quasi-professional experience.
I learned so much, had so much fun, and made amazing lifelong friends. As I mentioned, it is an intense program, but at the same time the classes are so much fun. I got to act all day, every day! What more could I want? I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to go, because as cliche as it is, I really found my experiences eye-opening and life-changing.