I just recently had a production of my play Anne-Arky in China. It was not at an International School, it was by Chinese students learning English as a second language. I’m always so thrilled when something I wrote is able to cross a barrier and find a theatrical home. That there is something on the page that reaches out.
I’ve had the chance to see a couple of plays in other languages – I spent a month in Prague a number of years ago and saw both KING LEAR and FAUSTUS in Czech. You never realize how many times the word “King” is said in Lear until that’s the only word you can pick out. And staging can help a lot too. When Faustus is bathed in red light and there’s an upside down cross above him, I don’t need to understand the language to get what’s going on.
Although there are some things that don’t cross very easily! Here’s what the teacher, Kathy, wrote about the production:
The students did amazing for it being performed in their second language. Their parents couldn’t understand any of it, as they don’t speak English, but were very pleased to see them on stage, expressing themselves in a way they have never done before. I was so proud of them. They put expression, gestures, feeling, and humor into their performance, and like most Chinese students here, they wanted to do a good job. There were some expressions in the play they were unfamiliar with such as, “Holy Cow”! that I had to explain what it meant. Now I hear them say it at a time where it could be appropriately applied. So funny!
I love that! And it’s something you don’t think about, right? How our weird expressions that come as second nature because we’ve been saying them for decades, sometimes centuries, make no sense in another language.
Have you ever seen a play in a language you didn’t understand? What was your experience?