“The Invisibility of Labor in Translation:
Figuring the Translator in the Script Selection Process”
Translators often refer to their work as a labor of love, but too often we, as theatre educators, practitioners, and audiences, are blind to the intensive labor inherent in the translation of a script. The literary community is divided into two modes of thinking: a “good” translation is either one where the translator is invisible, or one where her style is apparent. Regardless of what camp you inhabit, the fact remains that an individual is responsible for the labor of bringing a piece of literature from one culture and language to another.
As theatre practitioners, we do not have the luxury of cutting and pasting several translations together, and very often a translation is chosen because of the notoriety of the translator. Our audiences expect a certain product in this instance, when the labor is visible, but what, if anything, do we expect when that same labor is invisible? As educators, we must find a way to make the labor of the “unknown” translator as visible as that of the known translator, in order to select a script that will serve our project’s interests.
Through the work of translator Carol Maier and the support of the NEH Summer Institute “What is Gained in Translation?” I have developed a project for educators and dramaturgs that outlines the best practices for selecting a translated text. Used in conjunction with a standard dramaturgical research file, these guidelines can help to make the translator’s labor more visible and facilitate the script selection process.