Monday, August 20, 2007

The More Things Change...

… the more they stay the same, of course.

I was surprised by how much the University of Hyderabad is similar to my own university, how its faculty are similar to our faculty, and how its students are similar to our students. I think I was expecting some kind of “cultural difference,” and yet the only difference that has manifested itself thus far is that everyone attends class barefoot.

We’ll begin with the university itself. U-Hyd is not actually in Hyderabad proper; it’s about an hour’s drive away from the city. It is surrounded on all sides by forest; to get anywhere one might want to go outside of campus (shopping, cinema, etc.) one has to sit down and plan a trip.

I’ve been a part of three different midwestern colleges/universities in my life, and all three of them share this similar geographical constraint. My current university is the closest I have come to “urban;” to reveal just how off the beaten path I have studied, consider that it took me until graduate school to live in a university town large enough to have its own shopping mall and megaplex theater. (In undergrad we had to drive 45 minutes to see the latest Harry Potter film.)

So this feeling of being cut off is both familiar and (dare I admit) a little disappointing. The campus is peaceful, charming, bucolic… and a bit stifling. The other visiting faculty and I have spent more than a few hours sitting on the veranda outside of the guest house asking each other “what does one do here?” Sit, it seems, and drink chai and talk about various artistic philosophies.

And sex, of course, because it’s theatre faculty. I was expecting to have to curb my language a bit upon arrival, but the group of people I have met have been just as crazy, flamboyant, irreverent, obscene, etc. as theatre people always are. It’s just that the swears are in Telugu now. ^__^

I’ve had the opportunity to observe several classes (my classes won’t begin until the end of the month; the students right now are in a two-week “orientation intensive” taught by a small group of guest faculty), and was very surprised to see that the exercises, etc. taught by the Hyderabad faculty were nearly identical to the ones taught at my own university. Some investigation revealed that it was perhaps because all of these guests had been Western-trained (which was, in fact, the purpose behind their hiring); all had studied in the U.S. or in Britain at some point. And thus, all around the world, young theatre students learn to play “Zip-Zap-Zop.”

But the most interesting of all was that the students themselves, when asked open-ended questions like “what is the purpose of theatre,” give the exact same answers I hear in my own theatre classes. It isn’t just that their first responses are vague, or that they reply in unformed generalities, but it’s that they use the same generalities!

This leads me to a few hypotheses:

  1. The Western theatre culture has so permeated all mentalities that it naturally causes theatre students worldwide to form the same (general) impressions.
  2. Students’ brains are more alike than we realize, and there should be studies done on this ASAP, if there haven’t been already.
  3. No one’s been effectively able to answer the question “what is the purpose of theatre,” including Aristotle, and he was a friggin’ genius. Therefore of course students will give vague and incoherent answers.
    1. Considering this, one might have to weigh the option that theatre has no purpose, or at least no purpose that can be expressed in a concrete statement. But that’s another argument for another time. ^__^

And one last unexpected similarity (another unfortunate consequence of globalism?): when I saw the first Indian student shuffle into class wearing flannel pajama bottoms I would have crapped my pants, except that I’ve been eating rather too much rice lately. ^__^

30 comments:

Daniel said...

Yeah, but is there the obligatory horrible sandwich shop? or Burritos as big as your head? or the awful place where skanky freshmen go to hook up w/ other skanky freshmen and that I wouldn't set foot in for fear of having an STD just rub off on me?

Anonymous said...

Oh, the beauty of Zip Zap Zop... Just goes to prove that nonsense sounds and rhythmic clapping transcends all boundaries.
Personally, I'm starting to think that the REAL purpose of theatre is for attention- to show off how remarkable we, the theatre artists, are. 'Cause deep down we're all a bunch of geeks who got picked on (or ignored) in school and satisfied our craving for adoration with theatre... And in the process realized that hey, some of these other geeks were pretty hot and then POW! Suddenly the rest of your world started paying attention AND you were awash in sex! This would explain the vague definitions, right? No one ever wants to admit that they're really in theatre to make themselves look and feel better about themselves, even if they would probably admit they were in it for the sex.
Glad you're there safe and sound, if a little... itchy and so on. I've been ordering in Indian at work and thinking of you on my lunch breaks.
Love!
~Ms. Ginny

Chimera said...

really surprised to read about the theatre classes at Hyderabad, I knew that the Hyd University did offer some course but I did not have an idea how good it was...
interesting that sometimes we miss the very things tat we seek elsewhere...

(do lemme know if u need any sort of help around Hyd...)

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