Contemporary German-language drama is characterized by enormous variety. It has long been and continues to be shaped by both a rich tradition and significant international influences.
Many playscripts written in German are known to audiences in Asia primarily through their English translations. It would of course be far preferable to present these plays to the public in Asian languages – in translations carried out by competent translators working directly from the German. This would also make it possible for theatre companies who operate in local languages to familiarize themselves with the current German theatre scene.
Those reflections are what gave rise to our project: contemporary German-language drama in six South Asian languages – Bangla, Hindi, Marathi, Sinhalese, Tamil, and Urdu. These translations are intended first and foremost to be used within India, but will also be available to other Goethe-Instituts in Dhaka (Bangla), Colombo (Tamil and Sinhalese) and Karachi (Urdu), and in principle to Goethe Centres and additional theatre companies throughout South Asia.
The new translations will also be included in the Goethe-Institut’s theatre library.
Preparations for the project took place between March and July 2020, focusing initially on the selection of plays and of interested and qualified translators. The mentors also prepared podcasts on various topics and plays.
Highlighting the work of Roland Schimmelpfennig
Writer, director, and dramaturg Roland Schimmelpfennig, one of Germany’s most widely produced contemporary playwrights, belongs to the tradition of literary drama: for him, the literary text remains the starting-point and central reference for stagings of his plays. And that’s the key connection between his work and theatre in India – for here too, (non-musical) theatre is based above all on the text. Schimmelpfennig also has experience in the area of theatre translation.
During the workshop, R. Schimmelpfennig discussed the scripts that had been chosen with the individual translators; eight of his plays are being translated into various South Asian languages. Schimmelpfennig also elaborated on additional aspects of theatre practice in relation to his scripts, thus broadening the perspective of the translators.
Dr Barbara Christ, a translator with wide-ranging experience in this area, was invited to serve as the main leader of the workshop. She provided the translators with a variety of material about the plays ahead of time, which greatly enriched their experience.
In addition to the plays by Roland Schimmelpfennig, a representative sample of scripts by other important contemporary German playwrights were made available to the translators. Works by Thomas Melle, Ewald Palmetshofer, Elfriede Jelinek, Thomas Köck, Anne Lepper, Enis Maci, and Ferdinand Schmalz. (It’s worth considering whether representatives of post-migrant theatre such as Yael Ronen or Shivan Ben Yishai might have been added in order to prompt discussion of the question of authorship in contemporary German-language Regietheater [director‘s theatre]).
- Das fliegende Kind
- Push Up 1-3
- Die ewige Maria
- Der Zinnsoldat und die Papiertänzerin
- Die vier Himmelrichtungen
Texts by other eminent Playwrights
- Die Geschichte von Löwen, der nicht bis 3 zählen konnte by Martin Baltscheit
- Zweite allgemeine Verunsicherung by Felicia Zeller
- Versetzung by Thomas Melle
- Die Schutzbefohlenen by Elfriede Jelinek
- Mädchen in Not by Anne Lepper
- Die Unverheiratete von Ewald Palmetshofer
- Atlas by Thomas Köck
- Dickhäuter by Tina Müller
- Ich lieb dich by Kristo Šagor
- Es Wird Einmal by Martin Heckmanns
- Und dann kam Mirna by Sibylle Berg
Apart from her profession as a translator, which she began in 1997, she has also worked as a freelance editor in Verlag der Autoren (Authors’ Publishers for plays in the German-speaking world) from 1998 to 2009.
As a translator her main area of interest lies in the plays and narrative literature from Great Britain, Canada and the USA, including the works of the Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing. Among the playwrights whose works she has translated are David Greig, Noah Haidle, Anthony Neilson, Bruce Norris and Simon Stephens.
In 2012 and 2014 Barbara Christ conducted the translators’ seminars held during the week-long workshop »Forum Theaterübersetzung« (Translation Forum) as part of the theatre biennale »Neue Stücke aus Europa« (New Plays from Europe), organised by the Staatstheater Wiesbaden in cooperation with ITI Germany. Since 2013 she has been conducting the international theatre translation workshops organised as part of the Mülheim Theatre Festival »Stücke«, and since 2016 also the translation workshop »Transfer« offered by the Children’s and Youth Theatre Centre (Kinder-und Jugendtheaterzentrums).
In 2012, she was awarded the Gottsched scholarship, and in 2020, the prestigious Brockes scholarship of the Deutscher Übersetzerfonds (German organisation for the promotion of literary translations). In 2014, she won the German Youth Theatre Prize along with David Greig. She lives in Frankfurt am Main.
(Translation from German by Amrita Dhara, 06.07.21)
His major productions include Cotton 56, Polyester 84, S*x, M*rality, and Cens*rship, Stories in a Song, Loretta, Blank Page, Words Have Been Uttered, Club Desire, and most recently, a re-imagining of the 1945 iconic play by Prithviraj Kapoor, Deewar.
