Translating Voices Across Continents:

Surtitles for Theater (Expo 2015)

“Translating Voices Across Continents: A Project for Theater and Translation” (TVAC alternatively stands for "Titling Voices Across Continents") is both an educational project and a professional experiment that will result in the creation of English sur-titles for Italian and international theater productions. On the one hand, the project gives American university students, directly engaged at the creative level, the opportunity to familiarize themselves with a specific aspect of the multimedia translation sector. On the other hand, it is a valuable service that will increase language access to the prestigious Piccolo Teatro di Milano’s productions for a wider audience. These productions are part of the Piccolo Teatro’s ad hoc calendar for an international audience on the occasion of Expo 2015 (Milan, May-October).  ‌

Stemming from a proposal by the Piccolo Teatro di Milano, the project was developed by Prescott Studio, a reference point in Europe for theatrical titling, and by Montclair State University (NJ, USA). Through the Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies, the project takes on an interdisciplinary quality, a cosmopolitan academic vision, and a special look at the excellence of the Italian cultural tradition. Prescott Studio, as supervisor, will offer the professional expertise, sensibility, and organizational experience needed, while the Inserra Chair and the professors in the Italian BA program (Department of Spanish and Italian) at Montclair State University, through their own student interns, will oversee the adaptations of the sur-titles into English.

TVAC was also developed out of a panel held at Montclair State University on Dec. 5, 2015 called Reading Foreign Voices in which the relevance of titling was illustrated by several experts (see video), including Mauro Conti of Prescott Studio, via a targeted slideshow on sur-titles

The group of experts involved includes:

  • Mauro Conti, Director of Prescott Studio, Florence (Italy)
  • Teresa Fiore, Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies, Montclair State University (NJ)
  • Marisa Trubiano, Associate Professor of Italian (Supervising Italian Program students Angelene Agresta, Marta Russoniello, and Emilia D'Albero), Montclair State University (NJ)
  • Laura Caparrotti, Artistic Director of KIT-Kairos Italy Theater, New York
  • Aloma Bardi, Prescott Studio Tutor and Director of ICAMus, Ann Arbor, MI – Florence

Project Description: The Art of Creative Compromise 

Read Italian translation of this project on Prescott Studio web page
Read short announcement on Piccolo Teatro web page

1. Theoretical models for theater sur-titles
Theater surtitling is a niche in the multimedia translation field: it involves a creative aspect while remaining rigorous, and offers, above all, a unique learning experience for those who aspire to highly qualified professional outlets in the dynamic sector of audiovisual subtitles. For instance, creating sur-titles for theater allows students to tackle subtitling for the cinema with an uncommon level of professionalism. The multiple skills required by surtitling include the ability to work within a team and to respect specific technical parameters: these are the premises for the creative compromise and translating that drive surtitling work. 

2. Practical goals for theater sur-titles
The internship has developed within a unique framework that brings together an Italian theater of international renown like the Piccolo Teatro di Milano and an initiative of global importance such as the Expo 2015 in Milan, during which a special calendar of events, including theater productions, will be presented. Approaching these productions through an educational project such as TVAC is an exciting challenge for all the parties involved (surtitling experts, students, professors acting as supervisors), requiring the deployment of multiple competences, organizational skills, patience, precision, and, last but not least, passion (for a full list, see Forbes article). The result will be an extraordinary fusion of creative and professional energies that will serve as a valuable model for students as they prepare for their future professions.  

In essence, the project will involve students in the production/adaptation of English sur-titles for a number of theater productions over the spring, summer, and early fall of 2015 under the guidance of Prescott Studio and the supervision of MSU faculty members. Students will gain firsthand experience of a complex journey that melds art, craftmanship, and technology. The following central themes will emerge: respect for the author’s intentions (dramaturgy) while making pragmatic decisions (rhythm); the role of titles as a public service (access); and specific aspects of translating into the target language of English. Through the different phases of the project, students will learn about translation, adaptation, condensation, and timing in the production of titles for theater. Along with an appreciation for the practical aspects of these translations and adaptations, students will come to understand the larger aesthetic and operational factors that have made surtitling indispensable for the world of live performance. Today, theater, like cinema -yet to an even greater degree, given the fact that it is live performance- represents the truest meeting place for languages, cultures and experiences.

List of plays and operas surtitled as part of the collaboration (for flyers and brochures click here):

by Enzo Moscato (inspired by Bizet's opera)
Adapted and directed by Mario Martone
Musical arrangement by Mario Tronco and Leandro Piccioni
Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio
Milano, Teatro Strehler
Debuting May 5, 2015
Surtitles in English from the original Italian

Lehman Trilogy
Three Brothers - First Part
Fathers and Sons- Second Part
by Stefano Massini
Directed by Luca Ronconi
Milano, Teatro Grassi
Debuting May 6, 2015
Surtitles in English from the original Italian 

Dipartita Finale (Final Departure)
Written and directed by Franco Branciaroli
Milano, Teatro Grassi
Debuting June 4, 2015
Surtitles in English from the original Italian
La bottega del caffè (The Cafè)
by Carlo Goldoni
Directed by Maurizio Scaparro
Milano, Teatro Grassi
Debuting June 16, 2015
Surtitles in English from the original Italian

by Giacomo Puccini
Adapted for marionettes and directed by Eugenio Monti Colla
With Marionette Company Carlo Colla & Sons
Milano, Teatro Grassi
Debuting June 26, 2015
Surtitles in Italian and English from the original Italian
(under the aegis of TVAC but presented by Prescott Studio)

Storia di Qu (Story of Qu)
by Dario Fo and Franca Rame
Directed by Massimo Navone
With student from Teatro Scuola Luca Ronconi
Milano, Piccolo Teatro Studio Melato
Debuting June 30, 2015
Surtitles in English from the original Italian
Le sorelle Macaluso (The Macaluso Sisters)
Written and directed by Emma Dante
Milano, Teatro Grassi
Debuting October 6, 2015
Surtitles in English from the original Italian

Poet Simon Armitage's rereading of Homer's text
Directed by Robert Wilson
Milano, Teatro Strehler
Debuting October 6, 2015
Surtitles in Italian and English from the translated Greek
(under the aegis of TVAC but presented by Prescott Studio)
Incendi (Fires)
by Wajdi Mouawad
Directed by Guido De Monticelli
Milano, Teatro Grassi
Debuting October 20, 2015
Surtitles in English from the translated Italian

Le donne gelose (Jealous Women)
by Carlo Goldoni
Directed by Giorgio Sangati
Milano, Piccolo Teatro Studio Melato
Debutting October 22, 2015
Surtitles in English from the original Italian
(under the aegis of TVAC but presented by Prescott Studio)


This project is presented by Prescott Studio (Florence) and the Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies / Italian program in the Department of Spanish and Italian at Montclair State University.

In collaboration with the Center for Career Services and Cooperative Education (MSU)

With the participation of KIT-Kairos Italy Theater, New York, and of ICAMus, International Center for American Music, Ann Arbor, MI, USA – Florence

On the occasion of Expo Milano 2015