Translate this! My take on #ShakesGate

October 1, 2015

The playwright Jenny Lane asked on facebook:

I have been thinking a lot about this [the new OSF commission Play on! 36 playwrights translate Shakespeare] as peers and colleagues that I trust and admire have weighed in. But I have come to the conclusion that the ONLY thing I love about this project is that it’s work for lots of playwrights and dramaturges.

I think I’d be into it if the playwrights were given more freedom to play, but they’re really not. Here are the guidelines:

“First, do no harm. There is language that will not need translating and some that does. Each team is being asked to examine the play line-by-line and translate to contemporary modern English those lines that need translating. There is to be no cutting or editing of scenes and playwrights may not add their personal politics. Second, put the same kind of pressure on the language as Shakespeare put on his. This means the playwright must consider the meter, rhyme, rhythm, metaphor, rhetoric, character action and theme of the original. These translations are not adaptations. Setting, time period and references will remain unchanged.”

Shakespeare’s language is what I’ve loved about Shakespeare. His stories are largely blatantly taken from elsewhere, so… is it Shakespeare if we’re no longer grappling with his language? I don’t think that it is. So then… what’s the point?

Someone argue with me and convince me this is a good idea because it just frustrates me right now.

And I wrote my thoughts which then disappeared into air as my metro went underground. So, I thought I would try again off of facebook in a space where I (hopefully) can articulate my thoughts.

I am very excited about Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s new commission project. If you haven’t been following you can read an article about it here and see the full list of artists commissioned here.

I have now participated in many discussions on-line and off and have more thoughts roaring through my head then I have time to write. So here’s the outline for a longer explanation.

A. Shakespeare would have dug it.

  1. People may disagree with me but I believe a couple of things about Shakespeare.
  2. His work rewrote older works – both stories but also made use of language.
  3. He cared about his audience understanding his work. It was theatre made for the people.
  4. He was a playwright – what playwright would’t want their work gone through with a fine-tooth comb arguing about what you were thinking by a team of artists 400 years after their death.

B. Maintaining original intentions. Not an adaptation.

  1. The motto for the project is “Do no harm.”
  2. They want to maintain the structure, artistry and content of these plays.
  3. Some of Shakespeare’s work is fully comprehensible some is not. This is translating the parts that for whatever reason are unclear and doing so in an artistic fashion.
  4. Just as in a language to language translation it is impossible not to impart some of the translators voice but the goal remains to tell the author’s story in the way the author would want it told.
  5. That’s why it is important that the writers stay apolitical or rather keep their own politics clear – they are not there to further their agenda but like a good translator to tell the original story in a different language.
  6. Yes, Shakespeare’s English is today’s English. We use the same vocabularies. That doesn’t mean we speak the same language. You and I reader use the same vocabulary, sometimes we do not speak the same language. If I was to travel back in time it would probably be a challenge to communicate meaning even with the same words. Language changes and shifts in time.
  7. This is not No Fear Shakespeare where the goal is to make the story clear. This is not about plot but about poetic language.
  8. Plus, the rules state that they only change the language where it is needed. This is not getting rid of Shakespeare’s poetry.

C. I like that they lack freedom.

  1. I’m a firm believer that structure and restrictions aid creativity.
  2. Adaption is relatively easy since the output comes directly from the artist – but to find the balance between intention and art takes brave, intelligent and creative people. It is a huge challenge.

D. These will never replace Shakespeare’s greatest works. But they may help understand them.

  1. As an part-time educator (and in conversation with my husband the actual educator) I think that it is helpful to have multiple texts to be able to compare and further understanding.
  2. Shakespeare has lasted 400 years. Why would we think a new play will overthrow his importance?
  3. And, if one of these plays does end up being so brilliant that it helps to clarify meaning that went over the heads of even the most erudite viewers/readers, then why wouldn’t we want that in the world?
  4. There is no clean text of Shakespeare anyway. All productions and published editions make choices about language to change and lines to edit based on either clarity or history. This just adds to that conversation. And like the individual writers of the talmud, it’s just another voice adding to the conversation about a central text.

E. I love an intellectual exercise.

  1. These lucky artists get to go line by line through the text and work to understand it. They get to do what few have the time to do. And then they get to take what they find and relay it.
  2. It is so important that Dramaturgs are included in the commission. And it’s exciting to see respected peers on the list alongside my teachers (including my Shakespeare teacher from Columbia). These are smart people who love Shakespeare’s language. I trust them to work to not only do no harm but elevate what is wonderful about the original.
  3. I’m a nerd. And I picture the dramaturg and playwright huddled together like hevruta (think Yentl and Avigdor). If people look at Shakespeare as so sacrosanct then doesn’t it make sense like the scholars of old for the texts to be explored in this way.

