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.


KafkaFest @ Columbia University

November 30, 2009

The KafkaFest is a ten day (12/3 – 12/13) festival of new theater and art inspired by the work of Franz Kafka. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved as Curator for the interdisciplinary parts of the festival including a gallery exhibit and pre-show discussions.

I have also been working on one of the theater pieces: EDIT.  The piece has been developed over the course of three months with a talented creative team including director, playwright, choreographer, composer and actors.  We have created a movement piece with original music and text looking at that which we share with Kafka: a basic need to create.  The piece only has 5 performances (Dec 10 – 13th) and I would love to see you there.  Click HERE to reserve your FREE tickets!


direction by Jess K Smith
dramaturgy by Hannah Hessel

The outcome of a three-month collaboration between seven different types of artists inspired by both the personal and professional writings of Franz Kafka. This movement piece with original music and text is our way of allowing an audience into our process as we journey through the mind of Kafka, searching for that which we share: a basic need to create.

Creative Development Team

Jess K Smith
Hannah Hessel (SLC ’03)
Jennifer Lane (SLC ’06)
Shelley Virginia
Andrew Zox
Gabriel Baron
Trystan Phillip Toole

Gabriel Baron*
Meghan Grady*
Megan Brunsvold
James Sargent
Simone Zvi
*performing courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association.

Performance Location
Schapiro Studio
605 W 115th Street, basement

Performance Schedule
Thursday, 12/10 at 8pm
Friday, 12/11 at 7pm
Saturday, 12/12 at 2pm and 7pm
Sunday, 12/13 at 2pm


Design Team
Set and Costumes… Lou Regele, Marte Ekhougen
Original Music… Trystan Phillip Toole
Lighting… Lou Regele

To reserve FREE tickets, click here!

It’s almost time for KafkaFest! I hope that you will be able to join us for the first ever festival of Franz Kafka inspired works on the Columbia University campus. The second year MFA Directing students have created SIX new Kafka inspired plays that will be featured alongside work from other artists within the Columbia School of Art community. Come before performances and you can catch pre-show discussions with Anne Bogart, Gideon Lester and more!

KafkaFest runs from December 3 – 13, 2009.  Below is a list of all performances.  To reserve FREE tickets, please visit:

Click here for a full performance calender.  Keep checking for updated information on discussions and the KafkaFest Closing Night Party!

Please contact me if you have any questions or need any help reserving your tickets.  I look forward to seeing you at KafkaFest!



Directed by Kon Yi
Written by John Douglas Weidner
December 4-6, Horace Mann Theater
8pm Fri & Sat, 3pm Sun

A world premiere prequel to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis written by MFA playwright John Douglas Weidner. This new play will explain why Kafka’s protagonist Gregor becomes a beetle. Reserve Now
Adapted & Directed by James Rutherford
December 4-13, Conference Room, Schapiro Hall
8pm Fri 12/4, 8pm & 10pm Sat 12/5, 5pm Sun 12/6
8pm Mon 12/7, 8pm Wed 12/9, 8pm & 11pm Fri 12/11
7pm & 10pm Sat 12/12, 5pm Sun 12/13

Eight nights only: through the miracle of modern technology, Mr. Franz Kafka’s Letter to His Father, hitherto undelivered, may reach its intended destination. This production makes use of psychophonic amplication, abstract whispering, and silence. [Spectatorship limited to 10 per performance.] Reserve Now
ROOM 603
Directed by Carin White
December 10-13, Room 603, Dodge Hall, Columbia Univ.
8pm Thu & Fri, 4pm & 6pm Sat & Sun



A new performance piece inspired by Franz Kafka. Reserve Now
Directed by Jess K Smith
December 10-13, Schapiro Theatre
8pm Thu, 7pm Fri, 2pm & 7pm Sat, 2pm Sun

The outcome of a three-month collaboration between seven artists, all coming from different artistic backgrounds. The goal: to present a journey through our minds as we journey through Kafka’s mind. Reserve Now



