Translating Voices Across Continents (video and article)

Students of Italian Surtitle Prominent Plays for Expo 2015 Theater Productions in Milan, Italy

The Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies - housed in the Italian Program (Department of Spanish and Italian) - and the Florence-based titling agency Prescott Studio are proud to present “Translating Voices Across Continents” (also referred to as "Titling Voices Across Continents"). As part of this international project spanning from Spring to Fall 2015, students of Italian at Montclair State University have produced, under the guidance of Dr. Marisa Trubiano (Associate Professor of Italian), the English surtitles for nine prominent plays (and operas) being presented in Italy at the prestigious Piccolo Teatro of Milan, as a part of Expo 2015 (May 1-Oct. 31).

This is a unique project that rests on an effective synergy between the university and the professional world off campus, in this case a titling agency based in another country across the ocean, Italy. “We have identified in “Translating Voices Across Continents” an ideal tool to expose students of Italian to a dynamic professional sector in the humanities, thus enhancing their employability in the global marketplace. Perhaps more importantly, TVAC has offered the opportunity to make the students' work in the classroom relevant and useful to the outside world, in this case the international audience of Expo 2015. The concrete impact of their contribution is very motivating for them, and ultimately exciting,” says Dr. Teresa Fiore (Inserra Chair).

TVAC is indeed an innovative pedagogical experiment that transcends national and cultural boundaries by making the classroom permeable. Students had the opportunity to test out a specific sector in the translating field by honing their linguistic, cultural and translating competencies in English and Italian, as well as highly-valued universal skills like team collaboration, decision-making, creativity and problem-solving, planning and communication (see Forbes article for more details). “The continents merged again,” states Dr. Marisa Trubiano, “with a project that really sensitized us to the issue involved in translating and adapting texts of remarkable cultural diversity for the variety of genres and the use of dialect next to or instead of standard Italian. I think our students can be very proud of their successful linguistic acrobatics in translating such complex texts as the epic Lehman Trilogy directed by the late totemic figure of Italian theater Luca Ronconi, the Nobel Prize Dario Fo's script of La Storia di Qu, and Enzo Moscato's Neapolitan version of Bizet's Carmen, directed by award-winning Mario Martone.”

The students involved in the project speak enthusiastically about it. “It has been a wonderful opportunity to combine the study of Italian language and the specifics of the theatrical world,” explains Marta Russoniello, a student in Linguistics with a minor in Italian. “Working on pieces such as The Story of Qu by Dario Fo has given me an insight into the Italian language and its various dialects, allowing me to deepen the knowledge I have acquired in class.” A major in Italian and a minor in French with plans of pursuing graduate work in translation, Angelene Agresta adds: “I enjoyed the challenge of translating from Italian into English, of maintaining not only the meaning but the nuances of the original texts. Moreover, TVAC entailed a great deal of trust in working as a unit: it really gave me a sense of teamwork that I will treasure for my future.”

“The great synergy between Prescott Studio and the Inserra Chair/Italian Program at Montclair State University is the secret of this project’s success,” concludes Mauro Conti, director of Prescott Studio, who highlights the effectiveness of tools like Canvas Collaborations and GoogleDocs that made this collaborative work possible. “Once again, theater unites the stage and the audience, while uniting two continents and two cultural and professional realities that had decided to make a journey together.” TVAC has also relied on the expertise of KIT (Kairos Italian Theater in New York) for the linguistic mediation of works in dialect.

TVAC is a work in progress. Some of these performances have already been presented to an international audience in Milan and received highly positive feedback. In the meantime, students at Montclair State University continue to work on the remaining plays and operas - including revisited classics such Goldoni's The Coffee Shop and Puccini's Turandot as well as original work by renowned artists Robert Wilson and Emma Dante - as part of both summer internships offered through the Center for Career Services and Cooperative Education and an upcoming class in Italian translation taught by Dr. Trubiano in Fall 2015. 

We gladly invite all those traveling to Italy to enjoy the shows at Expo 2015. Mostly, we hope that some of these plays, if not all, will soon reach the U.S. theater stages, so that the precious English surtitles that Montclair State University produced in synergy with Prescott Studio can be enjoyed by an American audience as well. 

See also a related video about sub- and surtitling linked to an Inserra-sponsored panel of experts in the field held on campus on Dec. 5, 2015