F. This is for everyone.

  1. Seeing facebook friends talk about how this is “dumbing the work down” or Shakespeare for people who are “lazy” or that it is “spoon feeding” makes me sad.
  2. Yes, Shakespeare’s language can be understood by anyone who has the time (or the teacher) willing to showcase it. Or if they see a great production, more on that below, but that doesn’t mean that if they don’t understand something they can’t have paths for accessing it.
  3. And really, some of Shakespeare’s texts are harder than others. Hamlet may be easy but even The Tempest has some real linguistic challenges. Some get the tools to understand and some do not.
  4. I love that I work in an education department that believes that Shakespeare’s language can be understood by everyone. I love that we strive for that. But, there are still plays we choose not to do with students because of the challenges that they bring up. There are parts of Loves Labours Lost that will always be cut because the language is so dense and dated. And that’ all okay.
  5. The mission of this project is to not cut but reevaluate the language. To open it up. For everyone not just those who don’t have access to a great education.

G: Sure, A good production is clear.

  1. A number of the comments have asked why we even need something like this. If the work is done by the director and actors then meaning can be imparted through action, visuals and context.
  2. Sure. But, then someone is doing that work and doing more than this is asking for.
  3. Words get cut and changed in every production, usually by a director. This is opening up the room to a playwright as well (though it should be noted some of the commissioned artists are directors & actors).
  4. There will be no cutting to make this clear. It is only adjustments to the language.

H: Shakespeare isn’t infallible.

  1. People love them that Shakespeare. But he was a writer. A person. Some work is brilliant. Some isn’t.
  2. He isn’t a deity. He doesn’t need to be worshiped.

H: It may fail.

  1. Isn’t that exciting?
  2. It’s art!
  3. New art in the world!
  4. And it could suck!
  5. Or be brilliant!
  6. And yet people get paid and something gets created. And that is the best part of all.

Okay, have at me naysayers.


last week on the Tumblr: Theatre Collage edition.

May 11, 2015

Highlights from a week of posts on Theatre Collage:

Diana Vishneva: Dialogues. Ms. Vishneva in the work “Subject to Change” at City Center, March 2012. Photograph by Mark Olich.

The fierce and seductive men of flamenco, captured by Ruven Afanador.

“I don’t know if you know that sort of feeling you get on these days round about the end of April and the beginning of May, when the sky’s a light blue with cotton-wool clouds and there’s a bit of a breeze blowing from the west? Kind of uplifted feeling. Romantic, if you know what I mean. I’m not much of a ladies’ man, but on this particular morning it seemed to me that what I really wanted was some charming girl to buzz up and ask me to save her from assassins or something.”

and while we are speaking of interior design

May 22, 2009

the New York Times yesterday followed the curator of contemporary design at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum as she walked around the International Contemporary Furniture Fair.  I found a lot of her thoughts on design fascinating and she sounds like someone it would be nice to walk around a furniture fair with.  I was particularly taken with her idea that furniture should be multifunctional. I agree completely. I enjoyed that she said that one of those functions could be humor as long as that humor didn’t negate an objects other function. I always forget that when it comes to functionality the effect something has on the emotions can be just as important as an objects utility.

And speaking of art and function. A blog (was it boing boing, i no longer remember) pointed me to the Wants for Sale website. An artist couple paint pictures of what they want and then sell the pictures for the amount the thing they want costs.  Here’s a flickr set of the paintings and the real objects once bought. I love this idea. It’s so straightforward.

good news! score one for the arts folk…

February 13, 2009

from American’s For the Arts:

Arts Recovery Funds Restored in Economic Stimulus Bill
February 13, 2009—Today the House of Representatives voted 246 to 183 to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The bill includes $50 million in direct support for arts jobs through the National Endowment for the Arts and language that would have prevented museums, theaters, and arts centers from receiving stimulus funds was removed.

“It was not politics as usual in Washington, as the Congressional conferees’ final version of the bill seized the opportunity to provide much-needed stimulus support for the nation’s creative workforce. The National Endowment for the Arts will distribute $50 million of the stimulus funds to arts projects in all 50 states which specifically preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts sector that have been most hurt by the economic downturn.  Additionally, the final version of the stimulus bill further recognized the role the arts play in the overall U.S. economy by removing the Senate ban on state and local governments from using any of the recovery funds to benefit museums, theaters, and art centers,” said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts.

Americans for the Arts will hold a webinar on this topic on Wednesday, February 18 at 2 pm. Free for professional members, it will update arts organizations on the economic stimulus package and other federal sources of arts funding. Click here to register.

and here’s a breakdown of where the rest of the money in the stimulus plan is going.


