Tag Archives: translation

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.

Making language visual: an interview with Jean St Clair

British Sign Language (BSL)  creative consultant and performer Jean St Clair has been a close friend and collaborator for a dozen years. She has worked with me on many productions – advising on translation/reinvention from spoken/written language into visual language with National Theatre Wales (‘In Water I’m Weightless’, 2012), Graeae (‘peeling’ 2002) and now for a second time with Forest Forge Theatre company (‘peeling’ 2011, ‘Woman of Flowers’ 2014). We have also collaborated on our own production with Jeni Draper as The Fingersmths Ltd in 2006.

Jean St Clair's encouraging feedback to Sophie Sone of 'Woman of Flowers' early rehearsals

Jean St Clair’s encouraging feedback to Sophie Sone of ‘Woman of Flowers’ early rehearsals

I have been working again recently with Jean on Woman of Flowers, my latest script and a reinvention of the Bloudewydd myth from The Mabinogion for Forest Forge Theatre Company. We are in the final stages of rehearsals before a national tour 18 Sept – 1st Nov, and of course Jean has been involved, as central to the production in aesthetic and concept are sections of theatricalised sign and visual language.

I’ve written academically about our collaborative process in translation from written English to visual as Fellow of the International research Centre ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’, Freie Universitat, Berlin. It is endlessly fascinating for me, how concepts and ideas I have shaped in printed words and English become visual and are moulded into something else. There has also been increasing interest in this process, and I’m delighted Jean took some time in the midst of rehearsals to answer some basic questions I asked her about her work and this alchemic transformation:

Jean in poster design for 'Frozen' by Bryony Lavery, Fingersmiths last production.

Jean in poster design for ‘Frozen’ by Bryony Lavery, Fingersmiths last production.

I trained with British Theatre of the Deaf, run by Pat Keysell. She was trained in Mime so the language we conveyed was called Sign Mime. A combination of mime and stylised signs. It was not the everyday language deaf people were using. It was pretty much the same when I worked with National Theatre of the Deaf in USA where the ASL (American Sign Language) on stage was delivered in a poetic style.

When I did Hearing at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, a play with all hearing cast, the language I used was the natural language of BSL. It was the same when I did Children of a Lesser God (nb. Jean toured internationally and to London’s West End in this groundbreaking play).

When fingersmiths was set up by Kaite OReilly, Jeni Draper and myself, we were looking into Equality in both languages, English and BSL. It was where we experimented with a variety of styles such as where Jeni would speak English and I would sign BSL but independently of each other as opposed to have Jeni interpreting for me. One style was Visual Vernacular (V.V.) which was not based on English. It came from the concept of looking at the world in a visual way and to capture the images by using facial expressions, hand movements and body language without using either English or BSL. There are some iconic signs such as plane, bird and baby which we could incorporate in V.V.

– Can you explain the difference between eg sign interpreted performances, theatricalised BSL, sign performance and  visual language?

Sign interpreted performances is where a Sign Language interpreter standing at the side of the stage signs what is being spoken on stage or it could be integrated in the performances. Theatricalised BSL is based on BSL but taking on the visuality and expanding on it. Visual Vernacular is independent of English and BSL, apart from using iconic BSL signs.

If you look up the dictionary for Vernacular, it will come up with ‘A vernacular or vernacular language is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, especially as distinguished from a literary, national or standard language, or a lingua franca used in the region or state inhabited by that population.’ Visual Vernacular can be used world wide, it does not matter which sign language you use, BSL, ASL, or Japan Sign Language, the V.V. is invariably similar due to the way it is presented visually.

 When you are working with English text, what is your process when transforming that into a) BSL and then b) visual language?

Both are slightly different. But the basic rule is to understand the text, the meaning, and also to explore whether there is an underlying meaning ‘between the lines’ or whether it is presented in an ambiguous way, then the BSL would need to reflect this. There is no point in signing word for word otherwise the meaning will be lost. For example if one say, ‘you bring sunshine to my life’. We don’t actually use the sign for ‘sunshine’ in that context but to find the interpretation in a sense that we bring sunshine in that person’s life by finding different signs to match the meaning.

