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London Calling: Global Media & Communications Seminar, Day 3

This post was written by Alaina McCaffrey, a Sophomore Communications Studies Major at Northwestern University attending the School of Communication’s Global Media & Communications Seminar in London.

When I was little and Mom still made Eggo waffles before school, I was a superstitious little nut, and the toasty-ness of my waffles indicated how my day would end up. Perfectly golden waffles meant the day was going to be good, but mushy or burnt meant I’d be miserable. Before we left London, my parents asked if I was nervous. I said yes, mostly about unlikely things, like a terrorist attack or being kidnapped. They proposed I should be more worried about being pick-pocketed. The morning I left, I made myself cinnamon raisin toast because, of course, I needed some indication from the omniscient toaster-gods as to how this trip will go. Lo and behold, perfectly golden. A good sign.

When we went down to the lobby this morning, the TV was on. As the newscasters spoke with ambiguity and confusion about the bombings in the Brussels airport, we saw pictures taken by terrified people in the dust and chaos. I doubted my toast, and sat anxiously waiting for information about how we would move forward.

We were told that our day would move forward as planned. We started off with two lectures: one from LSE professor Wendy Williams, and another from SoC alum Thomas Hoegh. Wendy began with a discussion about the flows and exchanges between media in the global “rich” north and the global “poor” south. She explained that the media in the global north tend to focus mostly on a combination of news from other countries in the north and from countries which were formerly parts of the country’s empire. This is problematic because citizens, who believe their media provide news from all over the world, often do not hear about events in countries in Africa and Latin America unless the countries were once a part of an empire. As we discussed the ethics of media, I wondered how many acts of violence I’d missed because of the media’s biases.

Wendy’s critique was especially meaningful as a lead-in to Thomas’s presentation. While Wendy is an academic, Thomas is the owner of Arts Alliance, a business which aims to please and challenge its audience with event cinema worldwide. He explained that in any field, professionals need invite audiences into the development of a creative work early on. The contrast between Thomas’s and Wendy’s perspectives stimulated a discussion about our desire to be both reflective students and impactful “grown-ups.” As a Communication Studies student with an interest in marketing, it was fascinating to hear about Thomas’s global business and the challenges he faces as he finds the balance between maintaining a profitable business and challenging the world’s cinema-goers to consider cultures and narratives beyond their own.

For lunch, we went to Dishoom, a fantastic Indian/Iranian restaurant in the style of a Bombay cafe. We chatted about our plans for the evening and the events of the morning over plates made to share. My favorites were a hot and spicy chai tea and lamb curry. While our lunch was entertaining, productive, and generally relaxing, I felt strange soaking my bread with curry while the thought that death could happen to anyone at any moment ran through my mind.

After lunch, we headed over to the BBC Broadcasting House. Solemnly, we went through security and waited in a lobby for our guide. In the lobby was a television with BBC’s coverage of Brussels. A large crowd of people— tour groups from all over the world— stood around the TV silently. After a few minutes, our group started our tour. We saw BBC’s TV broadcasting sets, watched a radio show host practice in the radio theatre, and even got to enact our own radio drama, starring our professor Neil Verma. Classmates chanted his name and we all laughed while he used his best radio voice to play the spooky villain.

After the BBC tour, we were free to explore the city on our own. Friends and I walked to Leicester Square to watch the stars of Batman v Superman at the film’s premier. On our way, among the thousands of people walking on the streets of London, one man played The Beatles’ “Let it Be” on the sidewalk with his guitar. All day, I had felt like we were ignoring the tragedy. We only acknowledged our feelings in the context of critiques against the media or our safety as international travelers. I felt guilty because I know tragedies happen every day and are so often unnoticed by the global north because of biases in the media, and because I had warm food in my belly, and because I have opportunities that some will never have, but I needed a moment to set acknowledge this burnt toast. I don’t know who this man was, but in this moment, I realized that individuals felt their grief in their own ways. I was anxious and horrified at these violent acts, but so was everyone else. Maybe letting it be isn’t the solution— stagnation and inaction are  dangerous— but despite tragedy and loss, life goes on and beauty still exists.

