Final Exhibitions and Performances

It has been a bittersweet ending to our Spoleto Study Abroad Program. Today students showcased the culmination of their work over the last three weeks. In the morning, Creative Writing students read their short stories, and Screenwriting students had faculty and fellow students do a read through of their screenplays. Before lunch, Photography and Visual Arts students stood proudly next to their work and discussed their process.

Students had time after lunch to pack up and enjoy their final day in Spoleto. Following dinner, Vocal and Strings students gave their final performance.

Saturday in Spoleto

Happy Saturday! Typically Saturday is a travel day, however, today students spent the day preparing for their final performances tomorrow. All of the students have worked incredibly hard this summer!


Voice students ran through their performance today in preparation for tomorrows final performance. Their teachers are impressed with their progress this summer. 


After dinner, some students went to see a Ballet in the Roman Theater. 


Spotlight: Vocal and Instrumental Music


Spotlight: Music

All of our music students are making final preparations for Sunday's showcase. Each violinist will play a work with a local pianist in addition to performing with the choir. Above, you can see the SSA choir practicing choreography for "I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair" from the musical South Pacific. They have done wonderful work learning a wide range of choral pieces, and this week they have been putting on the finishing touches. 


The vocal music students are each singing one duet from Mozart's Opera Le Nozze di Figaro and one duet from a musical. Above, Elle and Adelaide are rehearsing the duet "Some Things Are Meant to Be" from Little Women. They are doing a wonderful job expressing their different characters and working together with their duet partners. Terry has been tweaking the blocking, and we will do our final dress rehearsal in the morning. Below, you can see the Via di Sant'Agata, and the columns on the left are the entrance to the church where we rehearse. 


Today, we also had our first birthday of the program! We enjoyed a delicious spread of pastries in Zoe's honor after dinner, and she received a Ronaldo jersey as a gift!

Spotlight: Visual Arts...Plus a Pool Party!

Spotlight: Visual Arts

Claire Lerner

"During week three of the Visual Arts class, students are busy completing work on their two in depth projects; a self-portrait from life and street scene(s) of Spoleto. For these two projects students were encouraged to work in a variety of art media including mixed media, watercolor, oil, acrylic, charcoal, and pencil.  Students are excited and delighted to present their final works in an exhibition that will be held in the art room along with their fellow photography students on Saturday.

Completing any art piece can be a daunting and challenging task but these fantastic and talented students stayed on task and embraced all the challenges that were presented to them. They enjoyed and appreciated having sixteen hours a week completely devoted to art studio time. The finished artwork that will be presented in the student exhibition will reflect the concentrated hours spent in the art studio. Students were thrilled to have the opportunity to work so intensively in a variety of art media for the past three weeks!"


Pool Party!

After morning classes, we took a trip to the countryside to enjoy the pool, volleyball, and dinner. 

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We could see the castle of Spoleto off in the distance.


A storm passed over us, but we made the best of it by playing cards and enjoying some lively conversation inside a covered tent.

After the rain passed, we enjoyed a beautiful evening.

We ended the evening with our final Palio competition. Each contrada participated in a relay race on the volleyball court. It was a fantastic night!

Travel Day: Orvieto


Today we traveled to the beautiful hilltop town of Orvieto. It is also in Umbria, Spoleto’s region of Italy, so it was a closer drive than some of our other day trips. Our first adventure after arriving in Orvieto was the funicular ride from lower Orvieto (where the bus dropped us off) into the historic town.


Once in Orvieto, we visited the well of St. Patrick, which served as the water supply for the whole town. The well has two very long spiral staircases – one for descending and one for ascending – so we enjoyed the changing views and temperatures as we made the hike all the way down and back up.


Next, we walked along the beautiful street up to the Duomo, a cathedral which contrasts stunningly with the scale of the surrounding town. Because Orvieto was historically a residential site for the pope, it has an unusually elaborate cathedral for a smaller town. Inside the Duomo, we enjoyed seeing the unusual amber windows and the incredible chapel of San Brizio with a depiction of the last judgment by Signorelli (although the work was begun by Fra Angelico and Gozzoli).


