It's been about a week and a half in Italia, which means we're in our third day of classes with the students. This also means that I have finished my third day of Italian classes, which means that my grammar and syntax may come across a little...funny...at certain points of this. Mi dispiace! The good news is that this trip and its classes at Lingua Si are improving my comprehension enormously. The bad news is that it sometimes makes me say things like, “The gelato likes to me.”
I'm writing you from one of the more impressive views of mountaintop Orvieto, sitting at a park bench not fifteen feet from a sheer cliff's edge facing roughly northeast (I think). Behind me a little ways are the ruins of an Etruscan amphitheater, and my stomach is full of pizza. It's roughly three o'clock, and it's been a good day in spite of some challenges. Such as barely being able to walk down stairs for the past two days, my knees occasionally buckling unexpectedly toward the cobblestones. You might think that given my situation, nothing could be better. And that's true, in many ways. We teachers, David Zarko, Heather Stuart and myself, have had a week here to prepare before the students arrived last Sunday, and we made good use of it. We had many adventures and misadventures the which I will write about at some point when there's more time and convenient internet access – including attending la Prova in Siena, the dry-run of their famous horse race, il Palio. (You may have seen shots of that in the latest Bond movie, Quantum of Solace.) For now what's more pressing is to talk a little about the work.
It's fascinating, thus far, what's different and what remains the same when comparing this trip to 2006's. The reason I'm staggering about this year hasn't so much to do with drinking wine with my lunch; rather it's because this week we have four days' worth of commedia dell'arte master classes with Angelo Crotti. As anyone who's met Angelo knows, he is a man of great strength and energy, and he has no problem asking as much from his students. Monday he took us through an hour's worth of strengthening exercises that kicked off the pain-fest, and yesterday he continued with various exercises and added some very committed, very acrobatic animal movement. All this, of course, in addition to working on the many postures and movements of the commedia dell'arte archetypes, most all of which involve raised arms and deep stances. I love it, but next time I'll be training up to it rather more. Jogging, she is not enough.
It is an amazing experience, studying Italian all day, then working intensively on traditional commedia in the evening. Angelo's techniques, talent, and not to mention his gorgeous masks, make for a very challenging, expanding experience. Perhaps even more amazing is to watch the students – all with varying degrees of experience and context – take on these incredible tasks. Some of them have never even seen commedia dell'arte before, yet they're finding moments of great expression in approaching it. Most of them have little to know experience conversing in Italian, yet every day they manage to communicate more and more with it. (For me, for the first time, the language feels useful rather than intimidating – just as a personal sidenote.) Everyone's a little (okay – a lot) frightened of the ultimate goal: To perform an original commedia dell'arte scenario in Italian, for Italians. Yet that is just how we were in 2006 as well, and it turned out to be wonderful. I'm sure none of us expected to be able to hold a conversation in Italian on the first day of classes, either, but we all did.
The major difference between our last full program and this one is the amount and variety of training and practice we'll be making use of. In fact, we're only spending this week in Orvieto. Next week we'll be back for brush-ups in Italian, but largely we'll be in Aquapendente at Teatro Boni, our artistic host. There the students will take classes with Andrea Brugnera and we'll begin the work on the actual Scala scenario we're using, The Two Faithful Notaries. That, too, is when the major events begin. So far we've only had meal-oriented ones – and those are of course great – but starting at the end of this hard-working week we start seeing sights and shows. Hopefully I'll be able to write about those individually as they occur...or anyway, soon after when they actually occur.
I've done a lot of reflecting during all this, of course. Italy is enticing, exciting and extremely challenging to me, all at once. I've had some major (insofar as my experience extends) victories on the trip already, as well as some harrowing moments and, let me face it, outright failures. Yet the failures have been more productive, somehow, than I've allowed them to be in the past. We're trying to teach, after all, that risk and mistakes are great tools to improving communication. It seems I take that lesson more and more to heart the more I challenge myself in this way. God, is it challenging! Which is both an outburst of frustration and an exclamation of thrill.
I'll write more soon, e vero. Until then, may the gelato like to you as well, my friends.