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During the summer of 2012, Sharon L. James co-directed the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on Roman Comedy in Performance. With the help of visiting faculty consultants, she and co-director Tim Moore, PhD ’86, lead 25 participants through the rough and tumble world of Roman Comedy. Together they created multiple performance versions of scenes from Plautus and Terence by experimenting with staging, actors, translation, choreography, and more. By doing so, they crafted an excellent series of videos that relates the ancient plays to our modern society.

Below, participant Dan Smith, Michigan State University, shares his blog about preparing for and filming the institute, and how participating in the institute improved the way he teaches Roman comedy.


Dan Smith

I wanted to be part of the NEH Summer Institute on Roman Comedy in Performance because I regularly teach Roman comedy as part of Theatre History survey courses. I had taught Menaechmi and Pseudolus along with a smattering of cultural history. In joining the institute, I hoped to expand my knowledge of the extant repertoire and of the conditions of performance in Ancient Rome. The intensive course of study provided by the institute has given me much more confidence in my ability to teach Roman comedy. Our practice-based research allowed for experimentation with different possibilities for integrating music, masks, and other aspects of Roman theatre in order to translate these plays for audiences today.

During our rehearsals and filming, each group had a designated blogger to chronicle our experiences on the NEH website. As the blogger for both Pseudolus E and Mercator, my thoughts about the rehearsal process are available on the institute’s blog. I had a wonderful time collaborating with both groups. I also ended up as an extra in Pseudolus D and Eunuchus. The three days of filming were quite a whirlwind!

After the institute, my teaching of Roman comedy has been vastly improved by my participation in the Institute. I used Amy Richlin’s audience role-play exercise in my Theatre History course last fall. It was so successful that I hope to develop similar exercises for other periods (an idea Chris Woodworth and I discussed during the institute).

Also, for a graduate course on Translation and Adaptation this spring, I asked my students to analyze the five Pseudolus videos in terms of their strategies of linguistic and cultural translation. My colleagues from the institute graciously shared the scripts of their performances so that my students could read more closely to analyze the choices made in translation. Among other things, we discussed the use of commedia dell’arte as a strategy of cultural translation, approaches to meter and music, the interplay of contemporary and archaic language, and the specific linguistic choices made in translating the names of the prostitutes.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to have met so many classicists and theatre specialists, and to have learned so much about Roman theatre. I look forward to future collaborations with members of the dynamic group of scholars and theatre practitioners from the institute.