By Jamie McLennan. Originally posted at Re:wordings
Tonight we open Carmen in Hamilton, Ontario, under the baton of Boris Brott and led by an impressive cast of Canadian singers. We've had a great time putting this together, guided by Italian director Giandomenico Vaccari (more on that later!).
This is a semi-staged concert version, but while the set is minimal, Carmen's gypsy spirit is there in spades. The National Academy Orchestra is sounding amazing. Made up of seasoned players and emerging professional musicians, the band has all the finesse of established performers combined with the enthusiasm and energy of young pros. It's been a real pleasure to work with them. And with the fabulous Arcady Singers giving their all in the famous chorus numbers, the audience is in for a real treat.
The rehearsal process has been short (we only started a week ago!) but it's been a blast.
First, all of the cast have been great to work with and many are old friends. We've worked hard, but we've laughed a lot and I think the fun we're having comes through on stage. Yes, I know Carmen's a tragedy, but as an old acting teacher of mine once said, even in the throes of angst, you need to be having serious fun up there!
Second, we're very lucky to have had the chance to work with Signor Vaccari. He'd led or worked at some of the biggest opera houses in Italy, including the Teatro Petruzelli in Bari, the San Carlo in Naples, and the Giuseppe Verdi Theatre in Trieste. We knew going in that we'd have to dust off our conversational Italian, and I'm proud to say we've been pretty good at understanding the direction and communicating our questions (Maestro Brott is an able interpreter when push comes to shove!).
But the translator in me was most intrigued by how the mood of rehearsals took on a distinctly Italian flavour right from the get-go. The energy level was turbo-charged, and Signor Vaccari's passion for his craft was contagious. It's always fascinating to see how working in another language shifts the tone. The result is a production with an intense and spirited vibe!
An opera sung in French, set in Spain and directed by an Italian. There's going to more passion up on that stage than Hamilton has seen in a loooong time.
In boca al lupo!
By Jamie McLennan. Originally posted at Re:wordings
I just finished a week of improv classes at the Second City training centre here in Toronto. Led by the redoubtable Marjorie Malpass, I and 17 other willing victims laughed our way through an exhilarating 20 hours of theatre games, wordplay and improvised scenes.
I've always thought singing and translating have a lot in common. You take something that's already been created and interpret it for a new audience. You need to pay attention to the style and tone of the original, and you have to keep in mind the needs and expectations of your public. In both disciplines, you become known for a particular specialization, and you build your career around that area of expertise.
When translating, I write my first draft fairly quickly to avoid being bogged down by details that often iron themselves out later. But it takes effort to ignore the voice of doubt that whispers in my ear, the one that makes me question myself and stifles creativity. You know that voice. Everyone has it. It's annoying, it's persistent, and it's responsible for the success of Facebook as the world's most popular procrastinator time-suck.
But with improv, you get to shut that voice up. Improv forces you to work on skills that are crucial to writers and performers: spontaneity, attentiveness, focus, acceptance, and the willingness to trust your instincts. This week, I learned some tried-and-true techniques that improv performers use every time they're on stage. Watch for these tactics the next time you see a great comedy — they're pretty universal. And I think they're very useful for writers, too.
Mirroring. We've all played that "lame mirror game" in drama class. You know, the one where your partner contorts his body into ridiculous poses and you're forced to mimic him. Well there's an important point to this very basic exercise. When you're on stage with someone, the best way to connect with him is simply to pay attention to what he's doing. When you pick up on your partner's behaviour, you can either chose to imitate and magnify it (very funny) or go the opposite way and create a foil for whatever character he's creating in front of your eyes. It's the simplest improv technique there is, and it's easy to grasp because we do it In Real Life all the time. When you meet new people, you unconsciously echo their body language to set them (and yourself) at ease in social situations. Don't believe me? Next time you meet someone new, see how quickly you start using a common body-language lexicon.
Yes, let's! Improv is all about accepting everything and running with it, no matter how unexpected. If you enter the stage, and your scene partner tells you she's preparing dinner for your mother-in-law, she's offering you a location (kitchen) and a relationship (married couple) that you have to agree to. It's incredible how tempting it is to say no and impose your own clever idea — "what do you mean, my mother-in-law? I'm a police officer and I'm here to arrest you!" This evil twin of acceptance is called blocking. It's guaranteed to kill the scene and leaves your partner hanging. Shame!
Point of focus. What can you focus on to help advance the narrative? Is it an object? Is it an argument? Is it the alien growing out of your chest? Too many points of focus and the scene can dissolve into a soup of unrelated events and characters. This happens when actors stop paying attention to their partners and instead try to drive the scene all by themselves. Guaranteed awkwardness.
