On the Edge: Translating Mexico’s Borderlands

Every month, Out of the Wings invites a translator to share their work in our free-to-attend laboratory.  We gather to read a play in translation, discuss it, and offer feedback.  All are welcome.  For our October session, we were joined by Mexican playwright Luis Edoardo Torres and the translator of his play ‘En la margen del río’, Stephen Brown.  In this blog, both Stephen and Edoardo tell us about their experience with us.

Stephen Brown, translator:  I first started attending the monthly play read at Out of the Wings following a BCLT (British Centre for Literary Translation) talk held by Catherine Boyle and Sophie Stevens at UEA as part of my M.A. in Literary Translation. It has proven to be a crucial source of inspiration, creativity and networking ever since. I was therefore delighted to be offered the opportunity to present my translation of my friend Luis Edoardo Torres’s play ‘En la margen del río’ at the October 2021 read.

The original Spanish-language production of ‘En la margen del río’

In advance of the read, Edoardo and I had both admitted to each other to being somewhat nervous and it was true we found the experience of hearing our respective work a challenging one as we reflected on our creative and translation choices. However the positive, thoughtful and committed manner in which the play was read and acted by the other OOTW members served to engender different angles and considerations of our work. In addition the post-read discussion led by Catherine provided a dynamic space for a variety of constructive feedback, interesting ideas and encouragement to explore other similar works. We discussed the apparent choral aspect of the play and how the overlapping, interchanging voices contributed to comparisons with plays from other choral traditions. The group challenged us to consider how the narratorial aspect of the different characters in an online forum potentially lent it to a production as a radio play. In addition we felt encouraged to keep telling the specific stories emanating from Mexico on migration, violence and insecurity despite our concerns of an element of fatigue regarding how this is viewed in an English-language context.

From a translation perspective, I discussed my preference for collaboration with the playwright/author in my work. I was asked by the group to elaborate on how the collaborative process Edoardo and I followed had impacted on our decision-making, ranging from the retention of Spanish army/civilian titles, the decision to choose Mexican over English language swear words and the choice of a non-literal translation of the play’s title, and in doing so I was encouraged to further reflect on my practice. We were also fortunate that the translator of the play into German, Hedda Kage was present at the read and this allowed us to discuss the comparative approaches she and I had taken within the different language and theatrical contexts.

For any translator of Spanish or Portuguese plays into English, Out of the Wings is an invaluable source of feedback and constructive challenge to their practice. As a translator still at the very early stages of his journey, my overwhelming feeling on having my first full-length play translation read at the meeting was less one of retrospective reflection rather one of encouragement and guidance on how to progress to the next stages of my journey.

Writer Luis Edoardo Torres (L) and translator Stephen Brown (R)

Luis Edoardo Torres, writer:  As a playwright, having the opportunity to share my play and Stephen’s amazing translation was something I was looking forward to with an equal mixture of excitement and nervousness. I have followed the activities of Out of the Wings since I discovered them while living in England, and I admire their incredible contribution to contemporary theatre translation. For me OOTW is not only about the translation process, more about supporting and promoting diversity in the theatre community. I myself have discovered exciting playwrights such as Víctor Sánchez Rodríguez (translated by William Gregory) through OOTW.

Our nervousness in presenting the translation of the play for the first time quickly disappeared because the atmosphere was so welcoming, and I immediately recognized Catherine Boyle’s role in creating this. Her experience and passion for Spanish and Latin-American theatre makes this project work as a safe space for sharing and discussing your work. Another thing that made me feel at home was the fact that Hedda Kage, the translator of the same play into German, attended the read. Hedda’s contribution to Spanish and Latin-American theatre in Germany is invaluable. Having her with us made me realize the importance of building a community, because ultimately this is the most amazing thing about Out of the Wings: building a community through collaboration.

I’m happy also that we had the opportunity to demonstrate the collaborative aspect of translation. For Stephen and I, the translation process was not only like building a bridge to bring the story to the “other side”, but also the opportunity to build new roads. Playwriting is usually a very solitary experience, but translating brings in a new voice to read your work and gives you the opportunity to discover new shades and undertones that otherwise you might never find.

There are so many amazing stories that Out of the Wings have helped to share and I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity too. Let’s support the project by joining the reading sessions, watching the performances and promoting the work they do.

Our monthly meet-and-read sessions are open to all translations into English of plays from the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking worlds, whatever the style, period, length or genre.  We welcome translations at any stage of their progress, from first drafts to polished final versions, and particularly support translations that have not yet been staged or published.  If you would like to suggest your translation, we would love to hear from you.  Simply contact info@outofthewings.org, or see our FAQs for more information about how we work.

Our next meet-and-read will be on November 26 at 14:00 GMT (with an online option always available), exploring ‘Black Brecht: E se Brecht fosse Negro?’/ ‘Black Brecht: What if Brecht were Black?’, by Brazilian playwright Dione Carlos, translated by Cecilia Matteos.  To attend this or any of our monthly sessions as a guest or participant, sign up to our mailing list.