This past week I had the pleasure of seeing Romeo and Juliet directed by Adrienne Boris at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. The cast was an all female ensemble and full of some of the most talented women I know. It was a joy to watch and to me, I found it to be crystal clear and very compelling.
However, during intermission a friend of mine who is studying abroad in Boston approached me. She is originally from Spain, and while she has no trouble at all communicating in English, she had some very serious plot questions and had been struggling to follow the journey of the play because there were some facts she had not been able to ascertain from simply watching.
Of course this is not the fault of the director, actors or even good old Bill. It can merely be challenging for someone whose first language is not English to then follow the story in Shakespearian text, which his by nature a loftier vocabulary. Whose responsibility does it then become?
Thinking at it with the lens of my newly found dramaturgical skills I wonder if there is a way for there to be something in the program notes that could help students whose native language is not English to be able to more clearly follow the story line. The argument to doing so may be that these students are not our target audience. And to that I say, why not?
Boston University is home to a huge student body whose primary language is not English, and so much of the discussions I have participated in when I was in casting have been about how we can bring in a bigger student body than just other School of Theater Students.
How we can give our art and show our hard work to the whole population. It seems to me that offering a supplement in the program notes for those who may not be familiar with Shakespeare, or any classical text that is performed in the future, could be a great way to show that our school is supportive and inviting to outside voices, ears and eyes.
Perhaps part of the reason that we see so few international students at our shows is because we have not created such a foundation yet. I know for me it would be extremely intimidating to walk into a show with a very advanced vocabulary in a language that I did not grow up hearing.
A supplement to a program note is a very half-baked idea, and perhaps not the answer we need. However, I think that this is an important discussion to begin so that we can begin to invite a wide variety of audience members to come and enjoy the theater that we so adamantly adore, and perhaps allow them to fall in love with too.