Staging a classic drama

Sophomore Amelia Burkley will direct and stage Moliere’s ‘L’Impromptu de Versailles’ in March

~Kristen Ziccarelli, A&E Editor~

In March, sophomore Amelia Burkley will demonstrate the extent one can take undergraduate research—past the one-dimensional academic paper to a stage of lights, drama and costumes.    

Her unconventional approach will culminate in a staging of French playwright Moliere’s “L’Impromptu de Versailles.” As director of the production, Burkley adapted the script to include English and the traditional French lines. Student actors will take the stage on March 16, with the help of an eight-person crew for staging, lights, costumes and more. As a theater major with concentrations in musical theater and directing, Burkley has combined her areas of study with her proficiency in French to create the production. Moliere’s play is a ‘show within a show’ that centers on a one-hour attempt to stage a play for King Louis XIV in Versailles.  Taking advantage of the structure of the play and the nuances of the French language, Burkley divided the languages on the basis of formality—using French for the formal lines of conversation between unfamiliar acquaintances or superiors and English for informal spoken words among equals.

“There’s so much historical context that I really wanted to bring out and illuminate,” Burkley said.  “I want to play with the understanding of how the audience interprets the play and how they understand the play differently when the language is taken away and given it back.”

 Burkley will heighten the effect with the lack of subtitles, comparing it to understanding Shakespearean English on stage.

 “It is like when you go see a Shakespeare play and there are no subtitles,” Burkley said. “You could classify Shakespearean English as a foreign language at this point, because that early modern language is no longer spoken.”   

Her interest in Shakespeare and the French language became the impetus for staging a play, which initially occurred to her during study abroad in London with her professor, Dr. Laura Grace Godwin. After seeing a bilingual version of Moliere’s most famous play, “Tartuffe,” Burkley became inspired to improve the overall production and stage one at CNU. 

“I’ve taken french for six years, I love the culture, I love the language, I love ‘Tartuffe’ and I’ve seen it multiple times, but when I went and saw it with her, it was terrible,” Burkley said. “They didn’t define the split between English and French very well and they had too many concepts that they didn’t define well.”

The experience led to her writing her own script, featuring one of Moliere’s lesser-known pieces. 

“She suggested the ‘Rehearsal at Versailles,’ and I read it and I feel in love with it,” Burkely said. “It was so funny and ingenious.” 

Since then, Burkley has worked to make her project a success. Even though directed in high school, her project is a vast learning opportunity.

“I’ve never directed in this large of a scale or this large of a stage,” Burkley said.”I’ve never done anything in a foreign language before, so this is going to be a lot of firsts and I’m really interested to see how it plays out.”

Despite the complexity of the project, her overall goal is relatively simple. 

“Honestly, I want to be able to complete the performance and have audiences enjoy it, understand it and maybe learn something,” Burkley said. “That would be my version of success.”

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