With visual language, the process is similar but we look for the visuality and aim to expand the BSL into a highly stylised form. It helps to find pictures and photos within that text to find shape and form

When you are devising yourself – maybe using V.V. can you describe your process?

As V.V. is not ‘language-based’, the process is much more free. You look at the world within and find iconic BSL signs, gestures, facial expressions and movement to match the context. For example if I am to describe walking along the high road, I would describe the buildings, people walking past and to add human behaviour, little things that people may not notice but it is there. One way to use a comparison to V.V. is to watch cartoons, the set up is similar. Wide, medium and close up shots of particular objects or a bird. For the close up, I would describe or act like a bird with facial expression, with the medium close up, I would use my arms to move like wings and for the wide shot, I would use my hand to show the bird flying away into nothingness.

Further discussion of Jean St Clair’s process will follow in a later post.

Dates and venues for ‘Woman of Flowers’ can be found at: http://www.forestforge.co.uk/shows/woman-of-flowers

A taster of Sophie Stone signing the opening speech early in the rehearsal process can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdGdwDWVm9M

A multitude of Frida Kahlos…. writing across mediums

 

Ying-Hsuan Hsieh at The 9 Fridas photoshoot. Mobius Strip, Taipei.

Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, photo shoot for Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘The 9 Fridas’ Mobius Strip Theatre, Taipei.

‘The 9 Fridas’ is a mosaic, a collage of impressions and stories reflecting the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) and the fictional journey of ‘F’ through the 9 Hells of the Mayan Underworld. ‘F’ is accompanied by a chorus of figures who, like her, are and are not Frida Kahlo, but whose stories echo actual events from Kahlo’s life: The betrayed wife, the political activist, the teenager severely disabled in a road accident, the fashion icon, the struggling artist…

Or so my notes in the programme will read when we open in several weeks at the Taipei Arts Festival.

Costume designer YS Lee with Faye Leung and Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, The 9 Fridas

Costume designer YS Lee with Faye Leong and Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, The 9 Fridas

Our rehearsal process continues apace, with a day of shooting the mediatised sections of the production. This gives us a chance to see the aesthetic created by our fabulous costume designer YS Lee, and appreciate the skill of his make-up and hair artists.

This performance script has allowed my imagination full-reign, writing for several mediums. The pre-set is a recorded radio script which will play in the foyer and auditorium before the performance starts. Several sections are filmed, including manipulated Frida puppet dolls, which I watched YS customise, embroidering a monobrow and making Tehuna regional Mexican dress the night before the shoot.

Frida dolls customised by YS Lee, The 9 Fridas

Frida dolls customised by YS Lee, The 9 Fridas

We are beginning to run the full script (or ‘stagger’ as some wag put it last week) , the actors grasping the movement of their journey through the piece. I’m making final edits and our translator, Betty Chen, is making last adjustments to the Mandarin text, which we hope will be published in 2015.

Director Phillip Zarrilli runs an open door policy in rehearsals and there has been a river of academics, actor-trainers, cultural commentators, emerging and established practitioners flowing through the studio. The company and our rehearsal visitors have all said what a gift and luxury it is to have the playwright in the room. Apart from revising the script, I am on call to clarify, to explain and to offer research material – whether anecdote, images, or biographical details. I have been obsessed with Frida Kahlo most of my life – The 9 Fridas is my second project engaging with her work and art – and I have a third on the horizon.

 

Faye Leung in Mobius Strip offices, The 9 Fridas, Taipei

Faye Leong in Mobius Strip offices, The 9 Fridas, Taipei

But for the present my focus and energies stay with this production with Mobius Strip Theatre Company, which opens 5th September, and is already sold out.

Spoken language, Visual language – Woman of Flowers with Forest Forge

Sophie Stone signing, not singing.

Sophie Stone signing, not singing.

I’m in a small sound studio in Camden, watching Sophie Stone transform my written text into three dimensions. She has been working with my long term collaborator Jean St Clair on translating sections of Woman of Flowers, my commission from Forest Forge Theatre, into theatricalised British Sign Language (BSL) or visual language. I was unable to make these earlier sessions as I was at the Cork Midsummer festival, so Sophie and I are refining the work, preparing for a rehearsed reading of the script at Salisbury Playhouse in front of an invited audience.

