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Connor Lawhorn from Hawaii was the 1st place winner in the 2011 ESU National Shakespeare Competition.  As the national winner, he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s Young Actors Summer School in London this summer.   Connor wrote to share his experiences with us:

Words seem inadequate to describe how wonderful my experience at RADA was, but I shall try.

I was a bundle of nerves on the first day. When faced with an unfamiliar situation or a new environment, I tend to become an antisocial caterpillar that tries to hide in corners.  The program at RADA, however, forced me out of my cocoon and allowed me to meet my fellow students, who turned out to be some of the best, funniest, diverse, and most sincere people I have ever met. In addition, I had some truly amazing teachers, with whom I think all of us students fell in love.

Connor Lawhorn (left center in gray shirt) outside the Tower of London.

There is always a risk of appearing ridiculous or being misunderstood when one goes out on a limb and tries something new, especially in theater, where actors can achieve their goals through indirect ways, which may seem quite silly to an outside observer. The teachers at RADA created an environment that dispelled captious cynicism and welcomed and encouraged experimentation. Music and movement were often combined to help us to open up and explore the physical and mental space a character might inhabit. It was wonderful to be able to try something, anything, and not worry that you were going to be judged or that someone was going to make fun of you. And always at the end of a class, I would understand something new, perhaps about a character, perhaps about a scene, or perhaps even just a single line that had once seemed nebulous would suddenly be made clear.

There was a myriad of topics covered in the classes. One of my favorites was stage fighting. For the rest of that day, teachers would walk into their classrooms to the strange sight of all of their students “beating” each other up. And of course our newfound skills would spill over into the outside world, perhaps in a supermarket aisle or a park, no doubt causing quite a bit of alarm to strangers who thought they were witnessing either a mugging or some sort of shady underground teenage fight club.

Connor outside of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, where William Shakespeare is buried.

And meanwhile, in the midst of all this, I was in London! Sweeney Todd may have thought poorly of the city, but I loved it. There was actually a Fleet Street, which I did not go down, but I did cram in the Globe Theatre and the British Museum. I got my fix of modern art at the Tate Modern, and saw a couple of very good plays.  I also developed a strange affection for London’s public transportation system, the Underground.

Thank you to The English-Speaking Union and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art for this wonderful opportunity.  I would lastly like to thank Katharine Moran and Sally Powers for coordinating this adventure as well as Vivian Munn and Caroline Amos and everyone else at RADA for being so very kind and making me so very glad.  And I know there are many, many more people I should thank, but that would be a very, very long list.

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