Punning. In one of my favourite exercises, we were made to come up with ridiculous and outrageous (and often eyeball-rolling) plays-on-words. "What kind of music does a cat like?" "Meow-sic." I hear you groaning already. It may not be worthy of a Stephen Fry twitter post, but the guy who came up with that answer actually got a big laugh because it was so impulsive. You could see the word forming in his mouth even before his brain knew it was being said. No matter how corny, a pun will make us laugh because it forces us to go from A (different people like different music) to C (cats make a meowing sound) while skipping over B (cats don't listen to music!). In other words, it gives our brain a vacation from linear thinking. This is really refreshing, and takes us to far-off, magical improv lands full of wonder and amazement.
The tilt. Related to the pun, the tilt takes a situation and heightens it with an unexpected twist. "I'm preparing dinner for your mother-in-law" takes on new meaning when you respond that your mother-in-law was a victim of the zombie apocalypse and now only feasts on brains. That's not a block — you still accept the offer that you have a mother-in-law. But you throw it back in a fun and unexpected way. This is actually a generous gesture that takes the narrative to a great place with lots of potential (your flesh-eating mother-in-law is still likely to criticize your wife's cooking, after all). Is there a "mother-in-law" waiting to come onstage? You've just handed her a winning performance on a silver platter. You will be much loved by audience and performers alike.
So how do these improv techniques relate to translating a 2,000-word press release? Well, writing certainly requires the ability to trust your instincts. When you say yes to a new client, you need to have faith that your skills will carry you through the next assignment. It also takes guts to sit down at a blank screen and just start typing (at least writers don't have to do it in front of an audience). Acceptance teaches you not to worry if the first thing you put down on the page isn't Pulitzer-worthy, or even if it makes any sense. Mirroring reminds you to remain faithful to the original author's message, but to make it your own and to be creative without straying from what's been offered. Point of focus is also something every writer needs to keep in mind. If you lose track of your message you can also quickly lose your reader (you're still here, so I guess I did something right). Finally, improv helps you develop a knack for non-linear thinking, for knowing when to drop in an unexpected tilt that catches your reader off-guard and wins them over with a smile.
That little annoying voice in my ear got a lot quieter this week. It also became easier for me to squelch it whenever it starts whining. When that voice is silent, you're free to play. That's when you really start cooking. And this leaves room for those flashes of genius that come when you're not even looking.
Wow, see how that rhymed? Felt good. And I didn't even plan it.
By Jamie McLennan. Originally posted at Re: wordings
Yesterday I attended Govcamp, part of Net Change Week at the Mars Centre in downtown Toronto. The topic of the day was the latest technological hot potato in government, open data. All three levels of government in Canada are making more and more of their data available to the public online. The hope is this will lead to increased transparency and enable the private sector to use this data for some intriguing (and useful) purposes.
But some important questions came up over the course of the day.
How will the data be extracted? Government data is extensive, exhaustive, and often well buried. Bizarrely, the computer programs that store the data are sometimes incompatible with the software used to extract it. Also, government departments can be pretty proprietary when it comes to their data, and before it gets out to the public there may be more than a few regulatory hurdles to jump over. One of the sessions yesterday was all about the ‘shadowy world of the socialintrapreneur.’ A panel of four brave public servants recounted their experiences (sometimes in hushed tones) tunnelling under and pole-vaulting over rules and regulations in government in order to “help the system speak with more voices” (i.e. get things done). Open data is being touted as a way to bring the people and their government closer together. But folks in government might not always be enthusiastic about letting their data out of the warm casings of their hard drives.
And maybe with good reason. Context is everything. Yesterday, one government worker muttered into her coffee cup about how data can be easily misconstrued and misinterpreted. Last year’s scandal over the internet usage of OPS workers is a case in point (this particular public servant is online all the time for her work). Opening up data without putting it into context can be problematic, from an optics point of view of not worse.
And what about citizens with limited or no access to technology? The homeless are less likely to have Twitter accounts, and the voices of marginalized people are at risk of being silenced in this techno-happy open data dance party.
Finally (and here I go putting on my translator hat), if it’s to be useful for all Canadians, data has to be accessible across language and cultural barriers. Could the open data movement represent new opportunities for skilled translators, or will governments avoid spending the money and simply dump the data online, leaving it up to the private sector to pick and choose what the rest of us get to see?
I think the best quote of the day came from David Tallan of the OPS (one of the ‘troublemaking’ social intrapreneurs), who simply pointed out that it’s important to “focus on people, not technology.”
Hopefully Microsoft — not surprisingly, a major event sponsor — was listening.
This is a regularly updated collection of popular blog postings by Alexandre Brassard and Jamie McLennan.