Inspired by art: A feminist co-translation and our experience of solidarity when translating ‘Volcán de brujas’ by Víctor Malagrino

Volcano of the Witches (Volcán de brujas) will open the Out of the Wings play readings at Omnibus Theatre, London, on 16 July 2024. Here, Jessica Hooper and Elisabeth Rabl reflect on their experience of translating Víctor Malgrino’s tale of dark secrets uncovered on a small Argentinian island.

‘“Lo tuyo es mío también”, me dijo ella y se plantó acá, pegadita a mí.’ 

‘”Your fight is my fight too”, she said to me and stayed put, right by my side.’

Volcán de Brujas / Volcano of the Witches, Víctor Malagrino (2023)

Theatre has the power to teach, to touch the soul and remind us of our mission in life, and Volcán de brujas certainly did this for us. In a play touching upon countless relevant themes, notably that of female solidarity, it seemed fitting to produce a co-translation by two equally feminist translators, supporting each other, teaching each other and learning from each other every step of the way. Malagrino’s work has inspired us and we would like to share our experience of translating it with you, letting you in on all the inspirational encounters of female solidarity in translation that we saw along the way and which we strive to continue.

A feminist co-translation

We (Jessica and Elisabeth) met when we were both on exchange studying Translation at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, and back in February 2023 when the opportunity arose to translate Víctor Malagrino’s Volcán de brujas, I (Jessica) knew who I wanted to embark on this journey with! And this journey in question, of undertaking a co-translation, is in principle not an easy one. So, before delving into the many inspirational encounters of solidarity we experienced along the way, we would like to share with you our personal potion for a (feminist) co-translation.

First of all, pooling our different skills helped enormously when translating. We put all our respective experience to the table, not only our linguistic knowledge but also our expertise with theatre, Argentinian culture, translation, rhyme schemes, and much more. Secondly, especially with theatre, it is crucial to be consistent, to find the voices of the characters and be sure on what they sound like and who they are. Even the smallest inconsistency could throw off a text. We made sure to pay attention to the smallest details (notably ‘monte’ as ‘mountains’ or ‘mountain’, the translation of ‘pá’ which changed according to the character saying it, and the struggle to find the perfect translation of certain onomatopoeias in the stage directions) and we spent a lot of time reading over each other’s work and debating in the comments at the side of the page, always with respect. Transparency was another key value we held when co-translating; even the smallest changes were marked in bold to keep track of everything and to ensure both of us were in agreement with every word, every letter of the translation. 

Also, problem solving is much easier (and more fun!) when done together. We recall one scene in the play where we had difficulties finding the right words for translating a play on words that was significant to the story; translating a seemingly sentimental enunciation with a lack of sentimentality proved challenging (‘Y yo siento que me faltó y que me falta. Me falta madre, pá.’ became ‘And I think even then I missed her somehow, and I still miss her now. I’ve never known what it’s like to have a mother, Dad.’). We had lots of discussions and let our exchanges digest a little in between until we found the perfect wording, eventually. Speaking of discussions, we believe it is key when co-translating to always be open to criticism and to even ask for it. Criticism, when delivered with respect and accepted genuinely, has the potential for reflection and growth in so many ways. Coming from different countries and having different reference points (we think Shakespeare may have loosely inspired one of our oxymorons!) also helped us to see the play from different angles and ensured our translation resonated universally (while always having our target audience in mind).

An essential aspect in our case was the friendship we had developed. We met when we were both living in a foreign country, experiencing the ups and downs this brings with it, and we had each other to turn to. Knowing that the other person can relate to how you feel really makes you feel supported and not alone. Also, since it was our first major theatre translation, we could also share in feelings of excitement, passion, enthusiasm, and also all the smaller and bigger insecurities we encountered along the way. 

Last but not least, we started to translate Volcán de brujas in February, and on 8th March we naturally joined the International Women’s Day protest at the Arc de Triomf in Barcelona. We had already been compelled by the strong and empowering message of the play by then, and seeing so many women on the street together, dancing, chanting, supporting each other and standing up for their rights, made us feel even more connected to both the play and the feminist movement. So, to add some magic sprinkles to our potion, another piece of advice we can give is that immersing yourself in the play’s atmosphere is a beautiful way to get close to the text and its characters. 

Photos from the 8M protest in Barcelona, 2023. Centre picture L to R: Elisabeth Rabl and Jessica Hooper.

Solidarity in translation

Female solidarity prevents female erasure, something which is all the more important in the translation industry which has historically been very male dominated. We hope that in the process of co-translating Volcán de brujas we have been able to make a positive contribution to the translation industry in demonstrating women supporting other women, translators working, not against each other in competition, but working together in collaboration.

Similarly, the play, to not give away too many spoilers, discusses some incredibly relevant topics such as female solidarity, the way women are treated and must act to be seen as professional or to not attract negative attention, how women have learnt to free themselves from patriarchal structures, and the list goes on. The play changes drastically when the main protagonist Lía meets Sofía; Lía finds comfort in Sofía’s presence, Sofía being a woman with much truth and wisdom to share and who has spent her life fighting to be able to create and live freely… and throughout the process of translating the play, we have met our own Sofías: translators and creators from around the globe who have proven extraordinary examples to follow, mentors we found in Professor Catherine Boyle, the translators from Out of the Wings and collaborators in Argentina including actress and translator Antonella Querzoli from the Asociación Argentina de Traductores e Intérpretes (AATI), and the play’s author, Víctor Malagrino, perhaps the most feminist of all of us!

We are so grateful to be surrounded by, and to work alongside, so many translators who inspire us, teach us and who have supported us from the very beginning, since Out of the Wings first did a reading of our translation in May 2023, and we want to celebrate and support these translators in whichever way we can, be that through promoting others on social media or reading their translations and engaging in debates so we can all learn and improve our work. It is not lost on us the wealth of information we have access to because of them and the work that they have put in so that young translations like us can grow and hopefully one day inspire as we have been inspired. Working with Out of the Wings has opened up so many opportunities for us; it has given us the opportunity to connect with female creators from around the world and has made us more aware of the work we are doing, the impact it has and how we can contribute and give back. It has not only educated us in translation but also in how to exist as translators, how to support others as we have been supported, and how to be conscious of the world around us, of the messages that need to be heard and the responsibility a translator holds when translating all of this.

And so, to draw to a close our blog, we would like to send one more big thank you to Víctor for inspiring our work, for all the support he has given us along the way, and for his message which we hope to spread with our translation. We would also like to extend our gratitude to Out of the Wings: it is such an honour to have been selected for this year’s festival and to be billed alongside such incomparable writers and translators from around the world. We recommend everyone comes and checks out what we have all been working on.

Volcano of the Witches will open the Out of the Wings 2024 play readings at Omnibus Theatre on 16 July 2024, part of the #OOTW2024 of theatre in translation. For more information about all of #OOTW2024’s events, click here. We look forward to seeing you.