Meet Alexa Vellanoweth. A Huntington Beach, CA native studying business and theatre at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles stands all of four-feet-ten and man, she does not let that stop her from her life in far away Bonn, Germany.
Theatre junkies and travelers alike, you may have found your dream girl. Studying at the German equivalent of Juilliard (yes, people. JUILLIARD), Alexa doesn't do travel lightly. Unlike most college aged people headed to Europe, Alexa spends some serious time in each city, retreating to the local side of things. Nineteen days in Amsterdam doesn't sound too shabby.
I got the chance to catch up with this Alexa and talk all thing theatre, travel, and of course: why carbs are the pinnacle of all inspiration in Europe.
Let me start by saying that I have never been to Germany but your pictures have me fussing with my passport! So let's talk about where you are where you are studying? From what I hear, it is quite impressive!
I am living in Bonn, Germany. Our program also has a three week intensive at the Ernst Busch Acting School (the Juilliard of Germany) in Berlin and a four-day trip to Prague, Czech Republic. And a professor and former student from the Moscow Art Theatre visited for three weeks in Bonn to teach a master class with us!
The Juilliard of Germany? WOAH. That is some serious business right there. That is so stellar for you, congrats. So I know you are a pretty passionate and inspired person from all the acting you do. What had you itching to go abroad?
Oh a lot of things! The fact I get to act everyday was a major pull. This program is exclusively through the theatre program at LMU and acts as a conservatory styled intensive training. Acting jobs are few and far in between (especially once graduating) so having the opportunity to be on a stage, working, and not worrying about the next audition or job, improving on your weaknesses as an actor. And getting to do that everyday? This luxury and opportunity isn’t given to people in this business. Acting is what I want to do and the training we are receiving here, the professionals we are in collaboration with, the material we are working with…you just can’t get in America. This program was actually one of the main reasons I decided to attend LMU.
I always felt I was in my own little bubble in California. My family and I love to travel and traveling has always been instilled in me as something important and special, yet should never be taken for granted. We actually did a 19-day tour throughout Europe when I was in 7th grade but I definitely did not appreciate or soak everything in at that age. I always have traveled with family and I really wanted to travel on my own. Yes, it’s within a program and with our tight class schedule, these 16 people are who I see all day, everyday, constantly (aka family). I swear I know how these people walk, their odd physical habits, their breathing patterns. I know TOO much. However, seeing the world ABROAD is a completely different vision than seeing the world TRAVELING.
I completely agree. Seeing the world in your 20s and studying with people from all over the world is the most eye-opening experience. For me, it really showed me that I am lucky to have what I have, but also pushed me to strive for more in life. Europe is fascinating that way. I want to hear more about Germany! What about Germany, Bonn in particular, inspires you?
The people are so content. They aren’t here to put on a show, impress, or to be something they are not. They simply “be”. They go on with their lives. They walk their same street home. They are efficient and are such hard workers. They aren’t into the superficial and it is such a breathe of fresh air mentality wise from LA, California, or the United States. Not that I do not love my home, where I am from, or that people back home are complete crazies but it just fascinates me how comfortable German people are in their own skin. And I mean c'mon, bread, beer, bratwurst. That's inspiration.
Carbs are truly my biggest inspiration while abroad. No joke. Living in the land of cheese and pasta and pizza, I think that become a daily mantra for me so I am glad you feel the same! I must get to Germany and try an authentic bratwurst. Okay, let's talk about your living situation. I think it is so rad that you live with a host family. What are they like?
I live with Samantha, another student in the program, my previous roommate back at school, and one of my best friends at LMU. We live with a single woman named Rosemarie Klein but we call her Rosi. Her last name is translated as small or little in German. So I think that was the perfect fit from the start. Rosi is an incredible woman. She is in her 60’s but I swear I was shocked when I finally learned that 3 months in because her spirit, personality, and looks make her a goddess. She is our everything. She has six cats so I’m in heaven (for the most part, except for the fur on my black leggings). She is actually quite popular within our program because there is always a story to tell with her, whether it’s her crazy Sunday nights dancing at the “Mexican” restaurant down the street, Karneval, the cats, etc. It’s always a party with Rosi. She doesn’t speak any English so learning German was definitely put into overdrive the minute she picked us up the first day. It was intimidating but with her charades, context clues, and a few drawings, we get about 80% of the information. She is such an example. The life she has lived is so fascinating. She works three jobs. She takes care of us way more than we need her to. Rosi slays the game here in Bonn.
Well it definitely sounds like you got lucky, Rosi sounds amazing! Was the language your biggest culture shock with living with Rosi?
Oh the language for sure. Everyone else’s families speak English but I’m actually so happy Rosi doesn’t. It forces me to be immersed. It forced me out of my comfort zone. You should’ve seen my face the first night we had dinner with Rosi. I looked like a deer in the headlights like “What the heck am I doing here?!” But that’s what being abroad is supposed to do! It’s supposed to make you see all sides of yourself: the good and the bad, the sure and the unsure. I think it will be even more of a culture shock when I return back home because I have been surrounded by German for four months. Whenever I hear someone passing by on the street speaking English, I immediately perk up and my brain has a moment. It’s odd.
I know the feeling! Hearing English in Europe is common, but can be so comforting when you are feeling lost in translation. So I am still so stuck on the fact that you are studying at such stellar conservatory! What classes are you taking? Any that you dislike?
Oh mein gott. Ok. Sheisa. Here we go.
