Joining the Theater Production (TH343) class during my study abroad experience in Nantes, France, was a spontaneous decision. I felt like stepping into something new, and was up for the challenge of taking a theater class entirely in French. I was a bit scared at first, but I wanted to get better at French pronunciation and step out of my comfort zone. Soon enough, this class became more than just a random decision—it shaped me into a more confident person and introduced me to a group of incredible people.
During the first week of orientation, all IES Abroad students attended mandatory information sessions on things like home-stays, academics, and course offerings. During one of these sessions, the theater professor, Bertrand Pineau, came into the class to give a presentation on what the course would be about. Everyone sat curiously, expecting another powerpoint or lecture. Suddenly, the professor began to call on random students, instructing them to do odd things such as stand up and walk to the other side of the room. The professor began to build on this, telling the student to walk as if they were angry, sad, or happy. These short improv exercises were intimidating, but sparked my interest. There was much excitement among the students, and at the end of the day, all of us asked each other if we would sign up for theater. My first response was, “Of course not, that was so scary!” But soon after, I decided that was the very reason that I wanted to take the course.
The first day was nerve-wracking. Ten students showed up, and we jumped right in. We did improv exercises and I struggled to keep up in French. While I excel in French grammar and reading, my weak spots are in auditory comprehension and verbal communication. I found this class to target my weak spots; I felt like the one person in the room that had no idea what was going on. Oddly enough, this inspired me; this was an excellent opportunity for me to learn, which meant that I would inevitably get better. Each week after, we had one three-hour class. We met at La Ruche, a small theater a short 20-minute walk from IES Abroad. The theater itself was tucked away, nestled discreetly in the corner of an alleyway.
Looming ahead was the big end-of-year show for all IES Abroad students, host families, faculty and staff to see. This show would be based off of an original script written by professor Pineau. It was a comedic spin on the Odyssey, with French reality-TV references like “La Voix.” Each of us would take turns playing the main character Ulysse. As we sat down to analyse the script, I had some difficulty understanding the references and the French text. Soon after, however, I found myself diving into the interesting world of finding out who my character is, what their goal is, and why they say the given lines. As time passed, we dove further into our script—The Odyssey turned into a funny story with nods to French TV, making it a lesson in French culture. Every class taught us something new, from how to express emotions to understanding the script better.
In the meantime, I came to learn that this unassuming theater is the home of artistic brilliance. As students, we were invited to attend a show. The theater is so small and intimate that there were seats on the floor - the stage. I sat in the front and watched in awe as the play progressed; even though I did not catch all of the French, I watched the brilliant way in which each actress moved her body so that it matched the abstract, other-worldly vibe of the play. I watched as a sculptor grabbed clay out of thin air and molded it into a brilliant statue, as if it were really there.
After watching this performance, I unexpectedly grew inspired. I was glad to share this experience with my classmates. We soon came to realize that our rehearsals were all about working together. We swapped roles, so we could understand different characters. I even got to play Ulysse and had a long monologue in French, which helped me understand the language better.
When our big day came, our theater was packed with our host families and friends. As the play started, the nervousness turned into excitement. There were no microphones, so we would have to speak loudly and confidently. We all arrived 7 hours early to rehearse each scene; as we arrived, we saw for the first time where we would be performing: Le Sèmaphore on the Île de Nantes.
It began with soldiers playing cards, and I had the first line—"Sept de trèfle!” Each part of the play was a mix of funny French reality TV-references and serious moments that our audience really loved. I played Ulysse in one scene, and had a long monologue. I had to encourage my soldiers and crew to keep fighting so that we could return home.
Afterwards, we felt amazing. One of the professors who attended had been attending IES Abroad plays for years. He sent us an email a few days afterwards and told us that he believed ours was perhaps the best. The happiness we felt and the messages we got showed how much we'd grown and worked together. Some of my students from my teaching internship had come to watch!
As the play ended, I realized how much this theater experience meant to me. It taught me so much and helped me make friends. I could feel that I had grown tremendously since the beginning of this experience. The confidence I gained from this went way beyond acting—it changed my life.
This class would not have been as excellent had another professor led it. While I was timid at first, I grew inspired by Bertrand’s boundless encouragement and non-judgmental nature. Whenever I did not understand an assignment, he made it easy to ask questions. Bertrand’s selfless leadership and extraordinary talent for theater inspired us all and created an exceptional atmosphere each class. Furthermore, his dedicated personality made him an excellent teacher where we learned not only the craft of acting, but also life skills of perseverance, and doing everything you do with passion and dedication.
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I became inspired to travel abroad after reading the book "Banner in the Sky" by James Ullman. Since then, I've dreamed of visiting Switzerland and climbing the Matterhorn during the day and snowboarding down the Swiss mountains at night!