A week of balancing…

It’s been a week of balancing…. Balancing the completion of a polished draft of my first novel with a first draft commission of a performance text for Sherman Cymru Theatre. A week of seeking parity of meaning between languages, and of promoting gender parity in those working in professional theatre.

News of the novel I will keep for another time. I haven’t yet ‘come out’ as a would be novelist, and the public admission, above, of my advanced stage in the process of  writing long fiction feels quite enough, frankly, at present…. Suffice to say the ms has gone off to my relatively new literary agent and from her hands it will head out into the world…. I’m new to the process and not sure quite what to expect, but will begin covering this departure here, as and when….

Meanwhile, apart from completing drafts, I’ve been liaising with Frank Heibert in Berlin, a brilliant translator it has been my good fortune to have worked with twice before. Frank is translating my play The Almond and the Seahorse from the original English and Welsh into German, and we’re finding unexpected areas of dissonance and a disparity in cultural and everyday experience.

One of the main issues is not, as I expected, about specifically Welsh cultural traditions such as the national Eisteddfod (festival of poetry, literature, music and performance), but around the word ‘respite’.

The play focuses on survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and so touches on the various systems and supports available in the UK for people to live more independently. Residential respite care is central to this – a time for those living with specific conditions and impairments and their partners or family who have been helping care for them at home to have a break, a holiday from each other – ‘respite’. Frank and I were astonished to find that there is no equivalent word in German to describe this most common of experiences in the UK. We spent hours searching the internet, and him interviewing several doctors, trying to find what would be a recognisable equivalent for a German audience. Day centres exist, but not this central concept of ‘respite’ – which is unfathomable to me and a major surprise to us both (and further cause to celebrate and protect our threatened but brilliant NHS).

Monday saw a trip to Covent Garden and Equal Writes, organised by Mandy Fenton as part of the nationwide campaign calling for UK theatre to fully engage with the need for gender parity. Equal Writes was an evening of monologues and short scenes presented at the Tristan Bates Theatre on March 11th ‘focusing on women, women’s stories and women in situations we are not presently seeing represented on UK stages.’

Mandy Colleran in rehearsals with National Theatre Wales on O'Reilly's 'In Water I'm Weightless' 2012

Mandy Colleran in rehearsals with National Theatre Wales on O’Reilly’s ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ 2012

My monologue Walkie Talkies was one of the dozen selected from over 800 submissions, and was performed by my long standing friend and collaborator, Disability Diva Mandy Colleran herself.

It was a fantastic evening – the auditorium was crammed as the event sold out. I was delighted to be part of such an important initiative and to share the stage with such a diverse and stimulating array of women characters, presented by a strong cast of female performers of all ages and cultural heritages, directed by a team of female directors and written by male and female playwrights.

For further information on the evening, go to:


I wonder whether the rest of the week will be such a balancing act…

10 responses to “A week of balancing…

  1. Hallo Kaite,
    I find the part about the translation into German very interesting. It shows that there is still much to be done here regarding equal rights and accessibility.
    I have quite similar problems with some concepts that are not easily expressible in German. It already starts with the concept of access or accessibility. The German translation “Zugang” is not very specific, we rather use the term “barrierefrei”, which means barrier-free. But regarding linguistic access, e.g. in sign language, that doesn’t sound very suitable to me. I finally decided to use the English expressions, which should be fine in an academic context.
    But I really know what kind of struggles you are in, with all that various structures and concepts in different countries and languages… I’m excited to see what kind of solution you will find!
    Greetings from Berlin, Rafael

    • Wonderful to get your perspective, Rafael, and would love to find out more about the various ‘gaps’ in translation and meaning you find. As you may remember from some of my presentations in Berlin at the International Research Centre, I don’t really believe we can ‘translate’ – and especially not between spoken and signed languages… Fascinating area, more please!

  2. There will always be gaps in translation, as there are no languages and cultures that share all the meanings and concepts. As you can imagine, a concept like Aesthetic (of) Access simply doesn’t exist in Germany. As far as I know I am the first one who tries to theorise it in a German publication. Also colour-blind casting is virtually not practised in German theatre (only in dance you’ll find companies with people of different cultural and national backgrounds), so if you need a word for the process, you’ll use the English one. But what is worst, there isn’t even a word for able-bodied in German, you only can say “not disabled” or “without a disability”. Or, as unfortunately a lot of people will say, “normal”.

  3. Great stuff, thanks, Rafael.
    Re-names and labels… I personally don’t use the term ‘able-bodied’, for it suggests that someone with an impairment isn’t. I feel it denigrates the alternative in this strange binary. I personally prefer the terms ‘disabled’ and ‘non-disabled’. for it presupposes disability as the norm – which it is, of course, for owing to accident, injury, or simply the natural process of ageing, the vast majority of us will acquire physical or sensory impairments, if we are fortunate to live long enough.

  4. Not being an English native speaker, it is difficult for me to decide how an English expression can be understood, which connotations there are. I understand your problem with “able-bodied” very well.
    But I understand the word “non-disabled” in a different way than you. My problem with “non-disabled” is that it is only the negation of a word. It sounds that only “disabled” is a feature or a characteristic of a person, whereas not being disabled isn’t a feature of a person but rather the lack of it. For me, it sounds that one assumes that the word “person” includes the meaning of “non-disabled” which hasn’t to be mentioned. Only disabled persons are “special” so that there exists a proper adjective to describe them.
    I don’t know if I could make my thoughts clear. I mean, you wouldn’t call a straight person “non-gay”, would you? I guess, I would rather prefer to have adjectives which are not negations of each other, but have a proper meaning for themselves, like e.g. deaf/hearing, straight/gay/bisexual, black/white/of colour etc.
    Maybe “enabled” would be an alternative, because it shows that – like “disabled” – it is something done to the body, not an intrinsic characteristic of the body. But I’m just associating…
    Anyway, it is always tricky with all that adjectives that in the end function as labels. In Germany, I’m considered a person “with a migration background”. It sounds awful, but there hasn’t been found any better word yet.

  5. Some great provocations there – and yes, of course, it is so easy for me to forget I am privileged to be engaging here in my first language – I forget, Rafael, that English is not your first language – and thank you, I find it so enlightening to consider how phrases arising from a specific political and cultural context in the UK’s disability scene are made new and reinterpreted and understood differently elsewhere (I also hasten to add there was never complete hegemony or agreement in that UK context, either). But I think it also depends on the weight we give individually to any specific facet of a human – how important any particularity may be in identity politics, and perhaps in a specific context (especially political/cultural contexts, which is where I in particular use ‘non/disabled’).
    I think the vast majority of us would agree labels of any kind are problematic and identifying humans according to certain attributes which will be privy to the prejudices and values of any particular part of a community or society brings with it more challenges than solutions (and has brought much grief, pain and even genocide in the past…).
    Words are tools which are often blunt and sometimes they don’t travel well….

  6. That’s the perfect expression: They don’t travel well.
    I never meant to provoke anybody. Obviously the historical, cultural and political background of these expressions is not known to me. Surely they are used for a reason. My approach is rather naive, I guess, but maybe it can help to challenge some assumptions we both have. So I really enjoyed that exchange!

    • Ah.. But I mean ‘provocations’ in the greatest complimentary sense – and it’s terrific you provoked my thought and reflection, even if you didn’t mean to! I’m grateful – and enjoyed that exchange a lot, too!

  7. Great! Another misunderstanding! It really proves the point, doesn’t it?

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