November 25, 2008

from Click on the image to see the full strip.

the trip, the next few weeks, and randomness

July 3, 2008

this is a big entry. sorry. or your welcome. whichever works for you.

the trip
Seattle is an amazing city…comfortable and beautiful, urban and yet natural. I totally dug it. I had a wonderful birthday. The day was spent doing some of my favorite things: spending a long time in an antique store filled with costume jewelry, vintage clothing and accessories (I bought a pink straw hat, totally a necessity). Then a few hours were spent on my own doing what I love best: wandering a city I don’t know very well, popping in shops, taking pictures, listening to music and keeping my eyes open. It’s really my absolutely favorite past time. (the picture above is from my wandering, my reflection and the reflection of a mural in the window of a bar).

I also spent some time in SAM (seattle art museum) which has a great collection of Modern art and had a really inventive special exhibit on Impressionist art, placing Impressionists works next older art from various time periods really highlighting the radical changes the Impressionists pursued. I found it especially fascinating since I’ve never been a huge fan of Impressionist art but I think mainly because I’m seeing it with eyes used to modern art. Trying to see it the way it was seen when it was painted was a brand new and interesting experience.

My birthday dinner was at Palace Kitchen. It was recommended by a couple of friends and did not disappoint. It was exactly the type of restaurant I love – inventive delicious food served in relaxed comfortable surroundings. I had the tastiest salmon with morels and sweet corn and a rich chocolate mousse/custard amazingness for dessert.

The rest of the trip was fun as well. Most of the time was spent in family bat mitzvah time (which may be a whole posting if i get around to it). I took a bunch of photos and the set is all up on flickr.

the next few weeks

the next few weeks are going to be busy and fast. so much is going on! three weeks – three shows. wowzers. i stop working in a week and a couple of days but my business knows no end. three weeks – three shows.

I went to the Fringe Preview last night, it looks like the normal exciting mix of really interesting and really frightening. i also got the fringe brochure and am starting to mark the ones i want to see. but i don’t know how i will since i have three weeks – three shows.

Delusions of Spandex: Dorks on the Loose: It I Awkward is the first show. It’s gonna be awesome (buy tickets) The Post Going Out Gurus said that based on the names of Fringe Shows Dorks on the Loose was one they wanted to see.

Marat/Sade is the second show and new posts on the forum blog should be up soon. and then the third is the return of eXtreme eXchange: and it’s interactive! and I’m going to be writing a play for it! check the eXtreme eXchange blog for more details.

Oh, and on top of all that I need to pack. and find a place to live. and do a lot of other things.

some randomness

I had over 800 blog posts in my Google Reader when I came home on Tuesday. I erased most of them but there were a couple of things i’ve starred to come back to when I have time. so, sometime in january or something. but here are a couple of things that stood out to me – haven’t read them all yet but maybe I’ll read these sooner than the others:

Jew and the Carrot – Revolutionary Cookbooks

-I found the pictures on Femme Femme Femme of Ingrid Bétancourt this morning filled with strength and inspiration.

Kosher-Keeping Vegans Go Undercover To Break The Biggest Case Of Animal Cruelty In American Jewish History on Jewcy. It looks like this article has something for everyone – plus I know my sister will appreciate the first line: Philip and Hannah Schein are the Rina Lazarus and Peter Decker of American vegans…I can’t wait to read the full article/interview

The Artful Manager thinks about how Art should be viewed. I’d like to spend a couple of hours wrapping my brain around these questions.

Isaac Butler talks about storytelling and how it relates to his work on Parabasis – again a subject I’d like to devote some more brain power to – the problem with being so busy is that I can never find time to devote to the bigger questions i have about the work I do – hopefully going back to school will help with some of that.

The Thoughtful Dresser on Eccentric Glamor . It’s the first time I’ve heard that phrase and is totally how I’d like to classify my style.

Jason Grote reflects on the Washington Times review of THIS STORM IS WHAT WE CALL PROGRESS at Rorschach (go see it!)

-Boing Boing pointed out a New York Times article on Urban Hiking. Which I’m guessing, since I haven’t read it yet, is more or less my favorite pastime – mentioned above.

she said fine…

March 14, 2008

Common People turned into an Archie cartoon = brilliant! View the whole awesomeness here.  This isn’t the first adaptation of the Pulp song. Jamie Hewlett of Tank Girl fame created a version a few years back. Doing a quick web scan there doesn’t seem to be a great version available.  I found it in Spanish (link here) and the full thing scanned in here. And Jamie Hewlett also did a brilliant satirical piece on Jarvis which you can see here.