Next to the Duomo, we visited the Etruscan Museum containing artifacts from the Etruscan settlement in Orvieto, a civilization that flourished in the area until the 3rd century BCE. The Etruscans buried their dead in elaborate tombs below the town, and many of these were preserved until they were discovered in the modern era. After the museum, students had free time to explore the town, do some shopping, and enjoy the local cuisine.


After a little time at the convent to relax, students had a chance to try some other Spoletino restaurants for faculty dinners. Students split into groups to have dinner with a pair of faculty members, so some dined with Niccolo/Andrea, some with AJ/John, and others with Sarah/Clare. Students and faculty alike enjoyed the chance to explore a bit more and get to know one another better.


Spotlight: Creative Writing and Screen Writing

Spotlight: Screen Writing 

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Less than three weeks ago the screenwriting students walked into class with, at best, a kernel of a story idea(s).  Okay, I’ll admit, I was a little worried.  How would they shape these kernels into screenplays for four short films in three short weeks?  The answer - talent and tenacity. BTW, one without the other doesn’t work.  Hard work and a creative imagination is the ticket.  I’m happy to report these students had both.  

Their stories are as inspired as they are diverse.  We have ‘girl wants boy, who doesn’t like girls’, ‘boy who wants girl and, therefore, must “off” other boy’, ‘a mother’s battle for virginity’, and ‘Thelma and Louise forty years later’. I know, you want to see all of these films.

Well, I have good news, by Friday all four scripts will be completed. Yes, conceived of, created and cooked in three brief weeks.  And they are amazing first drafts!

 I want to thank my students for their smarts, hard work and cooperation: talent and tenacity.

My advice - keep writing!



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Spotlight: Creative Writing 

Since last week’s update, we’ve finished our crash course in the elements of fiction. On Thursday we studied different modes of narration, and the ways in which narrators can be classified beyond the usual categories of first, second or third person.

On Friday we studied how to manage the passing of time and passing between multiple timelines in stories. As an example of artful time management, we read It’s Bad Luck to Die by Elizabeth McCracken, a story that spans a 20+ year marriage from start to finish in only 20 pages.

The town of Spoleto, too, proved a valuable resource during our discussions of time. Students took a trip to lower Spoleto to better consider the juxtaposition of everyday contemporary life set against a centuries-old backdrop. We spoke in particular about how specific venues (perhaps Spoleto’s famous Roman aqueduct for instance, a notorious teenage hangout until the recent earthquake damage) or objects can anchor a narrative as it travels back and forth through time.

Yesterday we shifted our focus fully toward the students’ final projects, and today they met with me in individual conferences to discuss the direction of their new work. On Thursday we’ll be workshopping their latest drafts to make sure everyone’s ready for Sunday’s reading!

Creative writing students had a visitor during class at the park. 

Creative writing students had a visitor during class at the park. 

Performance Class 

Tonight, after dinner, students gathered in Sant'Agata for their third and final performance class. Photography students, vocal students, and creative writing students shared what they have been working on in class. As we approach the end of the program, students have been working hard preparing for their final performance on Sunday. 


Spotlight: Photography

Sara Kerr, Faculty:

"This week students finished shooting and editing their street photography assignment. We had a mini critique in class and then we presented this work to the entire Spoleto group at our work in progress presentation. Students are now working on their "Place" assignment, bringing together  images of architecture, landscape, still life and detail shots of the places that they have been observing and experiencing during their trip. They are also putting together their final portfolio for the exhibition on Saturday! 

I asked the students to share with you their favorite image from their street photography assignment. Here is a small taste of the excellent work that they have been producing."  


