Lost in Translation

By Nakeisha Brownlee

As I mentioned in my previous post the 25th Annual International Festival of University Theater is taking place in Casablanca, Morocco.  Since I have yet to be assigned any duties during my stay, I have taken the liberty of attending a few of the workshops offered during the day and of course the performances in the evening.

Because English is my first and only language, I befriended a few attendees, who helped me with translating different phrases and conversations.  The first workshop I attended was an acting workshop facilitated in French.  I figured this would mainly be a non-verbal workshop so translations would be minimal and not needed as much. By paying attention to the facilitator’s body language, utilizing my limited, ok terrible French and observing the reactions of those in the class, I was generally able to follow along. I even volunteered to be a part of a skit!  I left that workshop feeling like language was no longer a barrier.

Later that evening, I made sure to stay close to my bilingual friends because I knew we would be watching two groups perform – Troupe Panorama des Arts et de Theatre, from Universite Sharjah, in Emirates; and Atelier (espoir) de Theatre, from Universite Qadi Ayad Marrakech, in Morocco.  The first performance was in Arabic, unfortunately, a language that my new friends did not speak. Sooooo, I had to follow the emotion of the crowd – when they laughed, I laughed, when they gasped, I gasped…overall the performance was great – however I did not understand ONE word during the entire show.  It was not until after I read the abstract, which was written in English, that I had a better understanding of the production.  I guess I should have read that before the play.

As we made our way to the next theater, I thought to myself, maybe the second performance will be in English, since the abstracts are published in multiple languages…yea that too was a fail – another performance in Arabic.  This performance however was easier to follow – the visuals and props used helped to put the pieces of the storyline together.  At the conclusion of the performance I had the opportunity to speak with one of the actors from Marrakech.  I gave her a description of what I thought was a correct analysis of the production, only to quickly learn I was totally wrong. My synopsis and what actually transpired on stage were on opposite ends of the spectrum.

So what does this mean??? Two things – 1) non-verbal communication can have multiple meanings and can be interpreted differently depending on who is watching and 2) even when translating something into a different language there is the potential to lose its original meaning.  Not every word or action has a direct interpretation ~ thus it is very easy to get lost in translation.

Until next time…



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