Translation Down Under

Student performance of Pleasantly Scary at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia
Student performance of Pleasantly Scary at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia

The project I’ve been working on for the past five months has finally come to an end. It began in America in January, when I spent two weeks translating Iana Borisova’s Pleasantly Scary from Bulgarian into English, collaborating with Maggie Ivanova and Peter Karapetkov, both native Bulgarian speakers and both deeply familiar with writing for the stage. We reached a rough draft of the translation and in March I headed off to Bulgaria to witness Iana Borisova’s text in action on the Bulgarian stage and to work in person with her in ironing out a better draft of the translation.

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Playwright Iana Borisova and I working on a draft of the translation

Having direct access to the author you are translating is extremely beneficial, since (as all writers know) the text does not always convey precisely what you intended… sometimes this can work in a writer’s favor, but when you’re working on a translation, even if you need to adapt the writer’s words to suit the new language and culture, it helps to know as much about the original text’s intended meaning as possible. Not only was Borisova instrumental in clearing up several questions about the text and the characters, but she was also extremely open to the process of translation, encouraging me take as much liberty with the text as I needed to create a version that would stand on its own successfully in English. Thanks to her masterful writing, and to the play’s universal concerns, I left Bulgaria with a strong English draft of the play.

The next step was to take the translated play to Australia and work with a group of students from Flinders University to refine the play and adjust it to an Australian dialect.

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Rehearsing Pleasantly Scary at Flinders University

Being able to see how a text plays out among live actors is an essential part of any playwright’s process and allowed us to hone in on moments that were awkward or unnecessarily ambiguous. It also allowed us to find moments of humor and strong emotion and to strengthen those moments throughout the text.

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Digital media students taking part in the rehearsal process

The final class product was an open rehearsal performance that incorporated a variety of digital media. Several digital media students from Flinders University collaborated with the class to come up with video elements that would highlight and enhance certain moments from the text. This part of the process was particularly exciting, as it gave students from a variety of disciplines the chance to brainstorm and work together to create a coherent and emotionally powerful production.The students in the class were from  a variety of humanities and education disciplines and were not theater students, so it was particularly exciting for them to be a part of the process of translation and of creating a viable stage production. Not only did they gain a tremendous amount of appreciation for the care and detail that goes into translating a literary text, but they also discovered how essential interpretation is to the process of staging a play and saw how exciting the interchange between director, text, and actors can be.

A view of the stage with digital media elements during the final open rehearsal
A view of the stage with digital media elements during the final open rehearsal

I was excited to be a part of their intellectual and creative growth and to share in the process of the project with them.

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