This project is something of a dream one. Kirstie Davis, the artistic director of Forest Forge, came to see the National Theatre Wales production of my performance text In Water I’m Weightless in 2012, and fell under the spell of Sophie Stone, one of the performers. Kirstie and I sat together in the cafe after the show, scheming, plotting, dreaming up a way of working together again, and including Sophie. ‘If you were do something original for Forest Forge, what would it be?’ she asked, and I told her of a contemporary retelling of an ancient myth, filled with transformations and magic, desire and murder – a world where nothing is quite as it seems. ‘Oooh, yes, we’ll do it!’ Kirstie said as our imaginations entwined, and we clapped our hands and jumped up and down in our seats, laughing.

Laughter is continuous when working with Kirstie Davis. Her rehearsal rooms are joyful and creative places, filled with possibilities. Even in these austerity times, when funding is increasingly difficult, the arts given less and less value and projects are constantly under threat, Kirstie and her team at Forest Forge still make things happen, and with smiles on their faces. Sadly, it is so easy to be negative about the future of the arts in the current climate, but Kirstie and Forest Forge are resilient, inventive, and optimistic. They have a loyal and supportive following, too, which buoys the company up and is massively appreciated. A fundraising drive earlier in the year saved this production of Woman of Flowers and I’m grateful to all who supported the company, for the opportunity of making this work, which I hope will be inventive, emotionally engaging, and with resonance for our times.

Actors Sophie Stone, Andrew Wheaton, Liam Gerrard and choreographer  Junior Jones

Actors Sophie Stone, Andrew Wheaton, Liam Gerrard and choreographer Junior Jones

Woman of Flowers uses a mixture of spoken and visual languages, and will be surtitled throughout. I will write of the content more in a future blog. It will also incorporate movement, choreography, video, live music and an original score by Rebecca Applin. When we gathered at Salisbury Playhouse to read the script aloud for the first time, designer David Haworth was also there, presenting his model box design for the production.

Designer David Applin presents 'Woman of Flowers' design to the cast of the rehearsed reading, Salisbury Playhouse.

Designer David Applin presents ‘Woman of Flowers’ design to the cast of the rehearsed reading, Salisbury Playhouse.

After just five hours of rehearsal, we presented the work to an invited audience. As a playwright, it is always magical hearing the words you have written outside your own head that first time. The choices the performers make are often surprising, and enriching – their questions stimulating and often challenging. I strive to give a lot of space to my collaborators, especially when working with this kind of material, shape-shifting and poetic, where nothing is quite what it seems. Some of my answers to specific questions are ‘open’ – ‘yes, it could be she is lying; but then again, she might be telling the truth.’ I’m sure such apparent evasiveness can be frustrating to an actor who seeks a strong foundation to build their performance on, but it’s easy to give definite answers and for me, that is a closing down of possibilities rather than an opening up. Once in rehearsals, there will be three weeks of exploration and discovery, and so I always endeavour to leave space for the director and actor to make their work, and, invariably, surprise me with their interpretations and discoveries.

This issue was taken up in the Q&A after the reading, and both Kirstie and I spoke of the necessity of trust. I am fortunate to have worked with her before, on a production of my play peeling in 2011, and a strong, mutually-respectful relationship was built then. I find Kirstie a wonderful collaborator. Apart from her imaginative and inventive productions, she has a wonderful regard for the audience and awareness of that dynamic between the spectacle and the spectator. That focus brings an immediacy to her direction and alongside the excellent performers she casts, it creates a strong connection with the audience.

I was shaken to see members of our invited audience in tears after the reading, and several spoke generously about the emotional impact the work had and how excited they were by the content and the presentation. This was immensely gratifying for us to know – a large part of a rehearsed reading is to test the script and see if it is working – and the emotional response reflects the commitment and skills Kirstie and the actors brought to our short rehearsal process.

Given the response to this early part of the process, I can’t wait to see what happens when we are deep in it.