Written & Directed by Jonathan Vandenberg
December 11-13, Horace Mann Theater
8pm Fri & Sat, 3pm Sat & Sun

In the beginning there was the word. A search. A journey from author to the penal colony. A short work utilizing gesture, image, and sound freely adapted from writings of Franz Kafka. Reserve Now
Directed by Anna Brenner
Written by John Douglas Weidner
December 10-13, Schapiro Theatre
9pm Fri, 3pm & 8pm Sat, 2pm Sun



“I got it…I’ve finally got it this time. No. It is lost. Now the world seems a mystery to me yet again.” Franz Kafka inspires us to look closely at creation, destruction, and connection in a new play to invigorate the theater with character, dance, humor, and pathos. Reserve Now


In addition to the performances, join us at Watson Hall for an art exhibition.

Plus, don’t miss our pre-show performances: Sat 12/5, 6:30-7:30pm  – “Metamorphosis” with Anne Bogart, Sun 12/6, 6:30-7:30pm – “Amerika” with Gideon Lester and visual artist Tracey Molis,  Sun 12/13, 12:30 – 1:30 pm “A Hunger Artist”.  All discussions will be held in the lobby at Dodge Hall.

For more information please visit:

transferred from facebook: 15 plays in 15 minutes

August 13, 2009

Rules: If you’d like to play, take 15 minutes to jot down 15 plays you’ve read or seen or participated in in some way that will always stick with you — list the first 15 you can recall in 15 minutes. Don’t take too long to think about it. Tag 15 friends, including me because I’d like to see what shows you choose. (To do this, go to your Notes tab, paste the instructions in a new note, list your 15 picks, and tag people in the note – upper right hand side.)

So, these are the first 15 that came to me in the order they came to me – and a word or two of why these have stuck/what i learned from them….

1. Blasted by Sarah Kane — it taught me that you don’t have to like something to like something. plus, in production at Soho Rep I was blown away by the use of tech in creating a production that seemed to be not only in front of me but inside of me.

2. Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss — this weekend I had the chance to rewatch some of the Forum production from last summer and I remembered how wonderful that project was. The character work and specificity of the production the fantastic music written by the one and only Jesse Terrill, and the transformation of the space. It was also such an interesting play to dramaturg as we dug into the layers of Sade, Marat, and French history.

3. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis — And speaking of Forum productions. What sticks with me about Judas is the impact that it had on an audience. The combination of sacred and profane elevated the story into something that really mattered to people. And of course the talented Forum cast and the true ensemble created helped.

4. Crumble, Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake by Sheila Callaghan — the writing in this play is poetry and it’s painful and heart warming and beautiful. and of course seeing Eric Messner as Timberlake and Harrison Ford beat all.

5. Ragtime book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and music by Stephen Flaherty – Broadway. Yup. Seeing Ragtime on Broadway years and years ago was one of the best theater experiences I’ve had. The combination of music and the story was powerful and inluential on me as a youngster.

6. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard – I remember the first time I saw the movie in middle school, soon followed by reading the script, and then seeing production after production. It’s stuck with me but good.

7. Arcadia by Tom Stoppard – Arcadia is just so bloody well crafted. I’ve still never seen it. I was sorry to miss the production in DC earlier this year.

8. Angels in America I & II by Tony Kushner – These scripts, also discovered in High School, are probably the reason I’m doing theater today. They showed me how layered theatrical storytelling could be, how it did not have to remain bound to reality while still being real.

9. Bright Room Called Day by Tony Kushner — On the top of the list for plays I’ve worked on, it’s firstly an amazing play but other than that, on a personal note, I think working on this play changed the direction of my life.

10. Waiting for Godot — speaking of plays that stick with you. and that are amazingly written. and that have changed theater. and that belong so closely to so many. and that are difficult. and misunderstood. and brilliant.

11. The Skriker by Caryl Churchill – That opening monologue is amazing. outstanding. brilliant. The production I worked on what not entirely successful perhaps, but it will always stick with me.