After exploring the city, we settled into a pub that was rebuilt in 1667 for our first fish and chips. I sat on Charles Dickens’ preferred bench. I tried to chat with a parrot that sat by the host. I listened to different accents joining in conversations about friendship, adventure, and London. I shared my chips with the friends I’ve made over the last few days. And they were golden brown.

London Calling: Jack of All Trades, Master of All

This post was written by Alex Gold, a Senior Theatre Major at Northwestern University attending the School of Communication’s Global Media & Communications Seminar in London.

The past three days in London have been a whirlwind (to utilize a cliche but applicable term). We have traversed the city taking in its beautiful sights and culture, meeting incredible alumni and professors, and enjoying all that this global city has to offer. We studied London as a “creative capital” in class, and experiencing it in person I understand the term completely. London is vibrant and pulsing with the energy of artists and innovators of all different disciplines.

Our flight arrived at 8AM GMT on Saturday, and after traveling from Heathrow to the hotel and checking in, some of us needed a quick rest to shake off the jet lag while others headed out to explore. We had the weekend pretty much free of scheduled activities, so we split off into various groups to check out different parts of the city. Some of us took in landmarks like Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, while others hit up thrift stores or the Tate Modern. Since I’m a theatre student, I wanted to spend the day taking advantage of all that London’s theatre scene has to offer. After a walk along the Thames River and lunch at Borough Market, I saw a matinee of the play “Cleansed” at the National Theatre. The National is easily the greatest non-profit theatre in London, if not the world, and it was a pleasure to explore this historic building as well as see the kind of challenging, fascinating play that London is famous for. After exploring the city a bit more, my roommate Lucinda and I got dinner and then I checked out another new play on the West End, “People, Places, and Things.” The show has onstage seating, so it was a real treat not only to be in the audience for this exciting play but also to get a great glimpse into the house of a historic theatre from an unorthodox perspective.

The next morning (after the most satisfying sleep of my life) I headed to Shoreditch, home to street fairs and London’s thriving graffiti scene. I took a tour of various works of street art all over the neighborhood, traveling off the beaten path and seeing incredible pieces that redefined my conceptions of what graffiti can be. The guide told us all about how various international graffiti artists converge on London, as well as how London-based artists are commissioned to travel all over the world decorating cities. It was a great exploration of London’s global nature and its status as a home base for creatives who are pushing boundaries in their respective fields.


That night, we were hosted by Northwestern alumnus and London theatre stalwart Lou Stein, an incredibly friendly and colorful guy who regaled us with stories of his eclectic and thrilling career before we sat down to a luxurious three-course meal in the Groucho Club, a private club for London theatre artists that Lou helped found in the 1990s. It was inspiring to hear from an alum who has achieved so much success here in London, and whose career has taken many unexpected and exciting turns. For instance, Lou is about to begin as artistic director of Chickenshed Theatre, an accessible theatre company based in the UK. It’s new territory, but Lou’s tireless work ethic and strong values make him a perfect fit. The dinner and conversation were wonderful, and a perfect start to our week in the Global Media and Communications Seminar proper.

Monday morning started promptly at 9:00AM, where we began our lecture series at the London School of Economics. We heard from Professor Charlie Beckett, who led an engaging and fascinating lecture and discussion on the role of the news media in Great Britain, comparing and contrasting this relationship with the one that exists in the US. Tracing the topic from the coining of the term “The Fourth Estate” in London in the 1787 to the current age in which a single Tweet can derail a political campaign, Professor Beckett provided a captivating glimpse into the importance of communications to the political process.

Afterwards, we headed down to the Ogilvy & Mather offices, in a beautiful space right on the river. We were introduced to Abby, a Northwestern alumnus now based out of the London office, and then met with several employees and marketing professionals there. They spoke with us about the different stages and segments of marketing and how the project management, creative, and planning departments all communicate and collaborate to produce a winning ad. One of the creative staff there told us that advertising professionals, on a twist on an old phrase, must be “jacks of all trades…and masters of all.” This got me thinking about how the eclectic skillsets we develop at Northwestern will come to our benefit in the professional world. The Ogilvy and Mather folks utilized a long-form video they produced for Phillips as their example, which I highly recommend you watch if you need a good cry. We’ve been studying how advertisers use emotional human content to help bring brands to the forefront of people’s minds as well as how they quantify engagement, and talking to the professionals at Ogilvy and Mather really cemented those ideas.