"Not all strangers are strange. Some just need an introduction and a bit of an explanation. These three men were new to me, but by the time I had left we had become friends. "



" This photo was a favorite of mine because the two children were clearly close and it was amazing to be able to capture their friendship in a moment. It also is very adorable"




"This is my favorite photograph that I took because after waiting for quite some time, my patience paid off and I was able to get the subject looking straight into my lens"



"I loved how this photo showed the touristy nature of the city of Florence. Even though this could be a common scene in many cities throughout the world, the foreground specifically seemed to show the competition for economic gain amongst the pedicab drivers. It is one of my favorite photos I took during the Street Photography unit, and I'm excited to include it in my final portfolio!"



"I really like this photo because it displays a tight and close relationship. The couple walked perfectly through my frame, which was the best time and place for lighting."


Today in Arts and Ideas, students left the classroom to work on a Town-as-Text inspired project in Piazza del Mercato.  They have been tasked to collaborate to create or to design a piece of art based on their collective experience.  They will continue to work on this for the rest of the week!

Student Spotlight: Visual Arts

Ciao and Happy Sunday! 



Favorite Place in Spoleto: Piazza Garibaldi 

Favorite artistic medium: Oil paints 



Favorite Place in Spoleto: Piazza Mercato

Favorite artistic medium: Pencil for sketching 



Favorite Place in Spoleto: Gelateria Crispini 

Favorite artistic medium: Oil paint 



Favorite Place in Spoleto: The pathway to La Rocca. 

Favorite artistic medium: Charcoil and water color. 




Favorite place in Spoleto: Paoluzi, the art store. 

Favorite artistic medium: Gouache



Favorite place in Spoleto: Paoluzi, the art store. 

Favorite artistic medium: Graphic 



Favorite place in Spoleto: Piazza Mercato

Favorite artistic medium: Acrylic 



Favorite place in Spoleto: The pathway to La Rocca 

Favorite artistic medium: Oil  



Favorite place in Spoleto: The book store on the way to the convent.

Favorite artistic medium: Pen 



Favorite place in Spoleto: Piazza Mercato 

Favorite artistic medium: Water color  


Faculty Performances 

This morning, students gathered in the performance space, Sant'Agata, for the second faculty performance. Faculty members showcased what they have been working on in their respective disciplines. 


Talent Show! 

After dinner, students showcased their unique talents at tonight's talent show. Their talents included everything from singing to magic tricks. 

Chloe singing "Bad Religion" by Frank Ocean

Chloe singing "Bad Religion" by Frank Ocean

Tom playing "I Fall Apart" on the piano 

Tom playing "I Fall Apart" on the piano 

Emelia doing doing a magic trick with cards 

Emelia doing doing a magic trick with cards 

Beatrice singing and playing the ukulele 

Beatrice singing and playing the ukulele 

Laura singing "She Used to be Mine" 

Laura singing "She Used to be Mine" 

Elle singing an original song, "Back Home" 

Elle singing an original song, "Back Home" 

Emma singing "King" 

Emma singing "King" 

A Trip to Ostia and Tivoli

What a great day of travel! We started the day with a bus ride to Ostia Antica, the ancient port city for Rome. There, students explored the archaeological site and experienced a working Roman town. After learning about the town from Alison, the Arts and Ideas instructor, students had free time to explore the baths, the courtyard of guilds, and the Roman houses.


After visiting Ostia Antica, we hopped back on the bus and took a quick drive to Tivoli. In Tivoli, students explored the Villa d'Este, a Renaissance villa. Andrea, the Italian teacher, explained the history of the family that built the Villa. The gardens and fountains were breathtaking, and the students were amazed.

Here is what they had to say about their experience today: 

Gwyn's favorite part of the day: Seeing the fountains with my friends

Chloe's favorite part of the day: Seeing all the fountains in the Villa

Meg's favorite part of the day: Eating pizza with Ethan, Kaden, and Peili

Meredith's favorite part of the day: Eating lemon gelato

Zoë's favorite part of the day: Relaxing by the fountains after a hot day

Olivia's favorite part of the day: Exploring the ruins at Ostia with Mr. Muti

Emelia's favorite part of the day: Exploring around the garden and feeling the cool breeze from the waterfalls.

