Roberta Levitow with Tesfaye and Freddy
David Diamond, , Co-Coordinator, La MaMa Umbria International Summer Programs
I was in Freddy’s group.
Liesl Tommy, creative advisor for the workshops, had given us the assignment to create a staged piece based on poems or lyrics we had selected. We divided into two groups. Our group’s challenge was to stage Freddy’s choice: The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan. (I had seen an adaptation by Tina Landau at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago several years ago that was brilliant.)
Freddy Sabimbona is from Burundi. His first language is French. Our group also included Tesfaye Eshetu Habtu, Surafel Wondimu and Azeb Worku Sibane from Ethiopia, and Wesley Ruzibiza from Rwanda. In order to communicate we had to speak in several languages and translate for each other. If you think it is complicated to devise a piece based on non-narrative poetry with six independent creative artists all speaking the same language, wait until you try it in four tongues.
Freddy gave each of us one line of text, which we could translate into another language (I chose Italian), and told us to create our own presentation of that line. So, not only were we speaking different languages, but we were talking to each other through multiple translations. The poem is about living your life without regard to material things, forgiving yourself for what is past and enjoying the gifts you have been given. It is a universal theme, so using several languages emphasized the global humanistic view of the text.
We watched each of the individual parts and shared ideas about how to combine them into a cohesive whole. Freddy considered all of the ideas, but made definite choices about what would be best. The group was generous with each other and Freddy was quick to take advantage of the best of the ideas being offered (as well as many of his own.) We barely had enough time to finish our preparation before we were called back in to present the work to the rest of the group.
While it was difficult to work with so many languages, it was also tremendously liberating and it brought the group together as a result of the intense listening that was required to hear all of the ideas, try some of them, discard some and try others. We returned to the studio and both sections shared their newly-devised pieces. You could see the support each person had for the others.
As our group of diverse artists begins to coalesce into a real community, I get that warm feeling of shared intention and sympathetic understanding. I am learning every minute and I feel privileged to have this opportunity.
Thanks Sundance – you rock!