On November 30, 2017, the McGraw Center welcomed Florent Masse, Senior Lecturer in French and Italian, as part of our “Profiles in Innovative Teaching” series. A trained actor, Masse teaches theater workshops – co-listed in French and Theater – as well as directs the theater troupe L’Avant-scène and organizes the annual Princeton French Theater Festival.
Teaching students to perform theater serves the objectives of a language and culture department well, observed Masse during his presentation at McGraw. As he described it, students sharpen their language skills and deepen their cultural knowledge through artistic practice.
His workshops and performance troupe immerse students in the French repertoire; students perform scenes or entire plays from classical, modern, and contemporary drama. As he has observed, students who perform in French not only learn how to pronounce the language better – Masse uses repetition to help students master the nuances of French vowel sounds — but also develop greater ease, fluency, and confidence in speaking. His workshops require students, working in pairs, to memorize scenes, and actively and frequently rehearse under direction. He noted that when students are having trouble delivering a line, it is often because they don’t understand it on a lexical level; he works closely with them so that their rendering of the line is informed by a clear sense of what the character is saying. Performing in spaces across campus, Masse’s students learn the French acting tradition and the dramatic canon; his students have performed Racine, Moliere, and Claudel, among others. Masse makes use of other, more traditional forms of assessment – an oral interview, written analysis – to evaluate his students’ oral skills and literary analysis. But performing theater allows his students to become skilled and confident speakers of French.