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Day 34: “To translate or not to translate, that is the question,”

June 28, 2019

Day 34: “To translate or not to translate, that is the question,” replied playwright Tracy Young to the question about her careful weaving in her translation of Winter’s Tale

Oh dear, I may have to change my mind about what is my favorite play. It has always been a toss-up between Measure and Winter’s – can one have a tie?!?!?! And why is it that people want to know what your favorite Shakespeare play is anyway? The question is always asked sotto voce. As if the asker is going to get some state secret out of you. 

And until last night, M4M had top billing. Until that last scene in WT. I mean, come on, people, it always works. Just like the play within a play at the end of Midsummer always works. Does anyone remember the play Amadeus? I’m thinking of that moment when Salieri, who’s beside himself with professional jealousy about Mozart, looks at us and just shakes his head. Despite the disdain Salieri has for the person of Mozart, even he must admit the genius. How does Mozart do that? Well, I believe in genius and still I wonder how does Shakespeare do that? It’s unanalyzable. Believe me, because I’ve tried to do just that.

I spent most of the day at CSC watching The Tempest go through its paces. I don’t love this play, and so I’m trying to figure out what it is about it just doesn’t grab me. I did drop by 440 but it was during the lunch break, and the worlds of H8 and 2 Noble Kinsmen were eating and talking together in the hospitality suite. It was too hot to go outside, and I understand that the airflow on the 4th floor, where H8 was rehearsing, was anemic. Matt set up the system of two fans passing cool air down the hallway as he did last week on the third floor.

And so I rolled into the lobby of CSC to meet with Cason Murphy, who has arrived on the scene at the exact moment that I needed the support. He runs a great post-reading talkback, which allows me to listen to the talkbacks, as well as thank the actors for being a part of the festival.

Tonight is OSF night. And by that I mean, this may be the reading which has the highest percentage of OSF alums participating. Playwright Tracy Young, director Christopher Moore as well as seven of the 11 actors. It feels GREAT to have OSF in the house tonight.

And what a reading it was! Ok, look, I am sentimental about this one. And it was taut in the first half and it was riotous in the second. And yes, that damn ending worked again.

In the talkback afterwards, people talked about the stark difference between Sicilia and Bohemia. It is how Shakespeare structured the play, and, once again, a translation makes those contrasts clearer. We have stacked the deck in this reading with some serious clowns: Daniel Passer, Mark Bedard, and Patrick Kerr. The house came down, however, when Autolycus describes what’s going to happen to the son of the shepherd. The usual horrific hanging, disemboweling practices of early modern times, but the worse of all was the thought of being hung out dripped in honey and pecked away by squirrels. “Squirrels” was the ticket to unleash our collective roar. “Squirrels” aren’t the original, but the sound of it, and the absurdity of the image certainly fit the spirit of the moment. That is the comic genius of Tracy Young.

Last night we heard that the service elevator at 440 was on the fritz. We have one actor who is in a wheelchair, and the service elevator makes a huge difference to getting her to the third floor. The POS producer staff got right on it, and figured out a backup plan in case the service elevator was not repaired in time for the 10am rehearsal call today.

Luckily, it was repaired in time, and so the ramp that we brought over from CSC so Shannon could enter the building from the main entrance wasn’t necessary. But this is a small example of the care and attention that the POS staff has exhibited throughout these five weeks. (I have harassed our assistant festival producer Hannah for five weeks about the damn snacks. And in the fifth week, she brought in new snacks, including some protein packs! I know she spent four weeks trying to find them in personal sizes. So thank you, Hannah, for not being deterred by my constant nagging. You did a great job keeping us supplied in snacks.)

I don’t speak often enough about the great gift of trust that was given to me by the Hitz Foundation four years ago. We’d been at this translation game for four years already. In 2011, we set up a pilot program at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where I was still the director of literary development and dramaturgy. In 2014, when Geoffrey Sherman produced Kenneth’s TIMON at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, it was a grand slam. And it was exactly what Dave Hitz wanted: a production of a translation of a Shakespeare play. The success of that production gave me the confidence to propose to Dave that we take on the entire canon. 

At the time, I hadn’t spent the original grant that the Hitz Foundation had given me. And when I asked Dave about taking on the entire canon, his first response was, “Lue, you haven’t spent the money I’ve given you. How will I know that you will spend new money?” That seems like an odd response from a funder. “Why haven’t you spent my money?” We’re not in Kansas, anymore. My brief forays into the world of fundraising, funders usually want to have a detailed explanation of how their money has been spent. This guy wondered if I was up to the task of what I was proposing because I hadn’t spent all his money yet. 

The second thing he said was, “You think bigger than I do.” And I just knew that was a compliment. I remember that prior to asking him, the development department and I had long conversations about whether asking Dave for $3.5 million dollars would be insulting. There is an art to making the ask – sometimes you insult by asking too much, and sometimes by asking too little. At the time, I think it was the largest ask of a single donor. And the development staff was nervous about this.

I had primed Dave’s brother, Ken, who is also my good friend, about what I was about to ask for, and so I think the lunch was pretty much just the official rubber stamp because the third thing Dave said was, “Yes.”

And the Hitz family has continued their generous support throughout the four years of the program. And they are the patron for this festival. We are now our own 501c3 nonprofit, so if any of you want to help promote this work, go to our website and make a donation. We have lots of ideas for what to do next. 

But the biggest gift to me has been the trust. The Hitz bros (as Kenneth Cavander has affectionately dubbed them) are an opinionated duo. They tell me what they like and don’t like but they have never told me how to run this program.  

And their generosity continues to flow. I can’t tell you what a great feeling it is to have the money to give generously to the POS staff, as well as to all the artists who have been involved in this program and this festival. We never had to skimp. It’s an unprecedented feeling in the world of theater. And what great joy I have had giving money to playwrights, who I admire most of all.


Headshot Image for Lue Morgan Douthit

Lue Morgan Douthit

CEO and Creative Director

During her 25 years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Douthit oversaw a...

During her 25 years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Douthit oversaw a full service literary department as Director of Literary Development and Dramaturgy. Play on! began in 2012 as a pilot program under her supervision. She was the Production Dramaturg for more than 50 productions, including 15 world premieres and over two dozen Shakespeare productions. In 2009, she was the co-producer and co-founder of the Black Swan Lab for new play development at OSF which she ran until 2016. In 2019, she co-founded Play on Shakespeare, which carries forward the Shakespeare translation work began at OSF.Douthit is the recipient of the 1999 Literary Manager & Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) Prize in Dramaturgy: The Elliott Hayes Award. She received a PhD at the University of Washington, an MFA from Trinity University, and an MA from University of Arizona.

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