After a delicious lunch at a pizza restaurant right on the river, we returned to the LSE campus to meet and speak with David Sabel, a Northwestern alumnus who cannot be put in a box. He has been an actor, a director, and even a world-class chef, but most recently worked at the National Theatre, where he pioneered the NT Live program. NT Live broadcasts London theatre productions worldwide into cinemas (including directly into Northwestern’s Wirtz Center), providing unprecedented access to world-class theatre and expanding and diversifying audiences. His work is truly inspiring, and he has recently moved into a new role as Director of Creative Development for the London Theatre Company, a new start-up that plans to open a 900-seat theatre right in the heart of the city in Summer 2017. David is committed to programming exciting and ambitious new works into this space, a prospect that has become increasingly rare in the world of for-profit theatre especially. It was so inspiring to hear from David not only because I admire his career and work, but also because he openly told us that his seemingly diverse and unrelated set of skills and experiences have all contributed to where he is today. He told us to “never be afraid to admit to what you don’t know,” reminding me that life and career are a continual learning process in which we never stop growing. As a senior on the verge of graduation, this meant a lot to hear.

We are about to head to a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a show that began at the National (sensing a pattern?) before heading to the West End and Broadway and is now touring the United States. I can’t wait to see this beautiful, ambitious, international piece of theatre in the city where it was born. It’s been an exhausting but thrilling couple of days and I can’t believe how much more time we have to explore all that this wonderful city has to offer.

London Calling : And We’re Off!

This post was written by Alex Gold, a Senior Theatre Major at Northwestern University attending the School of Communication’s Global Media & Communications Seminar in London.

The past two weeks are reading and finals weeks here at Northwestern, which means a mad combination of studying, paper-writing, test-taking and all the other tying up of loose ends that happens at the end of every quarter. But instead of heading back home for spring break as I normally do, I’ll be flying to London to take part in Northwestern School of Communication’s Global Media and Communications Seminar. Visions of Big Ben and enormous English breakfasts have sustained me through many a late-night session in the library and fifteen-page essay lately, and the fact that we’re finally leaving for the trip doesn’t even feel quite real yet.

The School of Communication’s EPICS Office has diligently prepared us for the trip, both logistically (handing out our full itinerary and Oyster cards to use on the Tube) and mentally – all of us going on the trip have participated in a quarter-long course led by Professor Neil Verma. In this class, we’ve studied too many creative industries to count: film, television, digital music, theatre, fine art, and many others. In the process we’ve sought to define what it means to be a “creative” in today’s incredibly global, technologically-driven world. We’ve read everything from Marxist interpretations of the culture industries to a book about iTunes and Napster, watched and studied Tangerine, Slumdog Millionaire, and the Dove “Real Beauty” ads, and prepared dossiers and presentations on HBO’s Vinyl, Art Basel Miami, and countless other cultural touchstones. We’ve done all this in an effort to delve deeper into the global media and communications sectors, really understanding the industry behind the cultural products we all consume on a daily basis. As a graduating senior (yikes…) on the verge of pursuing a career in arts leadership, it’s been an inspiring and fascinating quarter learning about the leaders and systems on the forefront of innovations in the media and culture industries.

One of the most amazing aspects of the London trip is its intrinsic connection to the work we’ve done in the classroom. Every morning during the week, we’ll be taking in lectures set up especially for us at the London School of Economics, hearing from faculty whose work we have studied in class, like Professor Nick Couldry (a cultural sociologist who teaches at the LSE). We’ll also have the opportunity to connect with industry professionals such as Thomas Hoegh (who pioneered the concept of “event cinema” and screening live events with his company Arts Alliance). I can’t wait to actually hear from some of these amazing creatives and thinkers in person.

I’ve been spending my finals week procrastinating by researching sights to see, landmarks to visit, food to eat, and all the incredible sites we’ll be visiting and people we’ll be hearing from in London. This trip is going to be an incredible conclusion to my academic experience in the School of Communication, and I’m sure it’s pretty clear that I can’t wait. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have so much packing to do….