In this series, we meet and speak with those involved in the making of PlayCo’s upcoming production of Stefano Massini’s Intractable Woman. Paula Wing is the playwright, actor, and translator whose adaptation of Massini’s theatrical memo in 2017 introduced the Company to the story. Her work has been produced across the U.S. and Canada. When she’s not near the stage, she teaches playwriting to the Tarragon Theatre’s Young Playwrights Units and works as a sessional Professor of Drama at the University of Windsor. We chat here about the intricate process of translation, as well as her role in bringing Anna Politkovskaya’s story to life on page and on stage.
How did you first come into contact with Stefano Massini’s Intractable Woman?
It was given to me by the original English producer, Imago Theatre in Montréal. Director Micheline Chevrier read the play in French, loved it and hired me to translate it.
Intractable Woman encompasses so many topical questions that we’re reading and hearing about in the news every day. How do current events impact the translation of a piece?
Well, they don’t impact the literal work of translation itself. But there can be, as you note, incredible resonances. You can’t get too specific with a translation because that could skew the original writer’s intention. But you work within the resonances. As your question notes: there are so many here. Audiences in Canada were really fascinated by how topical the play is.
I think what was fascinating for me as translator was being inside Anna, as she grapples with how to tell the story (or stories) of the Chechen War. I think Massini’s play encourages us to consider our own political situation, and how we can respond to governmental actions we believe to be wrong.
Aside from translating, you also act, teach and write your own plays. How do those different disciplines inform your work in translation?
All of the work I do informs all of the other work I do. Translation is – paradoxically – inexact. There is a beautiful Italian expression: Traddutore, tradditore. It means: Translator, betrayer. In a way, you must betray the original, in order to be faithful to it in the context of a different language. Some things remain elusive, hard to bring across from the old language to the new. My work as a playwright helps me make a text speakable, actable, fluid and resonant in its translated language (hopefully).
What kind of impact can a single word choice have on the overall translation?
It can be critical! Lee Sunday Evans, who is directing Play Company’s production, and I have had rich and juicy conversations about single words as well as potential new phrases that will (again, hopefully!) be more evocative in an American context. In a couple of cases, she has helped me to find better solutions, words, and phrases that capture more fully the essence of the original. Because translation is inexact you are forever fiddling with it. You don’t come to an end, you eventually stop tinkering.
After you’ve completed a translation, what is your relationship to it afterward? How involved are you with the production subsequently?
Translation is like stepping into another writer’s mind and heart. If you do the job well, then your translation “sounds” like them–like their voice, and not like your voice. That said, my relationship to the translation, once it’s completed, is a little more distant than if I’ve written the play. If an original play could be called my child, then a translation would be my niece or nephew: We’re related. My involvement with each production varies, depending on the needs and desires of the creators. With the original production of this play, we workshopped the translation before rehearsal and I did a new draft. After that, the director contacted me with questions as they came up. With each production, different things emerge, different solutions must be found.
Why do you think local access to international theater is so important?
Seeing and hearing other voices from around the world is an enriching, stimulating and broadening experience. Anna Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist who wrote and published for a Russian audience. But her words and her story inspired an Italian playwright, Stefano Massini, to write this play. His play inspired Micheline Chevrier, a French Canadian, to bring Anna’s story to a Canadian audience. The English translation then touched Kate Loewald and Lee Sunday Evans, and this [American] production is happening. Theater is a means of communication and communication is – or can be – a vehicle for understanding and change.
In one sentence, tell us why audiences should see Intractable Woman.
Anna Politkovskaya broke the rules when the rules were wrong; she told the truth when it would have been much easier to be silent. She was an unruly, passionate, courageous example of how to speak truth to power. (That’s two sentences but I stand by them!)
Intractable Woman begins previews September 13 and opens September 23 in the second-floor theater of 122 Community Center (122CC). For more information, please visit: http://playco.org/events/intractable-women-a-theatrical-memo-on-anna-politkovskaya/