Surtitles take the stage in Franco-Canadian theatre

Louise Ladouceur
University of Alberta | Translated from the French by Richard Lebeau


Faced with the need to expand their audience, small Franco-Canadian theatre companies are experimenting with various on-stage translative strategies, such as surtitles, to reach audiences with diverse linguistic and cultural profiles. Not only do they explore their bilingualism in plays that incorporate Canada’s two official languages, they enhance the bilingual aesthetics of the original play with the use of surtitles. In addition to conventional surtitles translating the source text delivered orally on stage, creative surtitles transmit new messages and thus multiply the possible readings generated by the performance. Thus, translation achieves a certain autonomy within the theatre production and, in doing so, redefines its function while challenging the existing theoretical models applied to the translation of dramatic texts.

Table of contents

In increasingly multilingual and multicultural societies, theatre companies are faced with the necessity of finding ways to communicate with diverse linguistic and cultural groups. This is even more crucial for small communities trying to widen their audience by rendering their cultural products accessible to spectators lacking the required linguistic or cultural references. Such is the case for francophone theatre companies in Canada, a country where the nation’s two official languages, French and English, are involved in a highly asymmetrical relationship. Inasmuch as English is the sole official language spoken by a vast majority of the population outside the dominantly francophone province of Quebec, Franco-Canadian artists, a designation that includes all Canadian artists working in French outside [ p. 344 ]Quebec, are bilingual out of necessity. In an attempt to enlarge their audience by reaching out to anglophone spectators, they have recently taken to exploring their bilingualism on stage. Not only do they attract anglophone audiences by adding English surtitles to plays produced in French, they also experiment with ways to integrate the two languages and cultures into productions that explore a new bilingual and transcultural aesthetics incorporating various performative translation strategies such as creative surtitles. This unconventional approach to communication redefines the function of translation in a theatre production and challenges the existing theoretical models applied to the translation of dramatic texts. The following study examines new modes of translation at work in recent bilingual, intercultural Franco-Canadian theatre productions.

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