All the world's a stage
University of Cincinnati acting major enhances her education through study abroad
University of Cincinnati acting major and e-media minor Carlee Coulehan has trod the boards from Edinburgh Fringe Festival to Auschwitz.
Study abroad opportunities at UC's College-Conservatory of Music allowed her to give a monologue at one of the world’s most avant-garde theater festivals and to gather material for a podcast from one of the world’s most tragic historic sites.
This summer, she’ll be going on her third study abroad experience to get first-hand training in Shakespearean acting in London.
These unusual experiences have led Carlee to consider pursuing a career in world theater rather than taking the well-traveled path to Broadway or Hollywood that students in her major often follow. Now, she’s ready to take the stage wherever she lands. International education and experiential learning like this are part of UC’s Next Lives Here initiative, a commitment to help students in all disciplines find their professional passions.
A Fringe benefit
As a freshman in 2018, Coulehan was part of UC professor Richard Hess’s course that performed an original show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.
“It was one of those things where I had to say yes to going to Scotland, but then it turned into something even bigger,” Coulehan recalled.
Because incoming acting majors are new to the curriculum, she explained, they are typically not eligible to perform in CCM Mainstage productions. She signed up for the class because it was an opportunity to see a different part of the world while still meeting her major’s requirements. For her, it sounded like a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“A lot of us don’t get the opportunity to perform outside of CCM. But to fly over to a different country and perform there with different people who speak different languages and have different accents in the audience, it’s just a unique experience.”
Originally, she was supposed to be backstage during the Fringe Festival production, but wound up performing in the final version. Hess gave the students a topic – water – and had them devise a play about the subject. Coulehan delivered her own monologue as part of the show.
The students arrived in Scotland to perform a four-show run of their original work, H20, complete in head-to-toe blue costumes. The play itself featured no water on-stage and contended with topics like Flint, Michigan’s water crisis and drowning.
Podcasting from the past
Coulehan’s second study abroad experience had a completely different composition.
UC electronic media professor Hagit Limor is the daughter of an Auschwitz survivor.
The concentration camp in Poland was liberated 75 years ago this week. As fewer survivors of the Holocaust remain, it becomes ever more vital for younger generations to continue telling stories about the atrocities committed during such a bleak moment in history.
Limor received grant funding in 2017 to develop a multimedia biographical project titled Moniek’s Legacy, which includes a 360-degree virtual reality retelling of her father’s experiences during the Holocaust.
As part of the grant, Limor taught a course this past fall on media topics through the lens of her father’s story.
Fifteen students from across campus, including acting, e-media, history, political science, international affairs, geography and journalism majors, read through a manuscript about Moniek’s experience during the Holocaust. Then, throughout the semester, the students broke up into teams, with pairings working on a documentary, a podcast and the virtual reality experience. The course was punctuated by a mid-semester study abroad trip to important Holocaust historical sites and locations specific to Moniek’s life in Germany and Poland.
Coulehan immediately knew that participating in Moniek’s Legacy was a rare opportunity. When she received an email from one of her acting professors announcing the course, she sat down during her first break that day to apply.
Just four days later, over 100 students were vying for the 15 spots. Coulehan was the only acting major who was interviewed, and describes herself as “really lucky” to be one of the chosen students for the program.
Throughout her study abroad experience this fall, she and the group visited concentration camps and sites of importance to Limor’s family history.
The group’s time in Buchenwald coincided with the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, and on that day, an anti-Semitic attack occurred in Germany. The students immediately felt the weight.
“Even though we had a permit to film, [the police] were on high alert,” Coulehan said. “It all felt so totalitarian, because we’re by barbed wire in Buchenwald, and here are German police stopping us. It’s still happening, and the relevance really struck me in that moment.”
The tour guides told her class a story that made an eerily personal connection for the acting student. The prisoners are said to have staged a performance of one of Molière’s works in the camp.
“They pulled rags together and did a classical play,” she said. “It’s amazing that they were able to do something like that during a time like that, and to me as an acting major, it shows how important the theatrical arts are.”
Coulehan’s part of the grant project was to document the students’ experience creating the virtual reality program through a podcast. She and two others worked together to outline the project, get testimonials from students and professors, and demonstrate the emotion of the journey. During the trip, they gathered recordings of tour guides, student reflections and even ambient noise along train tracks in the concentration camps.
In the footsteps of the Bard
Of the more than 1,700 students who study abroad each year, about 50 are from CCM.
To Coulehan, it just makes sense to take advantage of UC’s many study-abroad opportunities. Not only has she become an informed global citizen but she also has honed her acting abilities along the way.
“Acting is like a study of human behavior, so the more you know about human behavior, the better you can be,” she said. “We have a great curriculum and really good faculty at CCM, but you learn so many new things with each place you go. I literally can’t stop doing it.”
We have a great curriculum and really good faculty at CCM, but you learn so many new things with each place you go. I literally can’t stop doing it.
Carlee Coulehan, UC student
And she hasn’t stopped. She’s signed up for her third experience abroad, this time to study Shakespearean acting at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She’ll spend two weeks in immersive training and learn techniques to better her understanding of the Bard.
Study abroad has also opened up her perspective on her own future.
“It just kind of lets you know how big the theater community is,” Coulehan said, adding that her international experiences have encouraged her to set her sights further after graduation.
“There’s like this stigma that you have to move to New York or L.A. if you’re a musical theater or acting major. But honestly, going abroad has made me wonder if I should just move out of the country after graduation.”
Since Coulehan has had some experience performing abroad already, she’s ready for her next big role.
Featured image: Carlee Coulehan (first row, far right) poses with the H20 cast in front of a Scottish castle during a study abroad trip in 2018.
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