Dylan Thomas 100 – California Visit

As part of Trinity Saint David’s international contribution to DT100 it was my great pleasure to recently present a series of practical drama workshops in four higher education institutions in California. TSD has developed working relationships with a number of prestigious Californian Universities during the past decade. My visits involved a series of recruitment meetings with our partners plus the opportunity to present the drama workshops.

California Trip DT100

Trinity Saint David has been working with California State University Fullerton for the past eleven years. An exchange programme for students in TSD’s School of Performing Arts has allowed many Acting and Design and Production students to partake in a semester’s Study Abroad to this highly ranked Californian University. Similarly, students from CSUF have been given wonderful opportunities to study theatre at TSD. During this period the work of Dylan Thomas has been extremely important in the development of performance projects between TSD and CSUF. Working with Dr. Joan Melton of CSUF, I was extremely fortunate in 2002 to direct a production of Return Journey with postgraduate students. This was followed in 2004 by improvised productions which were created using Thomas’ The Outing and Holiday Memory as key stimuli. Finally, in 2005, Dr. Melton and I directed Under Milk Wood, initially in California with a Californian cast and student directors from TSD and CSUF, and then repeated in Wales with a cast from TSD and performed outdoors on the Carmarthen Campus and at The Boat House, Laugharne.

Following my retirement in 2011 from my position as Dean of Arts & Social Studies at TSD, it was a great pleasure to be asked by the current Dean, Mr. Roger Maidment and the Carmarthen Campus International Officer Mrs. Kath Griffiths to continue to nuture and develop TSD’s California links. It was in this context that the recent DT100 workshops were created and presented at California State University Fullerton; California State University Long Beach; Concordia University, Irvine; and Orange Coast Colleges, Cosa Mesa. The workshops were devised to promote study abroad opportunities at TSD and to introduce undergraduate students to the work of Dylan Thomas, the DT100 Celebrations and TSD’s Dylan Thomas Summer School to be held in Summer 2014.

Over 200 Californian students participated in the four workshops, the majority of whom had never heard of Dylan Thomas prior to the session. The students initially participated in a number of improvisation activities which allowed them to explore their personal childhood memories before being introduced to extracts from Thomas’ Holiday Memory. The students then created group performances utilising both their own ideas and extracts taken from Thomas’ wonderfully stimulating description of the holiday when the trams that hissed like ganders took the children to the beautiful beach. Finally, at the conclusion of the workshop, the students shared and critically commented upon some of their newly created performances.

California Trip DT100

I was very impressed with the highly enthusiastic way in which the diverse groups of students tackled both the improvisational and text-based aspects of the workshops. The improvisations allowed the students to gain confidence and explore their initial ideas before being introduced to extracts from Thomas’ short story. It was a joy to hear Thomas’ words echoing around the drama studios as students tackled the language, characterisation and accents appropriate for their performances. Particularly memorable was the evening workshop at CSUF where 100 freshmen students began by sitting firmly in their seats in the formal lecture theatre setting but soon lost their inhibitions and spilled out of their seats into the aisles, onto the hall platform, and even out into the nearby car parks creating their responses to Holiday Memory. As the CSUF Professor Anne James commented:

"Kevin Matherick brought Dylan Thomas to Fullerton, California! He made the author's work so accessible and fun for our students to explore. He even encouraged them to try out a Welsh dialect! Such an engaging, unique, wonderful workshop. We were thrilled to have Kevin and Dylan in our midst!"

Thank you TSD for giving me the opportunity to deliver these workshops at the Californian Universities – hopefully they will have formed an effective opening to TSD’s international contribution to DT100. I hope that the Californian students will always remember the smell of sea and seaweed, wet flesh, wet hair, wet bathing dresses of Thomas’ Holiday Memory.

Kevin Matherick
October 2013