On translation, lyricism, and alligator meat

I’m juggling projects and tasks at present – and unexpectedly, I’m liking the jambalaya effect (minus the alligator meat). Often I need to focus on one project at a time – it takes an age to get ‘inside’ a project’s DNA, and once there I like to stay until exhaustion demands I step away from the laptop. (Exhaustion? Not necessarily of me personally, but of the thread I’m pursuing. Like a seam of silver running through the earth, it can suddenly stop, or become so buried I know I have to come back to unearth more treasure another time…)

Quite a bit of the work at present is making the most of technology and the miracle that is Skype. For some years, since my work has been produced outside the UK, I’ve been using Skype to sit in on rehearsals remotely – and director Phillip Zarrilli and I are back to that this week, skypeing with Mobius Strip Theatre in Taipei. In 2014 Phillip directed the premiere of my performance text the 9 Fridas about Frida Kahlo for Taipei International Arts Festival; that production will be remounted this autumn and transfer to Hong Kong Repertory Theatre. We will go to Taipei for the final re-rehearsals before flying to HK in October, but meanwhile Skype enables us to revisit the work with the actors in advance, extending our condensed re-rehearsal period.

the 9 Fridas. Mobius Strip (Tawain) in association with Hong Kong repertory Theatre

the 9 Fridas. Mobius Strip (Taiwan) in association with Hong Kong repertory Theatre. October 2016.

The Taiwanese production of the 9 Fridas is in Mandarin, and many have asked me how it is possible to work in a different language. Neither Phillip nor I know Mandarin, but we know the script extremely well, and after a short while communication and comprehension becomes fluid, and it is surprising how proficient we can become at knowing exactly where we are in the script and what the performer is saying at any time.

There is a particular musicality to the dialogue I write – the punctuation, rhythm, pauses, and pace are almost as important to me as what is being said. I think I compose dialogue, needing to ‘hear’ its flow and musicality, its change in texture and syntax as well as content. This has become a focal point in another on-going translation project with theatre maker Martin Carnevali. Some years ago Martin was part of a workshop exploration of the 9 Fridas, and he forged a strong connection to the text and its aesthetic, as well as to me as a creative collaborator. To my great delight, he is now translating it into German for my Berlin agent.

Martin Carnevali

Martin Carnevali working on the German translation of the 9 Fridas. T’yn-y-Parc Studio, Wales, Summer 2016.

Martin fully understands the importance of the ‘sound’ of the words in the mouth, and during the Summer Intensive in West Wales, we took some time together in the T’yn-y-Parc studio for him to read aloud the work he has done. It was remarkable how his choices in German paralleled the rhythm of the spoken English, which was his intention. He would read sections aloud to me, testing it for flow, lyricism, and variety, amending the text as he went along for sound as well as meaning. Occasionally he would read the same section several times, and we would discuss whether there was a syllable too many or too few – whether the text moved in a rhythm appropriate for the content. It was a remarkably visceral  experience, and one I enjoyed immensely.

Martin Carnevali at work translating the 9 Fridas into German

Martin Carnevali at work translating the 9 Fridas into German

This process is still on-going, and we will continue our sharing of text between languages on Skype, although nothing will beat hearing the words within the stone walls of the old Welsh milking parlour, now studio. Nothing, except a German language production, of course.

One response to “On translation, lyricism, and alligator meat

  1. How tremendously cool. And what an outstanding use of technology.

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