My daughter is writing her IB extended essay on literal translation versus adaptation in drama -- she is focusing on Tom Stoppard's adaption (listed as translation) of The Cherry Orchard, despite the fact that Stoppard doesn't read Russian. Any recommendations for resources? Her working thesis that adaptation to the audience is more important in drama since a play is meant as a shared audience experience; exact translation may not allow this. Plus, commercial success must be counted.
Your daughter could easily write a whole book on this subject, rather than an essay. The translation of plays involves a great number of factors.
I think we should first of all drop considerations of commercial success, because I cannot imagine that many plays in the United States are going to be translations, and those that are will surely be done by keen university and small theatre groups, rather than being published in some Random House European Theater of Today (i.e. 1850-1950) series to make lots of money.
Tom?š Straussler (as he was born) came as a child from Czechoslovakia and because Russia and Czechoslovakia are all Eastern Europe, he now thinks that he is the only playwright in Britain who should have an opinion on any play written anywhere in Eastern Europe. So much for the man now known as Tom Stoppard. Russia and Czechoslovakia are a bit different, as anyone who has read about the year 1968 will realise. When I was at university in England 35 years ago, the drama group did a play by V?clav Havel, a sophisticated spoof which did not need to be reset or adapted.
Chekhov is a genius and what has to be decided is how much you can change the setting of the play, the costumes, and the pacing of the dialogue without messing up the clever tensions introduced by the author. I don't see that anything is really gained by resetting the Cherry Orchard in Normal, Illinois or some plantation in Georgia. Why not let it remain Russian? There are too many trendies around who want to push the playwright into the background and play the role of staging genius (stark stage with a minimum of props, characters walking around in motorcycling helmets, or any other such gimmick). They do this with Shakespeare all the time. Why not stage Chekhov's plays as if the setting is an upper middle class country house in Russia in the 19th century? Is the audience too dumb to empathise with such people? Does the audience have to be spoon-fed because they are too thick to adjust to another country and century?
Exact translation doesn't mean the actors have to speak like puppets. Obviously 21st century American idiom is different from how they spoke in Russia 150 years ago. But a skilful translator can use a modern idiom without entirely changing the atmosphere of the play. What is a very disturbing trend is big names in the theatre world who use translators to do the hard work of translating the play from, say, Russian, then pay them ten dollars, shove them out of the way, and claim the "adaptation" as their own. What these famous big names have done is altered a few speeches to make things flow better (in their opinion) but have relied to a large extent on someone else's translation. But the translator get the minimum of credit - or none at all. The British playwright David Hare is one such creature.
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