ANTONA GARCIA Article from College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Faculty E-newsletter
Jack T. Lane
Louis Armstrong Theatre - Performing Arts Center
1 Campus Drive
Allendale, MI 49401
Feature by Monica Johnstone taken from the CLAS Faculty E-newsletter, March 2012
Translation and the Collaborative Art of the Play
Spanish Golden Age playwright Tirso De Molinas had a passionate grasp of characterization. So much so, in fact, that he gave us a character in Don Juan who would inspire opera, legend, and popular culture across time and place. So it might surprise us to learn that not all of his drama had been translated into English. Antona Garcia, despite its compelling heroine, political intrigue, and vibrant action, remained an untranslated play in large part because its ending lacked a crucial something.
Assistant professor of Spanish Jason Yancy and assistant professor of theatre James Bell to the rescue!
In a working relationship Bell describes as symbiotic, this pair dove into the glorious but troubled script to seek the deeper structures of the story and bring it in a playable fashion to the stage at GVSU. Yancy found a new passion: “I have worked with Early Modern Theater for many years and in many capacities before, as a scholar, educator, director and performer, but this is the first time I have undertaken the task of translation, something I very quickly discovered a great passion for. It made me reevaluate everything I thought I knew about the field in a way that will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on my future scholarship and teaching. I’m very excited to find more un-translated literary gems and introduce them to a new generation.”
Bell, the dramaturg, notes, “For me this collaboration has been really rewarding in what it has taught me about the nature of translation: translating past words into a different language, translating ideas when words are insufficient, translating concepts to parallel concepts a modern audience would understand, and translating story. At times we've had to develop a hierarchy of priorities with the translation, with the primary priority being the spirit of the play and its Golden Age context. Where we needed to develop an ending and make the play workable for an audience much more used to visuals than words, we've had to really dissect what the play was about and what was important to Tirso in telling this story. I believe that has guided us in how we have adapted the play. So, that for me has been educational and has caused me to think further about the whole nature of translating, about how ideas and concepts are more primal than the words chosen to convey them. So translating has been at its core more about translating ideas than matching words.”
Theatre is among the most collaborative of the arts, so the contributors soon widened to include the director, Professor Karen Libman, and a strong cast. “As this has moved away from Jason and my private work into the public forum of theatre production,” Bell explains, “it has continued to be a fascinating exercise in the development of new art. Karen is very adept at conceiving text into visual theatre production. She has also been really beneficial to the play development process in that she brings a new eye to the text, an eye really focused on connecting the story to the audience through the bodies and words of the performers.”
The play’s physical demands are considerable, including not only battle scenes but also giving birth. This drama asks a great deal of its young actors, but the rewards have already been great-- even before it goes up on the Louis Armstrong stage. This production was the only one in the United States selected to perform at the prestigious 2012 international Spanish Golden Age Drama Festival at the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas, March 6-8. The production created such a stir that not one but two performances will take place at the festival. A federal grant for travel was secured and students found themselves with very special plans for Spring Break.
Bell reflects upon the impact of the experience, “First, there were areas where I have been inexperienced that have caused more work than I expected to facilitate taking such a large group to El Paso to perform. Second, the production has proven more challenging than I would have thought, or at least more complex, but that has brought greater rewards. I have learned more about this play and have come to really like it and enjoy it. I think it will be a really engaging and entertaining piece that the audience will thoroughly enjoy. I think it will also be a life-shaping educational experience for all of the students involved.”
The opening at GVSU has garnered the excitement of not only the English language press in west Michigan, but also the Spanish language media (example).
Bell also recognizes the benefit of the experience to the students. “I believe for the students involved that this has been a really unique experience. I've worked before with new material but not with new translated material. Dramaturgs in production often sit as a representative for the playwright and for the context of the original production, acting in part as a liaison between the original text and context and the present production and context. So, in a sense Jason and I represent Tirso and classical Spain, but we also have a level of ownership to these English words and this story we have adapted. For the students, there is the additional responsibility of not only creating characters, but seeing those characters develop with more plasticity than with a tried and true text. They are recognizing their own role in not only developing characters for this production but putting an imprint onto how the characters will be and remain in the text. That's a level of involvement within the creation process actors don't always have access to. That is a really valuable educational experience for them to see theatre at its earliest genesis. They are learning more about the nature of theatre art from this experience than we could teach them in a classroom.”
Yancy agrees, “I think that through this kind of penetrating study of the plays they’ve really come to make the literature literally come to life in a real, lasting and personal way. I’m sure they will remember some of their lines for many years to come.”
It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child, and a play is very much like a child raised by a sizable one. “Despite all the challenges this project has faced (and there have been many over the past year),” Yancy says, “there has been one tremendous positive to emerge above the rest: I love Grand Valley! There were many moments along the way where the powers that be could have pulled the plug on their support, and with good reason, but no one did. No one even suggested such a thing. The Theater department accepted the play and moved forward publicizing it as part of their upcoming season with little more than my description of the plot to go on. Modern Languages and Literatures gave tremendous support to a creative project far outside the realm of what they normally do. Fred Antczak and the dean’s office, along with Bob Smart and CSCE kept the project financially afloat while we waited for confirmation from the National Park Service. The same might be said of many others. No one told me the project was too big or too strange or too complicated or unnecessary or simply not of interest. Much to the contrary, everyone in every office has expressed enthusiastic support going forward. That kind of “can-do” “Let’s do something amazing” attitude has had a major impact on me. It’s given me great faith in the institution I am a part of. When Grand Valley says it supports students having high-impact education experiences or encourages faculty members in their efforts to promote exceptional teaching and scholarship it’s not just a fancy pitch-line. I’ve seen it first-hand. I absolutely believe it! It makes me feel very lucky to be here and eager to do and be more in the years to come!”Antona Garcia will open at GVSU on Friday, March 30. See http://www.gvsu.edu/events/theatre-at-grand-valley-presents-antona-garcia:6/ for more information.
|Last Modified Date: February 29, 2012|
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