Shanbag has worked extensively for television since 1985, developing programme concepts, researching, writing fiction and non-fiction material, and producing programmes, films, and series. He is an independent documentary filmmaker, and has been involved as a writer and researcher for large scale television projects such as “Bharat Ek Khoj” and “Surabhi”. He has also been actively involved in theatre training and documentation projects which include the book “Scenes We Made”, edited by Shanta Gokhale, which traces the history of experimental theatre in Mumbai from the late 1950s to the year 2000. Shanbag also has a penchant for placing plays within plays, using theatre to comment on the history of the form. Shanbag first used layering in the 2009 production, S*x, M*rality, and Cens*rship, written by Shanta Gokhale, which narrated the court case surrounding the censorship of Vijay Tendulkar’s play Sakharam Binder and commented on the sanitisation of Lavani and Tamasha. In all of these works, Shanbag has paid close attention to an accurate representation of historical details.
Shanbag was invited to perform a Gujarati adaptation of All's Well That Ends Well as part of the Globe-to-Globe festival in London, in which all 37 of Shakespeare's plays were performed in 37 different languages at Shakespeare's Globe. The play was well received in the UK press, with The Guardian giving it a four-star rating, and the Arts Desk stating, "Shakespeare's problem play is solved by a buoyant Gujarati staging from Mumbai." Titled “Maro Piyu Gayo Rangoon” in India, in 2014, the play was invited back to the Globe for another run of shows in a month that marked the 450th birth anniversary of Shakespeare.
Shanbag’s work is seen at major theatre festivals across the country and has also been presented over two seasons at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre in London. He has been associated with Theater Freiburg in Germany as a senior artistic associate, for the stage adaptation of “God’s Little Soldier”, a novel by late Kiran Nagarkar. Sunil Shanbag is a part of the core team of SMART, India’s only strategic management programme for theatre. Sunil Shanbag has recently been awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for theatre direction, 2017.
Ramakrishnan Ramanathan, popularly known as Ramu Ramanathan, is an Indian playwright-director with acclaimed plays to his credit. His list of plays includes the most recent and immensely successful The Diary of a Word, Cotton 56 Polyester 84; Jazz; Shanti, Shanti, it’s war, Comrade Kumbhakarna; Curfew; Mahadevbhai (1892–1942); Collaborators; 3, Sakina Manzil; Shakespeare And She; as well as Postcards from Bardoli.
His third book Sakina Manzil And Other Plays is a collection of eight plays, published by Orient Blackswan in collaboration with the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU). He has written two extremely successful children’s plays based on the Grips theatre methodology: “The Boy Who Stopped Smiling” and “Medha and Zoombish”.
His two poetry books “Conversations with a Peacock” and “To Sit on a Stone and other Shorts” have been published by Red River. He is the co-editor of “Babri Masjid – 25 Years on”, a book by Kalpaz and CSSS, conceptualised and curated by Dr. Sameena Dalwai.
Ramu was editor of PT Notes, a monthly theatre newsletter produced by Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai for ten years. He also co-edited e-STQ (Seagull Theatre Quarterly) and has been writing columns on theatre plus social commentaries for national newspapers. He has conducted innumerable workshops and lectures, in which he has tried to reinstate the ideals of good taste, decent humour, intelligence and above all progressive values.
One of the most politically conscious playwrights of our times, Ramu’s plays reflect the times we live in. Ramu Ramanthan meticulously researches his projects, historical processes are a cornerstone of most of his writing and both politics and history together form the foundation of his work.
His plays have been translated and performed into Indian and European languages. Ramu used to live in Mumbai — the city where many of his plays are situated. Commenting on his relationship with Mumbai in a detailed interview with the Mumbai Theatre Guide, he says, "Mumbai is my lover. I love her and at the same time, I loathe her. To-date, even today, I discover something new in her. And that I’ve poured into the plays." As part of his research on the city and its culture, Ramu has catalogued an exhaustive reading list in the form of Literature that Celebrates Mumbai: A List.
More about Ramu Ramanthan’s work: https://www.mumbaitheatreguide.com/dramas/interviews/27-ramu-ramanathan-interview.asp#
A workshop spread over six days (January 25-30, 2021) offered ideal conditions for a conversation about the complex activity of drama translation. The aim was to provide the translators with an overview of the current state of contemporary German-language drama as well as an opportunity to work on concrete examples under experienced leadership. A great deal of thought went into the selection of the plays, involving dicussions between Dr Barbara Christ, Roland Schimmelpfennig and the GI, with the objective of putting together a menu that would be at once representative, and relevant to India.
The workshop was designed for experienced literary translators who would benefit from a more in-depth look into the distinctive features of translating for the theatre: how does dialogue function? What factors must one take into account when translating a text that will achieve its effects primarily when spoken out loud? How do playwrights create character through language? What must one be alert to in translating stage directions?
Following the workshop, the translated playscripts were sent to theatre experts in various different languages who analyzed and comment on those texts. Their responses will be summarized in a report provided to theatre companies as an additional resource. Once the discussions by experts have been completed, the playscripts will be sent to theatre companies operating in various languages.Those theatre companies will then prepare staged readings – and in each case, one rehearsal will be analyzed and commented on by our lead mentors.
The goal is to present staged readings in local Goethe-Instituts, and wherever possible at other events such as literary festivals, combined with post-show discussions featuring the translators, directors, dramaturgs and actors involved.