Some Thoughts about Theater Translation in Francophone and Anglophone Canada
Forsyth, Louise H., Quebec Studies
... the idea that it is impossible to translate, but at the same time that it is intolerable not to translate
But most of all, I would say, here's a writer, and I think of all writers as voices in the wilderness, people who are daring to stand up and try to name the very peculiar angst or joy of this decade, this century, this place.
Theater translation has been a significant and sustained cultural phenomenon in Quebec and Canada for more than half a century. Plays in translation have been fellow-travellers over these decades with the hundreds of fine, original plays that have been performed and published in both French and in English. Despite the large number of theater translations, however, they have not yet been studied with the same critical and theoretical thoroughness as has translation of fiction, poetry and non-fiction. The impact of translators' strategies is not widely appreciated; the effect on meaning production of the many bends in discursive channels through which theater translations pass as a result of interpretive imperatives remains relatively unexplored. Nor, for the most part, have theater translations found an enduring place in either this country's theater histories or what is generally accepted as its canons. Instead, they seem to be seen as having been the occasional, somewhat surprising blip on the evolving cultural landscape. It would be unwise to affirm that theater translations have been recognized as having had overarching influence on their target communities and audiences in either direction in Canada.
Louise Ladouceur is one of the first to have done an exhaustive study of theater translation in Canada. In Making the Scene. La Traduction du theatre d'une langue officielle a l'autre au Canada she directed her attention at translations of plays for adult audiences having had a professional performance and/or been published between 1950 and 2000. Ladouceur provides descriptive and comparative analyses of translations of the works of twelve of the most translated Canadian playwrights, six from each side of the official language divide. She also provides insight into the interplay between the body of translated works and this country's many sociopolitical and cultural systems. Her compilation of translations shows that Canada's theater translation corpus has not replicated with any particular fidelity the shape and content of the country's entire theater corpus, whether in French or in English. Her tally shows that one hundred forty-six plays by francophone playwrights were translated into English, while sixty-nine works by anglophone playwrights were translated into French--that is, less than half the number translated into English. Several of the translations into French were produced in theaters outside Quebec. Less than 20% of the translated plays were by women: twenty-six translated from French to English, and fourteen translated from English to French, despite the fact that this was the time feminist theater exploded onto Canada's stages and despite the hundreds of excellent new plays written by female playwrights. In the same vein, I note that few of the translated plays were by Aboriginal or other ethnically marginalized playwrights. The works of certain playwrights figure prominently on the list; others that one would expect to see are not there at all, while a certain number are by writers whose work is relatively unknown in the original.
These figures, which give an idea of the impressive extent of theater translation, show it would be an error to assume that theater pieces have been passing transparently, rapidly, and in relative equilibrium among the cultures of the two official languages of this country. In fact, the asymmetry and other anomalies shown by the data suggest that there are complex forces at work in both official language communities of Canada driving theater translation in divergent ways. …