I recently read an article on the Theatre Blog of the Manchester Guardian (guardian.co.uk) talking of writer Laura Barnett's experience watching plays in other languages. She was at the Avignon Festival in the south of France, and, while one of the four plays she took in had English surtitles, and another was in Italian, which she understands, the other two were in Flemish and French, respectively -- and without English surtitles or translations.
For her, the experience was both enlightening and spellbinding, as it drew her attention more toward the other aspects of the performances, such as movement and dance, visual appeal, and the music and audio intricacies. The languages and the plots and dialogue they painted were still important, and missed, but the overall production was illuminated in ways she hadn't considered.
I was led to wonder, as a result, of the importance of language in any performance, be it theatre, music, film, or combinations thereof. I was reminded of performances of the operas Elektra and Aida that I've seen, where I was given only a bare outline of the plot by the person who took me. I had no trouble following the gist of the shows, and was completely enraptured by the productions in a way I had not expected. Truly, I had thought I would be bored!
I remembered similar experiences while watching Shakespeare as a young teenager and struggling with some of the language. If I thought about it too much, I became frustrated, but when I allowed myself to step back and just watch, rather than paying too much attention to what was being specifically said, I was able to understand what was going on well enough, and free to enjoy the show as a whole. The same could be said of my experiences learning and performing operatic or other-language songs while at school for music, or listening to them at any point in my life. The overall experience and message is almost always conveyed clearly, even without understanding of the words.
This is another element of proof that artistic endeavours such as theatre and other performing arts transcend the boundaries of language and society, and can speak to us on a near-elemental level -- one more reason why the performing arts are so necessary to us as a people.
Can You Understand Theatre When You Don't Speak the Language? [guardian.co.uk]
Tue, July 26, 2011
by Terry Fox Theatre filed under