Saturday, September 1, 2012

Theatre For Thought, September 1, 2012

joel fishbane

“I think translators have done their job when they aren’t noticed,” remarked Bobby Theodore. “The moment someone compliments me on the translation, I worry the script needs another draft.” It was a smart remark from a veteran translator / writer, one that encompasses both the goals of a translator and the problems in being one in the first place. As important as theatre translators are, if they do their job well, people forget they were ever in the room. 

This talent for invisibility has had an unfortunate consequence within the Canadian theatre industry: there currently exists no standard contracts that outline the translator – writer relationship. “What’s missing is dialogue,” Theodore revealed. “No one ever talks about money. There needs to be something that outlines the legal relationship.” 

Theodore is hoping to change this. As a playwright and translator, Bobby Theodore is in a unique position to begin the dialogue between the two worlds. Having graduated from the NTS playwriting program in 1998, he understands the need to find a balance between the playwright’s original intent with the translator’s own vision. “In other places, like Germany, text is not a sacred thing,” he said. “There the translator has more autonomy. My own model is based on the Anglo-Saxon tradition, where you always walk a fine line between interpretation and adding your own words.”

With funding from the Playwrights Guild of Canada, Theodore is embarking on a period of research that will see him canvassing theatres both across the country and on the international stage. He’ll spend time at Playwrights' Workshop Montreal’s translator residency in Tadoussac and talk with the Centre des auteurs dramatiques (CEAD) to learn more about how things work in the Francophone world. He’ll also interview literary agents, producers and other writers to gain a better understanding of their own views and experiences. 

The ultimate goal is to create a sample agreement that playwrights and translators can refer to when embarking on a new collaboration.  “We want to help playwrights so they will be less in the dark,” says Theodore. “To make sure they know more about their rights.”

Playwrights Guild of Canada has long been the champion for the Canadian playwright: a member-driven organization, they serve as a resource that helps educate playwrights in their legal rights. PGC has long offered sample contracts for playwrights dealing with producers but they recently noticed a gap in certain areas, such as translation, musical theatre and collective creation.

All of this is vital work that points to a pressing need for Canadian artists: the need to gain a better understanding of the business relationship they enter into whenever they begin a new project. Driven by passion, most of us are happy just to find work, a fact which often leaves us reluctant to argue for better contracts or fight for our artistic rights. The business and legal side of the artistic life is one often ignored in theatre schools which have created generations of artists who must rely on agents, managers and unions to be their voice. 

For Bobby Theodore, though, the work he’s doing has a more simple purpose: to create more work for everyone. “Translation is such a fringe activity to begin with,” he laughed. “A lot of Canadian plays are produced elsewhere but never here. If we can promote the art of translation, we can see more Canadian plays in our theatres.”

For more information about Playwrights Guild of Canada, visit Click here for more information about Bobby Theodore. 

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