On Invitation to Out of the Wings and on Becoming Virtual

Underlining the practicalities

We held the Invitation to Out of the Wings evening on 4 March because we wanted people to see for themselves that we are an inclusive  community, that it’s easy to join and that the invitation is always open. Very often, when we explain what we do, people don’t believe how simple the formula is, and how easy it is to join us. So, to start off, and as we have said elsewhere: if you have an interest in translated theatre – as a translator, director, producer, designer, researcher, teacher – all you have to do is email info@outofthewings.org and say two things: 1) that you want to join the group; 2) that you would like to be put on the mailing list (we need this explicitly for data protection). You will then receive information about our monthly meetings and other activities and be part of a collective of people who share translations. As simple as that.

An Invitation to out of the Wings evening

Our invitation to Out of the Wings at the newly refurbished Omnibus Theatre evening was joyous, and it was overwhelming to see so many people there. A good number of familiar faces and fellow translation practitioners, and a great number of new faces. A week or so later and we wouldn’t have been able to have this gathering, and, like all theatres in the UK, Omnibus is now in the dark until further notice.

What did we do? We shared what we do at our monthly meetings and invited people to join us. We shared extracts of two plays in translation – La biblioteca / The Library (1959) by Uruguayan playwright Carlos Maggi (1922-2015), translated by Sophie Stevens and Nada sera como antes / Nothing Will Ever Be the Same (1999) by contemporary Brazilian playwright Claudio Simões. We wanted to showcase a play we have already read in our workshops (The Library) and a play in the early stages of translation (Nothing Will Ever Be the Same). After reading at one of our monthly workshops, translators revisit their work, with many questions to consider, and we wanted to show how a translation develops over time through being part of a collective process. Our monthly readings also provide the opportunity to share early translations, so as to consider questions of, for example, cultural transfer, register, tone, understanding. All translations demand thinking about how a play might transfer to our here and now, how it will land in our environment.

More pragmatically, the plays were chosen because they have a lot of characters, and so we could do what we do in our readings and ask for readers from the amongst those present. There was no shortage of volunteers to read, and there was great reading. The conversations echoed the type we have at our meetings: specific points of translation or reference, questions about context, time, meaning, tone, language, resonance with our place and times. And voice. Always voice.

Voice

There is an increasing urgency, it seems to me, to respond to the question of voice, of English as a multilingual language. It is language mediated, in cities like London, by Englishes from all over the world and by languages from all over the world. In Out of the Wings discussions, we return to this question insistently because translation demands it. In translation we are moving with the voices of the original play, the original authors. When these voices land here (our precise here is London UK) in translation into English, they meet the complexity of English, of accent, region, class, received pronunciation, access to being heard. Who has the right to speak? For whom? To whom? Who has the right to speak up and be heard in English? For whom can we speak? How? These are questions of language and, so, of socio-political power, of identity politics, of inclusion, of human rights. Listening to the variety of voices that read on 4 March, all of these questions arose, some passionately. They are important, because we are part of an international and multilingual community of theatre practitioners working to bring narratives and voices to diverse audiences. We will return to them in a conversation that is live and urgent.

‘I belong to the Out of the Wings Collective because …’

In the forum that followed the readings, members of the Out of the Wings Collective finished the sentence, ‘I belong to the Out of the Wings Collective because …’. We wanted to offer a sense of the ways in which individual goals and ambitions live within a collective enterprise. So, the collective, we heard, is: a space of networking, meeting people who want to translate and share the experience; a place where people test work; an opportunity to respond to questions and comments and use these to move work forward, including to full production; a generous and open space where we learn from each other; a chance to move into and out of our first languages. There was also a lot of appreciation of the tea and chocolate biscuit breaks.

In my own continuation of the ‘I belong to the Out of the Wings Collective …’, after listening to the characteristically thoughtful and positive responses, I found that what I wanted to say was about sharing, creating community and passing on. When I started working on researching and translating on theatre and translation (in the early to mid-1980s), neither the study of Spanish and Latin American theatre (beyond the Golden Age and Lorca) nor translation were considered valid areas of research within the academy. The reasons are too numerous and turgid to go into here, but these attitudes shaped resistant ways of thinking, and my responses to them shaped my future research and practice. During my PhD, I gathered many plays and manuscripts from Latin America, primarily Chile, where my work was based. It was like gathering knowledge in a largely unreadable form – the absence of these authors and works from the canon had made them invisible within a context in which their literary worth was not (could not be) valued. ‘The Cinderella of the arts’ is a phrase that haunted the study of Spanish-language theatre, and its study as literary object ignored the actual art form. Like many other people, I wanted to play my part in rebalancing the canon; in bringing other voices to contest the dominant narratives that informed research and teaching.