Renee's favorite part of the day: Walking through the garden to look at all of the fountains

Jonah's favorite part of the day: Walking through the gardens

Kylie's favorite part of the day: Seeing all the fountains

Laura's favorite part of the day: The Tivoli gardens were so beautiful, I really enjoyed it!

Beatrice's favorite part of the day: I enjoyed seeing the fountains as well as the potato pizza I got nearby.

Riley's favorite part of the day: I really loved the gardens and getting to see the inside of the Villa and also getting to hang out with the teachers at a nearby restaurant

Adelaide's favorite part of the day: our late lunch with the teachers

Elle's favorite part of our day: Getting caught in the rain and seeking shelter in a Roman outhouse. 

Kaden's favorite part of day: exploring the gardens at the Villa

Ethan's favorite part of the day: Learning the history of the Este family

Callie's favorite part of the day: Eating lunch with the Fellows

Peili's Favorite part of the day: The garden

Tom's favorite part of the day: Being able to have an extended amount of time to take in all of the beauty of the fountains and gardens at the Villa d’Este

Susana's favorite part of the day: Going around the villa looking and taking pictures around the fountains.

Carly's favorite part of the day: The amazing fountains at the villa

Aida's favorite part of the day: I found a blackberry bush in a field in Ostia, and they were delicious. 

Kayli's favorite part of the day: Aida and I found an empty field with blackberries and poppies, so we laid down until the rain started to pour down. The tranquility of it all will be something I remember.

Emma Unglaub's favorite part of the day: the moment when, during my exploration of the gardens at the Villa d'Este, I came around a bend and saw the biggest fountain overlooking the pools of fish. The sight was so beautiful and unexpected, I actually gasped. It was absolutely breathtaking.

Gabe's favorite part of the day: Seeing the the amount of detail put in on the fountains at Tivoli. Another moment was after Tivoli talking with Sarah, the photography teacher, at the Gelateria.

Emma Thains' favorite part of the day: Exploring the ancient ruins of Ostia Antica

Sarah's favorite part of the day: Exploring the beautiful fountains

Taylor's favorite part of the day: Seeing the amazing fountains and gardens

Spotlight: Vocal and Instrumental Music



At the end of this full week of classes, the students followed their regular schedule for the day. Andrea, our Italian instructor, led the students into lower Spoleto to discover even more of the town. Friday is market day in Spoleto, so students got to experience the fun and chaos of a long stretch of vendors selling everything from clothing to fresh fruit and veggies. The day ended with another delicious dinner at the Clitunno followed by our second performance class, where we heard from students studying vocal music, photography, and visual art. To finish our performance class, Dr. Jan Guffin spoke to the students about the importance of creativity in artistic expression and read one of his personal essays from twenty years ago (the beginning Spoleto Study Abroad). 


Spotlight: Vocal and Instrumental Music

It’s hard to believe that we’re coming to the end of our second week of classes, lessons and rehearsals here in Spoleto – the time is flying by! This week we staged/blocked our opera and musical theater scenes, and will be refining up until the final performance on July 29. We had a performance class on Tuesday evening July 17, and will have another one on Friday night with more singers presenting their soloistic work. We also had the pleasure on Thursday evening July 19  of hearing pianist Laura Magnani, originally from Spoleto, Italy,  but now based in the Bay area, performing Debussy, Schumann and Chopin in concert at Sant’Agata.

All of our music students continue with a wide variety of morning classes designed to stretch them physically, musically, and emotionally. In this week's opera history session, Lorenzo introduced the operas of Mozart and Rossini. They are also all making great strides in choir rehearsal, where we are getting through the stage of learning notes and rhythms and are now working toward a beautiful, unified sound across the ensemble. In our first week of performance classes, both string players performed a chamber work by Dvorak with Niccolo and two of our singers performed - one an Italian art song and another a Broadway selection.



