Bilingual Theater in Paris

Miranda Crispin is an actor, director, singer, teacher and language enthusiast. With a Masters degree in Music Theatre/Opera Performance from Arizona State University, and a B.F.A. from Illinois Wesleyan University, she also studied French language at the Sorbonne and has served as an American Ambassadorial Scholar to France from the Arizona State University Insitute for the Arts. Currently teaching at the American Conservatory L’Ecole Koenig, Miranda is the star of director Stephane Ly-Cuong’s staging of “The Last Five Years,” which opens tonight.

Is there a large Parisian audience for American musical theater?

Miranda Crispin: The audience seems to be growing. When I first came to Paris in 1999, American musical theatre definitely wasn’t big on the scene. I think “Hunchback of Notre Dame” might have been out and “Les 10 Commandements” was coming in early 2000, but those were both original French musicals and in French. The past few years, there have been some large, successful productions of American musical theatre by Stage Entertainment (“Mamma Mia”, “Sister Act”, and “The Lion King”), and the newest director at the Theatre du Chatelet has been programming musicals on every recent season, playing American musicals in the original English.

AMTLIVE is the first company in town, as far as we know to be programming these more intimate, Off-Broadway genre works. When we started with cabaret concerts last year, we weren’t sure what the reception would be, but we’ve had full houses and supportive audiences at every concert we’ve done and the same is true for the first two productions of “EDGES”, which opened this week. Let’s hope we can help built and strengthen support for this integrated type of performance here in Paris.

What has it been like to work with a bilingual cast and crew? Especially with Jonathan, your French co-star?

This is one of my favorite parts about doing theatre in Paris, and with AMTLIVE. I mean, I already live a bilingual life as an American abroad, but getting to do this work, to talk about the characters, the music, the process, and our perceptions of this work, in two languages really is a gift.

We all learn more about ourselves, our respective cultures, and how cultural differences (and similarities) can color how we look at life and, in this case, a relationship. It really makes us listen to a lot more than language, in some ways, and to how the nuances in each culture are expressed physically and verbally. The eye contact, for example, is used in different measure sometimes, and the size and scale of our body movement is really culturally specific sometimes. Being able to talk about motivation for characters and how the public perceives certain words and gestures really helps us both learn about cultural implication and senses of humor. That’s one of the most difficult things for me living in France – the tone. Even if you understand every word in French, there is so much cultural baggage that it’s easy to miss intentions, to miss what’s not being said. For example, (in French) I sometimes have a hard time knowing immediately whether someone is using cynicism or irony to be funny, or just being negative.

Getting to work with people who love this world of musical theatre and in another language really helps me learn more about the culture in which I am living every day. It’s also so much easier sometimes to just use the word that is more precise or direct, and when everyone is bilingual, we often end up speaking in “franglais” because it’s allows for a more nuanced exchange.

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