In many ways the discussion goes on and the challenge remains. We see that evidenced across western universities, for example in the activism around decolonising the curriculum. However, my argument grew from what I was learning about the meeting point of the theatre play with its audiences. It is a complex space that produces experience, signification, communication at precise moments in time and in its relation to its environment and to other forms of cultural production by which it is surrounded. The potential for insistent, continuing, evolving encounters between the stage (of whatever kind) and audience has always driven my research, teaching and translation work.

What I found more difficult in the argument for what I will call validity, was the fact that, for a long time, I was the only repository for the work of gathering and disseminating contemporary Latin American theatre in this way. That is, with the aim of making academic research the source for performance in the UK. Repository is a deliberate choice: my office became the physical space for the collection of plays and manuscripts that were otherwise difficult or impossible to find here. I’ve often said that it felt like a bottleneck, that somehow the material had become physically stuck in my space, my body. At times it felt stifling, in the impossibility to do this work justice alone. Only collective work could free up that bottleneck and ensure that other people could have access to the material and do the work that I was physically incapable of doing. In the first instance, this was done with theatre companies and directors interested in Spanish and Latin American theatre. And in this way, the collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company on their Spanish Golden Age Season, 2004–2005, gave us the visibility and kudos to be recognised in a new academic world that was beginning to appreciate and reward the impact of research beyond the academy. Out of the Wings, funded by the Arts and Humanities Arts Council and dedicated to the research, translation and performance of the theatre from Spain and Spanish America was, for me, the culmination of an effort begun somewhere in the mid-1980s and finally made properly collective in 2008.

The Out of the Wings Collective, from 2014 on, has become the place where this sharing of work is richest and promises continuity. Over the last 6 years, we have worked together to create an enterprise that is constantly changing shape around a central endeavour of getting great theatre from Spain, Portugal and Latin America known to new audience, living again in new places, even if only for a reading. But we are more ambitious than that, and we now have about 150 people as part of our collective, we have international reach and many many plays are being given new life.

Out of the Wings in the Times of Coronavirus

I am writing this almost a month into quarantine, or lockdown, in the UK. With the Out of the Wings Collective, we decided to do the only thing possible: what we can. So, on Friday 27 March we had our first virtual meeting. We had to think a bit about how to manage a virtual reading, despite having Out of the Wings members join us virtually (and with enormous patience) every month for a good few years. Lessons learned will inform our next reading. The first play we shared in this way was Jauría by Jordi Casanovas, translated by Tim Gutteridge, and read by Elena Sanz, Elliott Bornemann, Santiago del Fosco, Richard Glaves, Craig Talbot and Federico Trujillo.

It’s a play that has had a huge impact in Spain, a verbatim drama based on the transcripts of the infamous and disturbing rape

case known as la manada / or wolf pack case. This was an opportunity for Tim to hear the translation for the first time and for the reception of the play to be tested and discussed in an open environment. As so often with the plays we read, it was the chance to ask whether there is a space for the play in a new environment. We don’t reach, or expect to reach, answers for these questions. That is a longer process. What we can do is create a place for specific questions of translation – the ever-fascinating issue of titles, for example – of dramaturgy, of different socio-political context, of voice. And I’ll leave that hanging. The question of voice, of whose voice is being translated and for whom has a deep and complex resonance in this play, and it would be great to see this explored through the exigencies of a rehearsal period. In the reading (the readings are always cold; very first approaches to the play, with no rehearsal), the actors gave us a profound insight into how moral complexity comes alive in the play through the very act of embodying the voice and experience of others. A powerful comment on the ability of theatre in translation to take us into other worlds.

We’ll be doing that again on 24 April at 15.00, London time. Join us.

Catherine Boyle
20 April 2020