by Margherita Laera and Flora Pitrolo, University of Kent


A few months ago Jan Parker wrote a blog [TRANSLATING THEATRE: ‘FOREIGNISATION’ ON STAGE] about our AHRC-sponsored project entitled ‘Translation, Adaptation, Otherness’, following her attendance of our symposium on theatre translation in October 2016. The project asks how theatre in translation can communicate linguistic and cultural difference without flattening it or over-domesticating it. A video gallery from the symposium is visible here

The project has come a long way since our symposium and since Jan Parker’s reflections. Having edited our project documentary (https:// we are now re-imagining our summer workshop series as an interactive archive, forthcoming on We have also begun work on our special issue of Studies in Theatre and Performance (due to be published in the summer of 2018), which allows the team of scholars and translators who took part in the initial phase of the project to reflect more deeply and more carefully on the experiences of attempting strategies of ‘foreignisation’ on stage.

‘Foreignisation’ is not a binary term in clear-cut opposition to the term ‘domestication’. In fact, both terms encompass a range of possibilities performed through, within and contextually to translation, which are ascribable to much more than purely discursive strategies. The questions we posed – which regarded how Venuti’s ideas on ‘foreignisation’ might be applicable in and useful to theatre and performance – were carefully addressed beyond the sphere of the textual, stretching into choice of text, casting, acting techniques, accents and other aspects of performance and of its aesthetic and cultural framing. We deliberately chose texts from Spain, France and Poland that would sit on the margins of both the translated corpus from those languages into English, and that would challenge standard practices in contemporary London theatre (more on this here).

The project’s directors and performers attempted to purposefully re-elaborate their process design, their acting techniques, and their very style of performance in order to invent something other to what they are used to but also other to their received ideas of ‘Spain’, ‘France’, ‘Poland’. In every step of the process we questioned defaults, stereotypes and go-to positions in order to discover whether we could perform an ‘Other’ space – the space we called ‘translation’ and the space we also called ‘the theatre’ – that could exist outside of the discursive and imaginary limits implicit in the mere fact of decoding out of one linguistic and cultural system and recoding into another.

Therefore the project’s first phase responded precisely to what Parker singles out as ‘research which engages with all the interrelations of the theatre studio as a multifaceted translation “exploratorium”’. We attempted to ‘test’ the idea of ‘foreignisation’ where it had seldom been tested before, namely in theatrical texts and theatrical practice: as Parker rightly points out, ‘“effect/affect/identification” in the theatre work more complexly than delivering an awareness’, and indeed we deployed the theatre as a medium in order to transfer the ‘awareness’ of the other into the sphere of embodied knowledge – the knowledge of the rehearsal room – where encounters and experiences are performed rather than explored through conjecture only.

To employ a methodology such as practice-as-research is to willfully push at something that appears obscure, and to accept the imperfect and exploratory nature of that searching; it is also to keep oneself open to finding something other than what one might have expected or planned for, and to accept that the process will probably lead to more questions than answers. Many of the questions we uncovered in the rehearsal room address the very core of what it is to perform, and not only of what it is to perform a translation: in this sense, a paradigm borrowed from translation studies is having a second life in theatre studies in our current research, and we are still working on singling out how the two disciplines, crafts and ways of knowing can productively both enrich and destabilise each other.

The questions we are asking now have to do with performative strategies that might complicate, enrich and supplement discursive and non-discursive strategies. How can performance and mise en scène communicate linguistic and cultural difference to a live audience? The answer to these questions clearly depends on the context in which one is performing and spectating. We are aware that we are asking that question in London in 2017 and our chosen strategies might not apply to other contexts. The project’s special issue of Studies in Theatre and Performance seeks to further investigate these matters, which have generated – and we hope will continue to generate – a rich conversation across fields.

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