Friday, August 17, 2012

Dynamo update: The Theatre of Babel

It is the comedy of Romeo and Juliet. Or La commedia di Romeo e Giulietta.  Or Die Komödie von Romeo und Julia.  Depends who you ask.

Our group of actors from F.E.S.T.A. planned to put on a play with whatever group of children we worked with up at Dynamo Camp. So I wrote a short script we could adapt as necessary when we got there. 

The story is something contrived quickly and thrown on paper.  William Shakespeare is trying to work, but his daughter -- a goth teenager named Miranda -- keeps playing loud music and he can't concentrate.  He tries to get her to make up a story with him.  She is resistant but goes along with him.  He tries to invent a love story about Romeo and Juliet, and she keeps throwing in curveballs to mess it up and make it tragic and violent.  She does, however, rather like Romeo (who evolves into a rocker boy), even though he is a fictional character, and tries to get his attention.  It almost works, but Juliet prevails.  Shakespeare manages to bring the story to a happy ending and as a consolation to Miranda, he revives Mercutio (who now looks an awful lot like Johnny Depp in the pirate movies), and she ends up dancing with him.

Just a silly story with lots of openings for stage combat and modern music.  A bit longer than a skit, an actual play with a beginning, middle, and end; the ultimate point being fun.

My preconceived notion was that we would end up cutting it, depending on the health and energy level of the kids. 

Not exactly. 

At the first session, we worked with a group of seventeen Italian teenagers who were in remission from leukemia or living with chronic physical ailments, but had a lot of energy and imagination and were quite enthusiastic.  Several of them were keenly interested in performing in a language not their own, while others were more comfortable acting in Italian.  We also had a lot of children for a few speaking roles.  The answer became: two Romeos, two Juliets, the Miranda sisters, and two languages.  A line said in English would be repeated in Italian, in a sort of dream-like repetition.  We soon discovered our Tybalt was actually a French speaker so what the hey, Tybalt spoke French, too.

When the first company performed this play, every line spoken in Shakespearean English earned enthusiastic applause.  In fact, just about every event that took place earned applause.  I worked backstage and did not see the performance, but I felt like the lucky one because backstage the children were spilling over with mirth and joy.  The laughter backstage was something I would not have missed for anything.  Jason, my colleague and roommate for the summer, was back there with me and felt the same way. 

At the second session, which is nearing its conclusion as I write, we used the same script but this time we have a group of German teenagers.  They are quite a different group and, unlike the the last group, they did not choose us -- theatre was chosen for them.  They were skeptical and some were resistant for the first couple of days, but as performance approaches they are coming around.  Now the play is being rehearsed with three Romeos and Juliets, and the languages have piled up: the lines come in English, German, Italian, and Dutch, according to the preference of the actors.  The script has been through many pairs of hands, with several people translating it into all of these languages.

Add to this the fact that our audience includes a group of children from Belarus whose problems include vision impairment.  For their inclusion and enjoyment, we decided to add a narrator who would tell the story in Russian and describe the events as the story moved along.  So yet another language, not to mention that the play is now a story within a story. 

We have simply embraced the complexity and are splashing about in a cascade of languages. 

[Image: at Dynamo Camp, Limestre, San Marcello Pistoiese]

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