In Bocca al Lupo is a non-stop program. On their three-week course, the students have only two free days. They also have two days of gita scholastici which add the time up to two full weekends, in which we go see shows and visit towns and regions they otherwise might not, but that's as much as to say that it's a required activity. They need context for their huge undertaking, and we all need that kind of time outside the rehearsal or class rooms to really develop a personal bond. After all, a sense of ensemble is critically essential to the final project.

We had a week to plan and prepare and, quite frankly, relax before they arrived. They hit the ground running, however. The very next day, after their flight got in, they began language classes at Lingua Si and master classes in commedia dell'arte with Angelo Crotti in a converted convent. I can attest to the fact that the language classes are mentally taxing, and as far as Angelo's classes go, well . . . any Crotti class you can limp away from is a good one. They did brilliantly. There were some breakdowns, but no dramas, and by the end of the week, everyone had forgotten their aching gams, bid Angelo a bitter-sweet adieu, and managed to speak enough Italian to make sense of their little world in Orvieto.

So we moved them to Aquapendente and took away their language classes.

In Aquapendente our artistic home is Teatro Boni, a beautiful little classical theatre complete with velvet seats and crystal chandelier. Boni is where the students began their master classes with Andrea Brugnera, who emphasizes a more internal approach to character creation and story-telling. It's at this time that we also introduced them to the scenario they would be learning and performing—in Italian—and began that work. The trade-off for not having Angelo's physical demands during this time is that we begin regular “conditioning,” as I've come to call it. At the end of every day, after master classes and rehearsal, for a half an hour, I get to lead the students through strength and endurance exercises. I'd be lying if I said I didn't relish this. Some part of me misses working with a circus troupe, still.

This period is a complex one in many ways. One of the objectives is to encourage the students to learn improvisation as not just a useful skill in dealing with problems, but a preferable one. So, even as we're asking them to memorize a story and do things “right,” we're also trying to encourage thinking (or perhaps more appropriately, feeling) spontaneously and in a spirit of discovery. This ripples through everything we do, including trying to locate parking on a group trip. It's frightening. Everyone reacts differently. Most people struggle to get a grip on something concrete, to get it “right.” They ask for a written copy of the scenario, which we never provide, as it's important to learn the story through one's body and connections with others. They aim for consistency in on-stage exchanges, and we do what we can to shake them out of these. They come to rely on certain routines (such as the conditioning) and we viciously disrupt them.

It's also a complex time because we are becoming an ensemble. Relationships that are akin to a family are nascent, and manifest in both helpful and unhelpful ways (when your priority is improvisation and doing, terms like "good" and "bad" prove decidedly unhelpful). Not only are the students living and working together, and in the process attempting to avoid falling into reality television cliches, but we as teachers are becoming their directors and - in my and Heather's cases - fellow actors. We all have to depend on one another and, even as we're getting past the polite or glamorous demeanor of first encounters, the idea of treating everyone you work with as an inspired poet and artist turns from a nice idea into an essential survival tool.

In the third and final week, I invariably wonder to myself, Can it really have been only two weeks? Yet the performances loom and there seems still to be a million things to decide and discover. People despair and laugh uncontrollably and have personal revelations, and none of it helps us feel any more prepared for our first audience. The students have their second brush-up Italian lesson while we teachers hasten to pay rent on theatres and generally determine what use of rehearsal time will be most useful. And then whoosh, flash, bang: It's over. Over two or three days, all our fruition and reversed expectations. And we part ways. And it seems impossible that we are indeed going to go separate ways, much less that we've known each other for only a few weeks, and not most of our lives.

The students this year were absolutely amazing, and a privilege to work with. I'll have much more write specifically about their work and the particular experience in the coming days. Until then, I simply savor the glow of it all. While working on a show, it often seems impossible, even when it's with a script, and in English. The feeling after you pull it off, especially when you pull it off well . . . well. Suffice it to say the night never feels so refreshing in the piazza, and the gelato never so sweet.