“L’ultimo sforzo” (Enrico IV – 2011)
1) The Prologue
I considered taking this course last summer when I studied L1/L2 in Siena. During my studies, I realized that while I was picking up the written language fairly quickly, speaking was more difficult for me. I kept confusing both the accent and the grammar with French. Since I was planning to take intensive L3/L4 in the fall, I also looked at my options for L5, with the consideration that I wanted to take a course that would target my speaking skills. A few L5 students in Siena with me recommended that I look into Theater practicum, and I found that I was interested in it on many levels. First of all, I love literature, but am mostly familiar with English and French literature, and had previously only read Dante’s Inferno and Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. I wanted to read a work of literature entirely in Italian. Secondly, I did theater from the ages of 6 to 18, but never had the time to continue it in college. Finally, the course would target my speaking skills. Discussions about the play and preparations for the performance would improve my extemporaneous conversation skills, while practicing a specific set of lines over and over again would help me focus on the accent. The students who had taken the course had very good accents and were excellent speakers, and I wanted to gain the skills that they had. For these reasons, I chose to take Theater Practicum.
2) The First Act
I was initially less worried about the literary comprehension part of the course, because I knew I could rely on my knowledge of word roots and I understood Italian grammar fairly well. However, there were many idiomatic expressions and small words such as conjunctions and interjections that I didn’t know. There were also words that had several different meanings and it was difficult to determine which one was correct. The plot was complicated to understand since I didn’t know who Henry IV of Germany was, so I had to do a lot of research on that. When I went into class discussion, I usually had a longer word list than the other students because I hadn’t had as much experience with the language. Keeping the diary was interesting and helped me work through the characters’ motivations and what was going on in the story. The most difficult but rewarding part was participating in discussion, since it challenged my conversational skills and forced me to apply the grammar I understood in the written language into the spoken language.
3) The Second Act
Preparing for the performance was fun but very challenging. As I prepared to audition for a role, I was uncertain whether or not I would be able to memorize lines in a foreign language. I had performed a Shakespeare play in high school and had hundreds of lines to memorize in a language far removed from the English I use every day, so I used that as motivation. Much of my time was spent in the Silliman dance studio reading lines aloud over and over again to get them in my head as well as my mouth so that I could say them with an accent and without tripping up. Practicing aloud also helped me make choices about inflection, rhythm, and movement. The former two were difficult since I wasn’t speaking my native language, so I tried to recall the way that others had read the lines in class as a starting point.
Besides memorizing lines, there were other parts of the show to take care of. I learned a lot about the costumes and props systems at Yale! Translating the play for the subtitles also helped me better understand my character. Thing I thought I had understood I didn’t really get until I realized what they were in English. The collaborative effort meant that I got a lot of input from my peers, who helped me with expressions that didn’t really have an English equivalent. The performance was a lot of fun, but the normal butterflies you get before performing can get in the way of speaking clearly. That then made me more nervous and occasionally I tripped up my lines. My remedy for that was to keep high energy and interact with the other members of the cast who had great focus and energy as well.
4) The Epilogue
Overall, I enjoyed this class so much. It helped me improve my analytical and conversational skills. I also had the chance to analyze the cadence of the Italian language, which helped me sound more “Italian.” I have a good foundation from which to start really improving the vowel and consonant sounds as well as emphasis. I also can speak more confidently, given that I performed an entire play in the language and had to project my voice. I improved all of my skills in this course, given its interdisciplinary nature; vocabulary, grammar, writing, conversation, translation, memorization, and performance were all covered. It was my first time translating a huge work into English, as well as my first time performing in a foreign language. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience, since I don’t think other language departments offer a comprehensive course that covers both literary and theatrical analysis!