Spotlight: Visual Arts

Students continued with another day of classes. In the morning Lorenzo led the class to La Rocca, the castle, and explained the complex history of this beautiful hilltop fortress. 


Lorenzo explained that the castle was originally built as a fortress in the 13th century, but then was transformed into a summer residence for the wealthy (including a number of popes). It was later transformed again into a maximum security prison, and finally became a museum about 30 years ago.


Students enjoyed the view from the hilltop upon which La Rocca sits.


Spotlight: Visual Arts

Claire Lerner

After putting into practice new drawing techniques for their self-portraits, visual art students were eager to experiment with a variety of paint brushes and media, including acrylic and oil paint, and charcoal. Students learned basic and advanced painting techniques such as working dark to light, and lean to fat. They also learned under painting techniques and the importance of “blocking in” your painting before adding detail and top layers of paint. Students also learned how to “work across the color wheel” using complements and saturated and unsaturated color. This practice was quickly put into place while working on their portraits.  

An informal critique was held “mid-project” outdoors in the beautiful early evening light of Spoleto, encouraging and supporting the success of each student’s work. Students are also working on their Spoleto city scene sketches, which are in the process of being developed into larger finished work.

This week, visiting artist and college Art History and Studio Arts professor Paul Roehl gave Visual Arts students a college-level one hour slide lecture on the history of art and the aesthetic experience. He also talked about the history of landscape painting and discussed and presented his own work.

Beach Day!


Today we ventured out of Spoleto and made our way to the Adriatic. Students enjoyed the sun and water while relaxing on beach chairs under umbrellas in San Benedetto del Tronto. We spent the day swimming, going for walks, eating seafood and gelato, and playing games.


After a wonderful day at the beach, we stopped for pizza on our way back to Spoleto. Not only did we have amazing pizza and dessert, we also had a stunning view and colorful sunset.


Spotlight: Creative Writing and Screen Writing


Today was an eventful day for students! This morning in their arts and Ideas class, faculty member Dr. Jan Guffin took students on a field trip to a local store in Spoleto. After learning about the history of the store, students had time to look around and purchase souvenirs such as custom-made journals, leather belts, and wax stamps.


Then, students walked across the street to a local cafe for coffee and class. Yesterday students did several writing exercises where they focused on writing fluency. They discussed the difference between looking and existing. Today at the cafe, students each shared one of their pieces of writing from yesterday's class. Students loved the opportunity to explore and have class in a new location. 

Students sharing their writing

Students sharing their writing

After dinner tonight, faculty and students gathered in the performance space for performance class. During this time students have an opportunity to share what they have been focusing on in class as well as their work in progress. All of the students are incredibly talented! It was clear how dedicated they are and how hard they have been working.


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Spotlight: Screen Writing 



The room is average size, stocked with chalk, crayons, charts, the materials you would find in a third grade classroom. It seems like the kind of classroom that would have internet access, but maybe not.

WARREN, the teacher, looks somewhat capable.  But maybe not. 

The students - MIRANDA, KYLIE, BEA and GABE - appear wildly capable. We’ll see.


I have to do this blog-thingy.  You know, about stuff you’ve learned in class.

Students groan. 


They want to know if you’ve learned anything.

Another groan, deeper and longer.


What do you think? Have you learned anything?




Sort of.


Guess so.


Have you seen Arrested Development?




Every film must have a protagonist, a hero, someone the audience follows.


It’s his, the protagonist’s, story.


Or her’s.


Right.  That’s what I meant.  His or hers.  Have you seen Whiplash?




Every protagonist must have an objective.  Really important, the objective.


Something he or she wants.   That’s the objective.  Like in Up, Carl, the old man, wants to go to Paradise Falls.


In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wants to go home, Kansas.


Some films don’t have a protagonist with an objective.


Name one.

Gabe gives Warren a dirty look.  Gabe’s thinking.


