Shakespeare in India: GVSU Professor Karen Libman’s Fulbright Experience

 

“The best part of my Fulbright experience, the most transformative, both personally and professionally, was the relationship I developed with my students. The focus of the drama/theatre workshop was not on the making of a play, but rather on the process of learning the skills and knowledge necessary for actors to make a play.”

– Karen Libman, Fulbright (India)

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While my Fulbright experience was different than what I had initially planned (i.e., not even in the same country!), it was still a profound experience.  I think that the opportunity to travel to many different places in India, to do many different projects, was both the most interesting and the most difficult aspect of the experience.  We spent 2 ½ months in Guwahati, 1 month in Hyderabad, and I spent nearly a month in Bengaluru.  I engaged in many different projects during these residences, and I also attended 4 different conferences, traveling to 3 other Indian locations for this, as well as taking advantage of the Fulbright program that enabled me to travel to Sri Lanka in order to give a workshop.  Thus I never really got a complete sense of “place” that other Fulbright scholars seemed to get.  However, the impact I had on many people (and vice versa) was expanded, and I think this more than made up for not having a “home base”.

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I had initially supposed that I would learn a great deal during my Fulbright but that I wouldn’t have so much to offer to my host country.  I was dead wrong (and again, this might be because my project changed).  I didn’t really have the opportunity to learn that much from others as I was CONSTANTLY working.  I directed 3 productions, worked with students from 5 year olds through senior adult, gave lectures, workshops, attended theatre productions…you name it, I did it.   On some days, I would give a lecture in the morning, go to rehearsal in the afternoon, and go to another rehearsal in the evening.  During my residency at the University of Hyderabad, I literally had 1 day off in 32 days, and was working 14 hour days.  But I figured that this is what I was there for—to offer my skills and ideas, to work with students and colleagues, and to make connections. You weren’t paying me to hang out!  In retrospect, I think I would have done one less project in order to stay put somewhere a bit longer and have a bit more time to just think.

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The best part, the most transformative, both personally and professionally, was the relationship I developed with my students.  My work at B. Borooah College was particularly gratifying.  The students commented that I changed their lives, and I believe they meant it. The work we did, an American play (which was translated into Assamese), was excellent and profound.  The relationships I established with the other professors there will be lifelong.  The focus of the drama/theatre workshop was not on the making of a play, but rather on the process of learning the skills and knowledge necessary for actors to make a play.  The final product of a workshop was considered a Workshop Performance or Sharing (as opposed to a completely polished, professional performance).  There were no auditions for the workshop. Any student who volunteered to attend and try his or her best was included (these were not theatre students—there is not theatre major). Students from many different majors were interested in participating, and as long as they attended regularly, they were included.

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