German, of course. Not my absolute fave but we show off what we learn to Rosi. I am also taking theatre history. I already took a ton of theatre history classes back at school so I already knew a lot of the information so it was kind of my “bring my laptop to class” class. Directing, Chekhov Acting, a movement class which is literally the opposite of school. A desk is non-existent here. Ballet, working off all that bread that Rosi gives us, and Stanislavski Acting with the Professor from Moscow Art Theatre. AMAZING! First day, I was like “What have I been doing onstage before this! Oh my God! I’m awful” I learned a lot in this class. Stage Combat and we worked off even more of that bread that Rosi feeds us. Voice, Busch acting, singing, Brecht Epic Theatre, and Camera acting which is such a different change of pace from all our theatre classes. Film and Theatre are similar in some ways but so different in many ways. Film is subtle, soft, and acting on the pause. Theatre is big, loud, and acting on the action. Learned a lot.
I can’t say I hated any of these classes. Yes the ones sitting in a desk are not my cup of tea but I’m always learning. We took these classes for the first half of the program with a few showcases or final performances and now we are done with classes except for a few German classes here and there. For the second half, we rehearse for a show we put up at the end of the program. Our director of the program/show who came with us from LMU, adapted the script and we incorporate movement pieces, singing, and pretty much everything we have learned and worked on this whole trip. It’s a great way to put everything into. A very physical, raw, emotional, and taxing show. But so worth it. A great way to encompass everything we learn. In all honesty, this study abroad program really is a program where we are STUDYing abroad but it was what I wanted.
Those sound like perfect classes for you but you must have zero free time! In the rare moments you have a second to breathe, what do you do for fun in Bonn?
Well if you look above to the previous question, we have limited free time. But, when we do, sometimes after a full day of classes or rehearsals, we usually go out for a beer with the whole group, even our director. Our school is conveniently located near a whole pocket full of bars and pubs. There are some clubs here in Bonn. Those are so fun! I went to Phantasialand randomly. It’s an amusement park in Germany. That was so fun because it just reminded me to be a kid for a day. For lunch, I always get a döner from UniGrill. The owner and I are homies so that’s the hotspot to hit up at the end of a fun night. During lunches, I just like to grab something quick and just sit and people watch in the Markt Square. That to me is the best thing to do when traveling. Just sit and people watch. You learn a lot as an actor and as a person.
From the looks of it, it sounds like you are in the perfect program and city for what you want to do and the experience you want to have. You are becoming a local! All right, let's get to my personal favorite part. Where else have you traveled thus far?
In Germany, I have been to Cologne, Eifel, Trier, and Berlin. In Cologne, a group of us went for Karneval on Rosenmontag (the biggest day and biggest place to celebrate Karneval). That was so much fun! VIVA COLONIA! Then when we went to Eifel, we went as a group for a first weekend retreat. Absolutely beautiful and a great woodsy feel outside of Germany. I visited Luxemborg as well.
I went to Amsterdam on that 19 day tour I talked about earlier. However, we didn’t get to go to the Anne Frank Museum. Before I left for this trip, that was the one and only thing I needed to do. Forever will be the best experience. Anne Frank was the first play/role I was ever in. That show is the reason I do theatre. So that moment of standing over her diary (oddly alone because the room was empty for a good 2 minutes), I had a moment. Seeing through that same window she did at that same chestnut tree from the attic window. Wow. Needless to say, I bawled like a baby.
In Italy, I went to Venice, Verona, Bergamo, and Lake Garda. Lake Garda is where Italians go to vacation. That pretty much explains the beauty right there.
I also went to Prague in the Czech Republic. My grandmother wanted me to visit a small church in Prague. The church is where the infant Jesus of Prague is located. A famous church and a must see, even if you aren’t religious. I walked in and went in a small room where the intentions and sacristry were located and a priest walked up to me. We had the greatest conversation. The way he spoke to me almost felt like he knew I was going to be there and the reason why I was there. He gave me this piece of artwork made out of butterfly wings on a piece of parchment. It was one of those odd fate moments.
Oh I have so many favorite places for so many different reasons. Some of these were a second time visit but still discovering new things. But, overall place that I loved but have never been was Prague. Absolutely beautiful, unique and a must see.
I don’t know. I know I’m going on and on. These probably aren’t the cookie cutter answers people are expecting but I feel when you ask people about study abroad, they give you the surface. It’s always the places you went, the pictures you took, the beers you drank, the clubs you went to, the friends you went with. Yea that stuff is important and a part of the experience, but then there is the other side where you see, feel and experience things far much bigger than yourself. To me, that is being abroad.
Wow I got chills from your story in Prague. That is so cool and yes, definitely a cool fate moment. Any goals, aspirations, or a bucket list you have going for your time in Europe?
We have a trip at the end planned for Paris, London, Edinburgh Scotland, and Dublin, Ireland. I’m really excited for that! As for goals and things I had in mind… I am a picky eater and the last time I went to Europe, I hated the food. I survived off of bread and water for 19 days: a true pioneer story. So this time around, I wanted to branch out completely. Order things that weren’t the typical. Try everything that is a staple of that region.
My main goal as a whole was to just be open, take everything in and never judge. It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different. And fully being a part of the different is what I wanted to embrace out of my time abroad.
Last but not least, do you have a mantra or mindset going into your time abroad?
I’ve been saying this practically to everyone in the program when they aren’t sure about something. They probably hate me but I just yell “Ah we’re in Europe! Why not?!” I think I have stuck with it. I hope I have. I mean I’ve been saying it since day 1 to people. So cliché but hey…WE’RE IN EUROPE!