When Italianiamo came to a stall due to the repetition of the formula and to its limits, I had many things in mind I would have liked to try out.
Among them, the most simple, less technical demanding for learners, was a machinima.
I had no experience in acting, nor in using theatre technique for learning nor in machinima, unless you want to call “experience” a small part I played when I was 6 and some short films I did in SL for documentation or just for fun.
In addition, I had no idea of how the Italianiamo’s participants would react to the idea.
Our activities until then were very little demanding: just drop by and see what is the topic of the day. But this time I was handing over to them the responsibility of almost everything: the thinking of the story and the dialogues, and most important of all: the commitment. A machinima is not something you do in 90 minutes, and the presence of the authors and actors is required in almost all the stages.
For me, I kept the technical part: the preparation of the settings, the summarising of the decision we took and the transcription of the improvised dialogues, the shooting and the editing of the resulting material.
Of course, I was as well a guide and an Italian teacher: helping out with grammar and pronunciation and trying to maintain a sort of balance between the characters, so that each had their moment of glory, as well as pushing them a little when they were stuck in the story.
It is very interesting to be writing this now, while we are starting to work on our second little film. I remember that the first time I had no idea of how to proceed.
We started thinking a story. The first sessions were actually ideas and ideas and ideas and ideas going around, each starting from some other ideas but walking on their own. This first stage is very messy and it is difficult even for me to keep track of all the different stories that sprung up. As well, some are naturally more creative and bolder while others are more shy and reflexive, and if I wanted that the story was really a collective creation, I had to push some while holding back gently others.
From the general outline of the story we got the different character, mostly proposed by those who wanted to embody them. And starting form the characters and the relations between them we went on building the story and the dialogues.
This is the most interesting part, in my opinion, from a language learning point of view: the same vocabulary, sentences and structures come out naturally over and over. Something that was not happening with the old structure of Italianiamo and that I felt it was one of its main limits. And the same vocabulary is used again in the second stage: the creation of the dialogues. Moreover, this time it is also written and repeated. And repeated and repeated.
At first, I thought that each person involved in a dialogue could write in chat what he was saying, but I soon discovered that it did not work. It was unnatural and difficult to them to think quickly their answer and to write it down while they were saying it. They were too focused on the improvisation to be distracted by something as trivial as to take notes.
When I realised it and decided to transcribe myself the dialogues as they were improvising them, we had already lost a wonderful quarrel between the hairdresser and her husband.
There is nothing to do about it: improvisation is improvisation. The first go is always the better, fresher and wittier of all. Then you can polish it, add something here and there, change this and that, but if you try to repeat it, to do it again from what you remember, it will not be the same.
Once we had the transcription of the dialogues, we started rehearsing them. In this phase it was very useful and interesting to have some native speakers among us. This allowed us to work on different dialogues at the same time, since the Italian “actors” could improve pronunciation and help writing down any correction/change.
The final part, the actual shooting, involved also repetition: we usually took at least two takes of the same scene.
But most important of all, we laughed a lot, we enjoyed our time, involved people on the go (like when we needed a barman… everybody was scanning their friend list to look for eligible candidates, sending messages -in Italian, since most of them were native speakers- to see if this person was willing to come and play the barman part), made suggestion on the settings and discussed and solved problems as we spotted them.
I also learnt to machinima, and I have to thanks all the Italianiamo participants for that. Without them this project, our film “il marito della parrucchiera” (the hairdresser’s husband) and all the resulting learning would not have been possible.