GiGi in DC part 2

Gigi explores the dichotomy of being at a Catholic conservative institution but within a liberal, secular and queer friendly faculty.

GiGi in DC part 2

Rose Bruford is a secular institution, whereas the college I attend in the US, is a Catholic University that follows a traditionally conservative and Republican ethos. 

I’m living in the centre of world politics, and this school certainly reflects a pro-gun, pro-life conservative political allegiance. However, the Rome School faculty, home to the theatre department, is a place where queerness thrives, which is an interesting contrast. 

Many people are openly LGBTQ+ and the teaching body reflects that. The openness of the students creates a really diverse, loving, if not a little competitive, environment. Rose Bruford also has a huge, active LGBTQ+ community and the school supports it, with the curriculum geared more towards a decolonial and queer lens. 

I haven’t felt like I’m hiding a part of myself, in fact it’s very easy to be open there. There is a positive impact within the curriculum as, in my time at Rose Bruford, we have studied a number of queer, intersectional feminist plays, some reworking of classics, and new writing. I cannot say the same for my albeit short time so far studying at Catholic University, which has a very different mindset.

We’ve studied gendered texts, both written before 1960, and while they are important to learn the history of theatre, certain playwrights and their lesser known works, it gives a very narrow look on the American canon. I’ve played characters I will probably never play, impacted by the challenge to accommodate the ratio of male to female students. 

In comparison, at Rose Bruford, the texts we covered included Inua Ellams’ version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters set during the Biafran War in Nigeria. How we have recontextualised classics that represent the global community is much more important for modern acting training, and exposing young performers to material crucial to the modern canon. 

Within the faculty however, there is a huge wonderful variety of people from all different experiences and backgrounds. I’ve met friends for life, a lot openly queer. 

The groups around this campus are hugely varying in their political views. The Young Americans for Freedom Organisation is one of the most prominent on campus. They invited right-wing speaker Matt Walsh to speak about ‘What it is to be a woman’. And as we all well know, who better than a white, cis, heterosexual man to tell us that. His rhetoric is blatantly transphobic, which is overwhelmingly popular amongst the student body; but there was a big opposition against it as well. 

I think it’s fair to say division is a good term to describe the American political psyche. It really showed the huge difference between the arts department and the actual university and why they want to separate themselves more from the university is clear. It honestly blows my mind how different the ethos is and how welcomed I've felt versus how I’ve had to be careful outside of the faculty. For a study abroad program, I can take this as an interesting cultural experience. However, if I was studying for four years here, that would definitely be a juggling act I’d have to balance. 

One of the really funny things about my time so far is that I assistant directed a production of ‘Carrie the musical’ based on Stephen King’s novel and 1976 movie. The story is famously about a girl who is bullied for having her period, discovers she has Satan’s powers and then unleashes her anger by murdering her high school class – which is certainly a choice for a Catholic University. The production has been so incredible to work on, despite huge technical delays, but we opened October 28. It was a brilliant show that I got to lead during the run, which was a really exciting challenge.

Overall, I’d say that my experience here is overwhelmingly positive. I’ve felt so comfortable and safe within the arts departments, and this has really allowed me to blossom. It’s really special to experience and get to know people with opposing political views - I’d hate to be in an echo chamber my whole life. I’ve been challenged and had to make my arguments in an articulate and calm manner, and I’ve had a chance to be part of a new culture - despite speaking the same language, we are so completely different.


Gigi Downey

Gigi Downey Contributor

I am a third year actor at Rose Bruford College as well as a director, musician and writer. After completing my Gold Arts Award in February 2018 at 16, I joined my Arts Award organisation Babylon Arts as a steward and duty manager and I've done other teaching and facilitation work as well as working in theatre such as guest experience, bartender, box office admin and on the stage. I'm currently in the United States studying musical theatre and preparing to write a dissertation on, in broad terms, how theatre explores consent and desire.

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