The protagonist must be passionate about the objective.  Going after it makes her active.


And the protagonist must be active, which is why the writer gives her an objective - something to chase.


An inactive protagonist is boring.  Have you seen Pulp Fiction?




I like the Inciting Incident.  I didn’t know about that before.



The inciting incident happens near the end of act one.  It sets the story in motion.


It changes the protagonist’s life forever, nothing will ever be the same. 


Romeo sees and falls in love with Juliette.


Shark eats girl.  The sheriff’s life will never be the same. 


Have you seen Jaws?




Legally Blond, her boyfriend breaks up with her. He’s going to Harvard Law School.  So, she goes after him.


Girl wants boy.  Boy’s the objective.


Inciting incident and objective all wrapped up in one.  Cool.


So, act one - meet protagonist, set up objective, nail down inciting incident.


Act two is just obstacles, a bunch of stuff that keeps the protagonist from reaching the objective.


Weird, the writer gives the protagonist an objective.  Then, makes it nearly impossible to get.


All drama is conflict.


The antagonist tries to stop the protagonist from reaching the objective.  More conflict.


Also, the protagonist should have a flaw, which he or she corrects in the second act.


Carl is, like, a mean old man at the end of the first act.


And by the end of Up?


He’s like a father to Russell.


What’s the objective in Jaws?


The shark.  What else could it be?


Thought you said you hadn’t seen it.

Warren glares at Gabe.

Meredith snickers.

Gabe looks like he just scored a goal.


Want to watch Spider-Man?


Yeah, cool.


Have you seen Spider-Man II?


No.  Hey, think the other classes wish they got to watch movies during class?


Are you kidding?


Of course.  They’re, like, dying.


Can we watch Spider-Man II next?



Warren puts DVD in.


So, you did learn something?




Guess so.


Sort of.


Can you go to wide screen?



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Spotlight: Creative Writing 

Since last week, the creative writing students have dived deeper into the elements of fiction writing: namely characters, place, and the construction of scenes. The town proved to be a great resource as students pulled characters and settings directly from Spoletino daily life.

Equipped with this new perspective on the art of writing fiction, students turned a critical eye on their own previous work in Monday’s workshop. They’re now preparing to revise and re-imagine their own stories – starting from scratch, with the goal being to elevate and amplify the core tensions, characters and themes beating at the story’s heart.

Today in class we talked about layering, about the stories that appear within stories, and how those layers interact with and better one another. Finally we completed an exercise on beginnings, focusing specifically on the first two sentences.

Students shared their story beginnings at tonight’s Performance Class, and are preparing to share a longer work with the SSA community by the end of the week.


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Spotlight: Photography

This evening we planned to feature our first Student Performance Workshop, which is an opportunity for students to showcase their work in progress. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating, and we decided to postpone our evening plans.  We returned to the convent and called it a night.  All students are currently enjoying some downtime through the storm in their rooms.  Despite the interruption of the weather, it was a beautiful day in Spoleto!

Spotlight: Photography

Sara Kerr, Faculty:

"After completing their first assignment on the technical aspects of the camera and composition strategies, students are now working on their second assignment, which is focused on street photography and environmental portraiture.

We started this assignment by looking at some of the great street and portrait photographers: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Paul Strand, Helen Levitt and Walker Evans... to name just a few. We then went out to practice some of the strategies that we had learned about at the local clothing market. Photographing active street life proved to have many great challenges and we talked through these in our class critique. 

Some of the things that we learned included how to be discrete and blend in with a camera and how to take photographs in non-obvious ways. We also learned about how to wait for a subject to enter the frame, how to be patient and observant in a busy environment, and how to pick out characters and interesting stories in the bustle of daily life. 

Over the last few days students have had the chance to observe and to photograph street life in Spoleto and in Florence, and they will have a chance to finish this project with our beach trip on Wednesday.

We are also, along the way, learning about selecting and editing images in Bridge and Photoshop. 

It has been very busy in the photo classroom!"