Problems Encountered while Translating Theatrical Plays

Translation services are used all over the world every day. Sometimes they’re used for business transactions; sometimes they’re used to translate books and other reading material. For one Canadian woman who was asked to translate a play into French, the translation part was easy; staying true to the meaning of the words was the difficult part.

How Far Does a Creative License Go?

Professional translator and educator, Louise Ladouceur, worked as an actor in Montreal in the 80’s and was once asked to produce a French translation of a play for another actor. She was happy to do the translation, and translating the words from English into her stronger language – French – was no problem at all. However, when she started to translate the material, she ran into a problem. Sometimes the phrases didn’t translate well. Ladouceur struggled with choosing whether or not to stay true to the exact text, or change the text so that it more closely mirrored the meaning of the text. She didn’t want to take too much of a creative license and change the text too much so that it wasn’t like the original anymore. Later, when Ladouceur became the professor of theater studies and translation at the University of Alberta, she learned that most translators chose to make the text understandable rather than rigidly close to the original words.

Ladouceur was so struck by the dilemma of translating theatrical work that she eventually wrote a book during her time as a professor at the University of Alberta. The book was titled Dramatic License: Translating Theatre from One Official Language to the Other in Canada. The book was published in French in 2005, and has since then been translated into English by Richard Lebeau. The book is a collection of twelve plays that have undergone professional translation into French, and into English. Six of the plays were translated from French into English, and vice versa.

Do Plays Need to Retain All Originality?

Many plays that have been translated over the years have had aspects about them radically changed, even to the point of changing the mood and tone of the play to make the material more palatable to the audience. Sometimes, street names can be taken out or renamed and jokes can be added or taken away. This all depends on what language the play is being translated into and how well the audience will receive or understand the original material. A German translation of a play will look much different than a Spanish translation. Ladouceur says that a dramatic license is a valuable resource for any translator.

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