Translaboration in the rehearsal room: Translanguaging as collaborative responsibility in bilingual devised theatre

Kerstin Pfeiffer, Michael Richardson and Svenja Wurm


This article explores the role of translaboration in an area where collaborative translation and co-creative processes intertwine: a bilingual devised theatre rehearsal room. Scholarship has tended to focus on translated plays as cultural products and on the difficulty associated with making bilingual theatrical products accessible to unilingual audiences. Here, however, our focus is on translation within the creative process. We use two bilingual projects as examples. Each project brought together participants from two cultural backgrounds: in one case, German and Czech young people; in the other, deaf and hearing people from the UK. Possessing varying bilingual competencies, these participants employed their shared communicative repertoire to ensure the collaborative creation of new, bilingual theatrical material. Their diverse communication strategies can be regarded as translanguaging: a fluid, non-hierarchical practice that challenges the notion of uni-directional translation from a source text. We argue that in this setting, translanguaging is the practice that enables translaboration. This practice is compromised by the imposition of top-down structures that inhibit the organic development of democratic and potentially transformative environments in which problematic power relationships can be reworked. Such transformativity relies on collaboration in both devising and translation, co-creation and translaboration, and the two are mutually interdependent.

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This article explores the role of translaboration and its transformative potential to rework problematic power relationships in an area where collaborative translation and co-creative processes intertwine: the rehearsal room of collaboratively created bilingual theatre. Drawing on Theatre Studies and Translation Studies as well as case studies of two separate devised theatre projects, we aim to explore how we can conceive of translaboration in the rehearsal room, and how, conversely, the notion of translaboration can help us to understand the collaborative (co-creative, co-communicative) processes of multilingual devised theatre and its assumed potential for transformativity. We thereby hope to contribute to filling a gap in Translation Studies by focusing on the process of creating bilingual theatre rather than on the product. We further aim to contribute to ongoing discussions in Translation Studies that explore alternatives to envisaging translation solely as interlinguistic transfer (e.g., Tymoczko 2010; Kershaw and Saldanha 2013), by proposing that in specific contexts interlinguistic collaboration through translanguaging may provide a desirable alternative to more prototypical forms of translation.

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