 

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

Plays and translation. Gitta Honegger and Elfriede Jelinek

Gitta Honegger

Gitta Honegger

The work of Nobel Laureate Elfriede Jelinek is notoriously difficult to translate. The breadth of form alone is astonishing – essays, screenplays, novels, poetry, opera librettos and plays – and the writing is complex, filled with puns and word play using a localised Austrian German dialect. Gitta Honegger has been translating Jelinek’s work into English for years.  I was delighted and privileged to attend a talk she gave at Freie Universitat’s International Research Centre, ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’ in Berlin this week about the tricky art of translation.

Gitta feels her training in theatre and ten years as resident dramaturg at Yale Repertory Theatre, where she also directed, serves her well when translating Jelinek’s texts. She is given a huge amount of freedom in the translation process, as some things simply aren’t translatable into English. Her experience in live performance and as a director assists her in making decisions when there are several paths she could take. Encouraged by Jelinek to ‘go as far out as possible,’ she often goes against the most obvious or literal possibility when choosing between meanings, and always tries to keep with the economy of Jelinek’s text.

The sense of trust and complicite between the two is palpable, built over many years of collaboration, as well as similarities in background and cultural heritage. Gitta has recently translated Jackie for The Project Women’s Theatre in New York, part of Jelinek’s Princess Plays – Snow White, The Sleeping Beauty, Princess Diana, and that American ‘princess’,  Jackie Kennedy/Onassis.

A one woman show, the New York production was a great success earlier this year. In an interview about the text on the company website, Honegger says of her process and decision making:

I think that the difficulty in Jackie is obviously Jackie [Kennedy] did not speak like [the character in the play]. So, how do you then make an artificial language acceptable for an audience in a culture that isn’t used to it? Do I take away [Jelinek’s] style and make it accessible and elegant in English, or do I really show what she’s doing? Through Spivak and post-colonialism, especially since feminism and post-colonialism are so related, I’m more of the opinion that you have to leave in the foreignness. What Elfriede is trying to do with the language of the canon, which is basically male, is already a foreign language in her own culture because she’s a woman.

Viewing excerpts of the production, the many theatrical styles the performer Tina Benko uses is fascinating. A more psychological, emotionally-led acting style is familiar and popular with American audiences, yet to Honegger this was curious when applied to Jelinek’s texts. Director Tea Alagic combined this emotionally-charged approach with other theatrical devices and styles in performance, suiting content, context, and the audience.

Jelinek’s texts are seldom staged in the UK, her mixture of the political with the post-dramatic perhaps a little difficult for many palates. Her 1998 Sports Play toured last year, in time for the Olympics, and there is a rare interview with the playwright here: http://www.thestage.co.uk/features/2012/07/elfriede-jelinek-game-on/

GITTA HONEGGER is professor of theatre at the Arizona State University. For ten years she was resident dramaturg at the Yale Repertory Theatre, where she also directed, and a professor of dramaturgy and dramatic criticism at the Yale School of Drama. She was an early member of the Women’s Project. In addition to Jackie, Honegger has translated Elfriede Jelinek’s recent performance texts Rechnitz and The Merchant’s Contracts, which will be published in the spring 2013 by Seagull Press, Totenauberg (Death/Valley/Mountain)Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Currently, she is finishing her translation of Jelinek’s novel The Children of the Dead, as well as a biography of Helene Weigel, Frau Brecht, for which she received a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is the author of the biography Thomas Bernhard: The Making of an Austrian and the translator of plays by Thomas Bernhard, Peter Handke, Marieluise Fleisser Elias Canetti, aetti, among others.

ELFRIEDE JELINEK, who was born in 1946 and grew up in Vienna, now lives in Vienna and Munich. She has received numerous awards for her literary works, which include not only novels but also plays, poetry, essays, translations, radio plays, screenplays and opera librettos. Her awards include the Georg Büchner Prize and the Franz Kafka Prize for Literature. In 2004 she was awarded with the Nobel Prize for Literature.www.elfriedejelinek.com

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:

http://www.equity.org.uk/news-and-events/equity-news/womens-stories-not-seen-on-stage/

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