15:21 PM

Theatre Students and Professor Perfect British Accents … in London

By Tim Meehan

Hannah Harding and Alexis Rojas were students in the theatre arts program at Cal State San Marcos when they each thought about wanting to add stronger British accents to their repertoire as potential future actors.

For most, that would have meant an acting class somewhere close by. For the Class of 2023 alumnae, however, it meant going straight to the source.

Soon after graduating in May, Harding and Rojas were accompanied by theatre professor Judy Bauerlein for a four-week Summer in London program through CSU Summer Arts.

“We focus on preparing students for either graduate school or the professional world with whatever they have, whatever they desire to do,” said Bauerlein, who recently chaired the department and is still active in the industry. “But I do feel like graduate school is a really good next step. There are so many more skills and opportunities that they need to learn before they go into the professional world. Not all of our students take advantage of it. We had two students do Summer Arts this year. What I hope to see is six or eight do it this coming year, and I hope it's something that most of our students can go and do.”

Harding and Rojas applied for the program and were accepted. Bauerlein followed the same path as an attendee and not a professional, even though she easily qualifies for both.

Harding, now in the Master of Fine Arts program at USC, was aided by a tuition scholarship, which made the other costs associated with traveling to England a lot more affordable.

“Nothing was holding me back from going on this trip,” Harding said. “I had just graduated from undergraduate school, and it felt like the best option for me as it kept me busy working on my craft. There were no downsides in taking a chance on this opportunity, and I knew I just had to do it.”

The three traveled from San Marcos to London, but Rojas remained there after the program. She was accepted in April to a master’s program at Kent University in Canterbury, England. She went to Germany right after commencement and has fit right into the Western European lifestyle.

“I thought I should try it out to get a taste of the country,” said Rojas, who will be studying physical acting at Kent. “Judy told me about this London ‘Acting in Accent,’ and said that I should try it out because she was going and wanted me to go with her. She said that it would be a great opportunity. The trip really prepared me to take advantage of things and just accept the opportunity even though I didn't feel exactly sure about it.”

CSU Summer Arts doubles as an international summer arts program of master classes and an arts festival. What started in the mid-1980s as a summer dance program at Long Beach State has transformed into one of the largest organizations of its kind, first adding a media arts festival and now being an educational environment where students live, work and learn alongside world-renowned professionals in their fields.

Now housed at Fresno State, the curriculum often includes international opportunities such as the one Harding, Rojas and Bauerlein attended. It was set up to meet the needs of CSU arts students, but now invites all students and faculty from public and private schools from California and beyond.

“The faculty and administrators who founded it wanted to create opportunities for students at some of the smaller campuses to work with renowned artists and to have time with people that might live in L.A. or San Francisco, for example,” Bauerlein said. “And the students in those smaller, more rural campuses might not have access to them.”

In addition to working on improving their British accents in master classes from 9-5, the group attended theater productions across London in the evenings, including visiting the West End, home to a world-famous theater district. Think England’s version of Broadway and add an ingrained cultural belief in the value of attending shows weekly.

“In the cultural scene in London, it's a regular thing for people to go to the theater, at least once a week,” said Bauerlein, who grew up in Philadelphia and attended Temple University before moving to New York City to embark on a 30-year acting career. “Where we were staying, we were right on the West End. It was like being near Broadway – you just go to a Broadway show every night. So getting out and going to see artwork, going to see performances, going to see plays, all that stuff is really important. And we want our students to do that. We're trying to figure out how we can make that happen.”

The British voice teachers used a Southern California-based accent training method during the program. It helped the students get in touch with their natural accent, too, because the technique requires starting with their own before building others.

“This trip helped me prepare for my future career by giving me a new set of tools to add to my knowledge,” Harding said. “I have new skills that can take me farther than what could have been. I just feel as though expanding my skill set helps me become more ready to do other kinds of work in theater that I haven’t done before.”

There are obvious benefits to introducing CSUSM students to the arts on the largest stages, so to speak. Many come to campus without ever seeing a show beyond a play in high school. On a local level, the North County theater scene is growing. CSUSM’s Arts & Lectures series offers students free admission to entertaining acts and thought-provoking discussions. The Old Globe theater also brings a Shakespeare production to campus every year in Arts 211.

“It's always just getting out, getting into new places and seeing new things,” Bauerlein said. “It's just so beneficial for the brain and the imagination and everything.”

Bauerlein lived in London for nine months while studying abroad as a 20-year-old undergraduate student. She liked it so much that she went back the following summer, securing a theater job.

She went to London last summer as a student, with one other attendee in her age group and the remaining 30 or so students in their early 20s. She won’t hesitate to do something similar in the future depending on the subject matter.

“It was fun to be around that kind of youth and energy, and it was also just delightful to experience them experiencing a different country and traveling,” Bauerlein said. “They went to a lot of plays, they saw a lot of artwork, they went to clubs, they traveled. A big group of them went to Edinburgh, others went to Paris, so they were kind of hopping all around while they were doing the class on our off days. I studied abroad when I was their age, too, so it was fun to kind of relive the newness and everything.”

Rojas is quick to name Bauerlein as a major factor in her development as an actor and student. A one-time transfer student, she leaned heavily on faculty and staff to guide her journey.

“I would describe my time at CSUSM as an awesome and amazing experience,” Rojas said. “I remember coming to this school in spring 2021 feeling very nervous, but I ended up meeting some really nice people. They were very welcoming and made me feel like I belong there. I really miss everyone there – my friends and my professors. I love Judy. She has been truly helpful to me because I almost didn't graduate this year, and Judy was there to help me to graduate on time. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be where I am today.”

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