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Leading with Theater: Companies Connect with Emotions in Bilingual Productions


Have you ever been watching a play or show and realized that you could understand what was happening, even when the dialogue was in another language? That’s because actors and actresses are storytellers who use their voices and bodies—as well as words—to capture the audience’s emotions. 

Nevertheless, when the words themselves are understood, it makes connecting to the story and the emotions behind it even more powerful—for audiences and actors alike. With the growing population of English as a Second Language (ESL) speakers in the United States, it is no wonder that theater companies are beginning to recognize the possibilities for inclusion and success within bilingual theater.

The Global Theatre Project, a nonprofit based in Baltimore, is just one example of a theater company that has tried to bring these bilingual ESL populations into the fold, both as part of the audience and as part of the cast. The organization has been successful at recruiting a young and diverse cast for each of its shows thanks to its mission: To transform its actors and actresses into responsible and empathetic global citizens.

With productions in Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Florence, Italy, the number of languages included in productions can be staggering. In its 2016 Double Double Sonnet Project, the company performed in a mixture of ten languages in addition to English, representative of the diverse ESL populations of Los Angeles.

Speaking about A Stubborn Woman, the company’s 2011 bilingual English and Italian production in Florence, Italy, U.S. actor Randy Thompson recalls that “working on a bilingual play was very difficult.” To ease himself into the language, he tried to pick up on the nuances of Italian by comparing it with his Spanish knowledge: “It helped me in terms of certain words but the rhythm and the pacing of the speech is so different that it took a lot to get used to.”

While bilingual productions can certainly be challenging, the results for both ESL audiences and for the actors and actresses themselves can be enormous. Randy says it best:

“It has given me an appreciation for the quality of the language and the sound. Just the sound of it is a beautiful one.”

 Are you an aspiring actor or actress, or just have a love for theater? How about opera, or instrumental music? Consider double majoring in your target language and theater or music: A perfect pairing! 

And whether as a cast member or simply a fan of the stage, be sure to seek out bilingual productions near you to experience the magic for yourself.  Have you attended a bilingual performance? Tell us about it @LeadWLanguages on social media!