12. The Seagull by Anton Chekhov – This past year was the year of the Seagull. I worked on one production and saw two others. The play bothers me, I understand it in someways and in other ways I feel like no matter how much time I will spend with it I will never completely understand it. It’s beautiful and strange. and I love that.

13. Bal Masque by Richard Greenberg – The final three here are my Theater J three. This was my favorite play during my years at the J. I think it’s stunning and heartbreaking and difficult and funny and beautiful. I hope that Richard doesn’t keep it hidden away and it sees the light of production again.

14. The Dybbuk by S. Ansky – Working on this show was an incredible experience. It allowed me to watch Synetic and discover how they put together their amazing brand of movement theater. It allowed me to dive into a play and a world that had fascinated me for a long time. And it scared me to hear my words every night on stage. I don’t know how playwrights do it.

15. David in Shadow and Light book and lyrics by Yehuda Hyman music by Daniel Hoffman — My final show at Theater J. The response was so disappointing given that the play was so well loved by us on staff. It wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t need to be, it was in process. It was ambitious and passionate. And the audience didn’t know how to take it. It taught me a great deal about how to approach producing a play that is still in its developmental stages.

Gosh, really only 15? Ugh.
Ok, your turn.

dark play: something dark for summer

July 16, 2009

Forum’s summer show is up and running and is fantastic!

Here are some of the stellar reviews:

Washington Post
Washington Times
DC Theater Scene
Washington Examiner


sudden interest in theater news

June 2, 2009

The Washington Post today has four theatrically inclined articles. On a Tuesday. Is this sudden interest on the part of the editors due to Obama? Is theater finally something that those who don’t work in it care about?  Or is it just a coincidence.

Blue Sky Puppet Theater, ‘Legacy of Light’ Actress Sidelined, After Plodding Start, ‘Tartuffe’ Rollicks, Olney Shows Off a Radiant ‘Glass’ Act

theatre collage – something new

March 25, 2009

so, because i like being overstimulated i started a new blog. The new blog ( is more like an inspiration journal than a blog. It’s the web equivalent of what i  had in the days of paper – clipped out articles and images from newspapers and magazines, quotes I wanted to remember, and little quick notes.  It is not personal. It will not take a way from or replace any aspect of what this blog does.  Everything on Theater Collage will some how connect to the theatrical – whether directly or indirectly. My comments on it will be kept to a minimum.

I hope that you visit and bookmark or add it to your feed reader of choice.  I hope that even if you’re not in theater you’ll be able to find inspiration in the things I add.

Theatre Collage will not have commenting set for it so if you have any thoughts email, fbook or comment on here.


more on seven jewish children

March 17, 2009

my two theaters Forum and Theater J are collaborating on Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children later this month.  The controversial play enabled Forum to get their first mention in the New York Times (I know it shouldn’t matter but we all know it does). There’s also an article in today’s Washington Post. Theater J’s blog has also been receiving some heavy lashings, all from one very outspoken gentleman it seems.

When the J will be presenting the play they are planning on filling up the evening not only with discussions but with other response plays.  I haven’t read the plays so I can’t comment on what they say, either in response to Churchill’s play or to the situation in the Middle East. However, there is something that automatically makes me feel upset about these responses.  Or rather, not about these responses but about the responses that don’t exist.

It seems to me that what Caryl Churchill did was write a play because that is the only way she knew how to express her anger at what she saw happening in Gaza.  Theses responders wrote their plays because of anger at Caryl Churchill and her play. Do you see the difference?  I wish that more Israeli and American Jewish artists would make pieces that were pro-active not reactionary.  It just goes back to these discussions that are so difficult to have. People don’t want to say anything potentially offensive because that may mean that they hate Israel and the Jewish people. It’s so frustrating. You can love a people, you can love a land and you can still look at injustice and call it by name.

Like I said, I haven’t read these people’s scripts. But I wish they had written them before Churchill penned hers. I wish at the first injustice Jewish artists could speak up creatively and express their side, what they think, what pains them, what moves them instead of waiting for someone else to speak up and then getting angered that the full story isn’t told.