our words make worlds

Translation Acts Research

Translation for the theatre demands a ‘thick’ (Geertz 1973) understanding of how words function through the individual and across time and space to create a world on stage, remaking the play for a new environment and becoming one of the many ‘tenants’ of the text (Aaltonen 1997). It means interrogating the original text and its implicit corporal, gestural and physical worlds as we ease it towards us using strategies that highlight the dialectic between alterity and sameness, engaging with foreignness to radically intervene in the receiving culture (Venuti 2002). This strand uses the capacity of theatre to be world-inventing (Barker 1997), creating known and imagined worlds on stage. As parallel processes, theatre making and translation provoke questions about authorship and ownership. Whose right is it to read, interpret and retell our stories and histories? The theatre privileges the role of the performer’s body and brings these questions into a creative space that can be used to speak, to act, and to make worlds. In de Certeau’s terms, ‘Translation acts’ aims to ‘rediscover the movements of this reading within the body itself’ and challenge passive readings and learning that do not excite the intellect into action. We share the outlook of our partner Doris Sommer in her Cultural Agents project and seek to encourage language learning through playfulness, risk and the acceptance of failure. Theatre practice through translation is the perfect site for this activity.

Using the complex material experience of multi-cultural places, we explore how the sites of creation are home and nation to both established and new communities. In these spaces, the ideas, the structures of being and belief that incoming communities bring with them, create a mythopoetics from which emerge symbolic systems for narration, for recognition or, conversely, for misrecognition or resistance (Cox 2014). We examine these poetic operations practically and theoretically, using appropriate plays from the AHRC-funded Out of the Wings corpus. New materials will be added to that archive, developed as text scripts with contextual information, language and theatre games and exercises. Through theoretically informed translation and performance, we investigate how worldmaking narratives studied in other strands—particularly stories of place and displacement—‘push in’ (Cox) on the present, through embodied understanding, usage and enactment.