Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Translating for theatre

As MALT students at the UEA postgraduate programme, we had the chance, in the Case Studies module, to examine some genres of literature, such as children’s literature, drama and crime-fiction and examine what is special about their translation. We focused on the challenges and several options there are for the translator, in order to have the best possible result and the same impact-effect on the target culture as the one the writer intended (although this is something that needs so much discussion that I better leave it for next time!). They were all really exciting and interesting, but personally, I have always found myself being mostly thrilled by drama translation.

Translating for the theatre is a very creative yet challenging task. It is true, though, that it has been sort of neglected by theorists. Such texts have not been much studied and there are relatively few theories dealing with the translation for the theatre.

The most creative part of a drama translation, for the translator, is the fact that they are the first actors and directors of a play in the target culture. But however, after having been through that process, one can easily see that this is not as simple as it might sound. The challenges that a translator must deal with, when translating for the stage-or a play just to be read? – are many.
First of all, as mentioned above, the translator must be aware whether the play to be translated is also to be performed or if it is just for reading reasons. Every theatrical text intended for performance, according to many theories, «carries» yet another text- Subtext, Gestic text, or otherwise Inner text. This text mainly concerns the actor, particularly in their kinesiology at the time of the performance of the text on stage.

A translator must also take into account the performability of a play. The term refers to the distinction between the written text and the physical dimension that it takes in the play (space, props, costumes, lighting, kinesiology etc.). Since the text is directly dependent on and completed when performed, it could be given different interpretations, since one show can never be the same as another. The translator must take into account the variable nature of the performability of a theatrical text and examine each time the extra-lingual parts.

But performability is utterly connected to the written text as well. A translator must be really careful when dealing with the several elements of a play. First of all, the stage directions. The translator should be really familiar with the equivalent terms in the target language, in order to avoid misinterpretations by the director and/or the actors.

Furthermore, where the play takes place and whether it will remain so or it will be adjusted to the everyday life of the target culture in order to be better comprehended by the target audience, it is of highest importance and thus, should be carefully considered.

The names of the characters of the play are another very important element of a play. The translator must take into consideration if the specific choice made by the writer has to do with the plot or the personality of the characters, therefore they should be translated, or whether it is a random choice that does not affect the plot, so they can just be transcribed.
The speed of delivery of the written text can be very tricky as well. Due to the fact that many lines are synchronized with the actors’ body language, this must be preserved to the translated text as well. If that is not possible, due to the different characteristics of every language, then the translator must work with the director and the actors in order to see if they are going to slow down the action of the play, or maybe add some more gestures and moves, or even exclude some lines, so that the text will function in the target language the same way it does in the source language.

Finally, the dialect as well as the use of slang that there might be in the play is also essential to be preserved. The translator must be very careful when choosing whether to keep or alter the dialect in order to correspond to the needs of the target culture. There is always the risk that if the dialect is kept, there will partly misunderstand the play, while on the other hand, if the dialect is adjusted to its “reality”, the text might lose even more in terms of authenticity.
This is quite a quick view on the challenges of translating for the stage. This genre can be examined more thoroughly, especially when it comes to translating plays to be read and not performed. But I guess I’ll just leave that for my next post…

Thei Sorotou is a translator working with Greek, English and French. She graduated from the Department of foreign languages, translation and interpreting, Ionian University, Corfu, Greece, and is currently a MALT student in the University of East Anglia. She is really interested in the field of drama translation.
Contact: theisrt@yahoo.gr

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