All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players

Louise Lawless likens a year's study in Germany to year on the stage.

Tübingen am Neckar in the province of Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images

Tübingen am Neckar in the province of Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images

 

Disguised as German under the anonymity of silence, I revel in my success at fooling the masses. It’s only when I (attempt to) speak German fluidly that my identity is revealed; my “süßes” Irish accent betraying me, an imposter inhabiting their world.
Breaking character is an unfortunate side effect of not being native.  An English German legal dictionary, a telling but necessary prop to my stage membership.

Fellow cast mates strut around the stage, some friends, some foes, some passively aggressive roommates, everyone with background stories I am ignorant of, a world away from my childhood home. Friends are initially made on the commonness of our outlier experience on the stage. We aim for walking reflections, characters that look and sound like us, to feel at home a thousand miles away. After finding a certain cast, we expand our network to other internationals with tales of eternal summers in Australia or the festival of the dead in Mexico.

My main stage is located in the idyllic, Disney-esque town of  Tübingen in the province of Baden-Württemberg, southern Germany. Scenes of typical tourist events add interest and an inclusivity to the performance, Oktoberfest and Christmas markets are accessible to all, and allow me to embody the “typisch” character I have chosen to play for the next 10 months.  The backdrop changes frequently and sometimes abruptly as we are mere bus rides from new lands. Last minute trips to play a minor role on someone else’s stage occur more often than my bank account would like, allowing me to explore the sets of Poland, France, Munich and Frankfurt respectively.

The dialogue on stage varies from the frequent panicked improvisations to the automatic answers, prompted by predictable questions. Improv skills are challenged when you have to think on your feet; oblivious German students inquiring about lectures or when strangers ask for directions, assuming you’re a local. Whereas the prompt replies to “Would you like a receipt?” “Are you ready to order?” and the off by heart prose of your introduction (name, age, area of study, home country, how long have you been in Germany, do you like it, planning to do any travelling?), are second nature after numerous incidents of them being asked.  

Both constantly challenging the quality of your disguise on this international stage, demanding authenticity in a response that must be understood, timely and appropriate. Pauses are loud, and telling. Body language can’t bely the dialogue. Facial expressions should be reined in so the audience is not witness to the wave of feelings that engulf the actor; panic, confusion and then, relief.  

Behind the scenes divulges the secrets we don’t want shared. Things are not as happy as they seem. This new life spent on stage hinders friendships and relationships. Too much time spent performing. Time and distance can prove to be too much but whether you like it or not, the show must go on…

The audience is full; College lecturers waiting expectantly, for your demise.

Close friends who have access to not only the performance but also the behind the scenes information. The fake friends are privy to the glitz and glam but not the sacrifice or struggle. The spotlight glares brightly in your face; as if it’s a reminder that this year counts for your degree, forbidding you to forget that this is a test, not just for fun.

With many shows under the same title across the world, each is inherently unique. No matter how prepared you (think you) are, or how many people you talk to who have been on the same stage, you will still be surprised. Live shows have a way of encapsulating fear and excitement simultaneously, making magic out of the mundane and evoking both laughter and tears. They demand your full attention, participation, blood, sweat and tears for them to function, and then thrive.

And now, the second act begins. Once again I will walk back out of my comfort zone onto a stage that is proving to feel more homely every day.

When the curtain falls on my performing year, I hope to be able to look back, and not regret the chances I had or the time spent away from home. The final curtain call won’t be seen on a public stage, but in the privacy of academic results from the year spent performing. But until then, I’ll just continue to enjoy myself much, and endeavour to actually spend some time in the library. Hm. I guess things don’t change that much from being at home… 

Erasmus will always be a leap of faith, immersing yourself in the unknown, hoping that it will lead to adventure, rewards, and unique experiences. It won’t be for everyone. Putting yourself out of your comfort zone so starkly in foreign lands is no mean feat. But no matter what you’ll learn that adventure is out there, the world is vast and ready to be travelled whenever you are.