words, words, words – issues of translation and the wonders of skype

“A translation is no translation…. unless it will give you the music of a poem along with the words of it.”  Millington Synge

 It is an extraordinary time, of revisions, of translations, reconfigurations, of developments – of conversations on opposite sides of the world…

The past week has been a series of meetings on the ether as well as in what used to be called ‘meat space’. I spent three hours sitting in an office in Berlin listening to a reading in Mandarin of my performance text the 9 fridas which was happening seven hours into ‘my’ future in Taipei. Skype is a remarkable invention – and free! The actors from Mobius Strip in Taiwan thought I was probably eccentric. Did I speak Mandarin? No. Did I understand the language? No. So why spend three hours listening in as they read the scenes, and then painstakingly discussed the translation by the wonderful Betty Yi-Chun Chen?

As a playwright, I write dynamic. I write tempo-rhythm and linguistic movement. This is still discernible even through the vagaries and differences of other languages. I could tell Betty had paid great attention to the tempo-rhythm and flow of my work – and the very particular punctuation I use in my dialogue, to suggest a certain pace and musicality to the actor. This new performance text, the 9 fridas, is informed by our perceptions of the life and art of disabled Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and has many monologues. I could tell in the reading, across the language divide, that the inherent pace, tempo-rhythm and fluidity of voice was as I had hoped.

2-frida-kahlo-1907-1954-granger

Through listening in, I was able to clarify next steps and liaise with the director and designers about intentions, concepts, costume and set design. I was able to make notes for a few developments in the script whilst also getting to know, via the computer screen, some of the actors I’ll be working with when I go to Tawain in July to work on this production for the Taipei International Theatre Festival.

I continued the conversation several days later in a Greek restaurant in the southwest of Berlin, just down the road from the graveyard where Marlene Dietrich lies.

Ramona Mosse is a scholar and dramaturg currently translating my play ‘peeling’ into German. Among many things, we discussed how difficult the title is in German – the alternatives in tone and energy were very different from the original in English. The choices spanned from the more violent equivalent of being skinned or flayed to the more literal peeling of an onion, which is already used in a Gunter Grass title. We discussed the relationship of the title to the contents of the text and Ramona provided an alternative title which was more about ‘getting under the skin’ – an action which could be applied to what happens to the characters in the script as well as the hoped-for impact on the audience whilst experiencing the stories from the play.

“Translators are the shadow heroes of literature, the often forgotten instruments that make it possible for different cultures to talk to one another, who have enabled us to understand that we all, from every part of the world, live in one world.”   Paul Auster

3 responses to “words, words, words – issues of translation and the wonders of skype

  1. Thanks! I love to be reminded about translation! Even actors are translators, so every play must be translated to be enacted. When language/culture barriers are crossed things just get that much more interesting!

    • Yes! I think we often forget the levels of negotiation, translation, and interpretation which goes on in all aspects of performance…. and thank you for your comment. I think it’s going to be an extraordinary process!

  2. Fascinating piece.Whilst others are wishing to close the borders again, it is so heartening to know that artists are still finding ways to sing across the barriers.

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