When most people think of a senior thesis, an image is conjured up in their minds of a 40-page stack of paper, laminated and filled with academic observations. For his thesis, however, Kevin Medansky ’19 spent a year researching and writing on French drama, prior to his own staging of a one-man play in a second language, complete with an elaborate set and costume design.
The play Medansky selected was Apnée ou le Dernier des militants by Yves Reynaud. His performance was a perfect opportunity for Medansky to incorporate his film and media studies minor, which he received from Swarthmore College, into his French and Francophone studies major. These two interests have never been mutually exclusive for Medansky. The recent graduate has enjoyed studying French film and theater in his language courses, in addition to having a formative experience on the stage while abroad.
“After spending the spring of my junior year as a foreign exchange student at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University’s Institute of Theater Studies… I worked with a theater company at the Avignon Festival,” said Medansky. “Theater has inspired my coursework, which has pushed me to find related extracurricular activities and jobs, which made the prospect of performing this monologue in the original French so enticing.”
The thespian’s thesis, however, contained more than a performance. In the fall, Medansky produced an analytical piece of writing in the style of a conventional thesis on, as he says, “contemporary dramaturgy and the history and development of the monologue.”
Following this, Medansky turned his efforts to surtitling the entire play in English. (A surtitle is a subtitle used in theater that is projected above the stage for the audience to read.) Surtitles were especially useful in Medansky’s case since many of the people who gathered to watch him perform weren’t French speakers.
“That helped me hone in on a skill that we don’t often teach and that I hadn’t really practiced too much: French-English translation,” he said, discussing the surtitling process. “Now, I feel so much more confident in my abilities to switch freely between the two languages.”
Though Medansky’s staging of the play is an atypical thesis format, it still holds many valuable contributions. His performance and translation of Reynaud’s work are the first to surface in the U.S., and atop that Medansky provided an engrossing evening of drama for the community.
How did your thesis advisor help you develop your topic, conduct your research, and/or interpret your results?
So, Professor Koffi Anyinefa of the Haverford College Department of French and Francophone Studies is the advisor who has been with my since day one. He had coffee with me on a hot afternoon in Avignon and convinced me to take on this project, and he guided me throughout the entire process. We also brought in Professor Laila Swanson from the Swarthmore College Theater Department, who helped make our theoretical idea of a performance into a reality, with expert advice on staging and actually planning a theatrical performance. She also brought Emmanuelle Delpech—a lifelong actor who has often served as an external examiner for the Honors Theater program over at Swarthmore, and who will teach in the Bryn Mawr College French and Francophone Studies Department this fall—onto the advising team to help breathe life into the performance. She helped me develop my acting techniques, so that this wouldn’t just be an intellectual project; she helped me embody the character as a whole
What are your plans for the future and does your thesis have anything to do helping to guide your future career path?
Starting in September, I’ll be pursuing a master’s in theater studies at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris!
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.