Alien Attack!, the play Chang Nai Wen and I are creating in this years’ lab, began as an idea Nai Wen had about doing a play about the refugee crisis in Europe. After talking for a while and conducting some research, we reached out to poet and writer Sophie Reyer, who wrote a draft of the play in German. After a few more drafts, I translated the play into English and made some significant changes based on discussions Nai Wen and I had about what we wanted this play to be.
We then came to Rome with our English translation / adaptation of Sophie’s German draft and went about translating it into Italian.
Now is probably a good time to mention that Nai Wen and I do not know Italian.
Laura Caparrotti, our co-artistic director, was working on a literal translation of the text from English, but since she was also translating other texts for the lab, it wasn’t ready for our first rehearsal. So we had the cast first read the play in English.
Now is probably a good time to mention that our cast’s command of the English language is mixed.
Somehow the cast stumbled through the English version of the play. Along the way we often stopped to clarify certain turns of phrase, to explain how some of the language was structured in the original German, and to make sure the cast could understand the English version sufficiently for Nai Wen and I to be able to use it as our source text in the rehearsal room (did I mention that Nai Wen and I do not know Italian?).
Once Laura’s Italian translation was ready, we had to go through it with the cast to make sure the language was playable on stage, and to make sure the translation matched the feel and meaning of what we had been discussing together.
This kind of detailed work – line by line examination with the cast of a new play, still in flux (we made many changes, additions, and edits as we went through it together), while also discussing the themes of the piece and what we’re trying to do with it – was a new process for Nai Wen and me. Normally we don’t like to talk so much at the start of rehearsal, and our first three rehearsals have been nothing but talking. We even scheduled two more extra rehearsals to continue our talking, to make sure the text and translation are as strong as they can be.
As we did this, the actors were developing their characters and finding their character arcs. They were working on the “why” as much as the “what,” and we adjusted the text accordingly.
So where it may have looked like we were spending an awful lot of time simply negotiating our language barrier, in fact we were also developing the text and finding our way through it together. We were all collaborating on the creation of the script.
Later today we’ll hear the whole play out loud in Italian and start our “real” work. But I suspect that we’ll find that in many unexpected ways, our work has already brought us quite far.
— Jay Stern, New York City