Fringe By Numbers: Chasm Preview

From 2004 through this past December, I was in a graduate program that had me spending my summers in Madrid, Spain.  During that time I became enamored with the art of translating.  And so, in addition to writing completely original works, I spend a great deal of my time running a theatre company that does translated works and also translating dramatic works from Castilian (Spanish) into English.  When I run across other theatre artists who are working on translated pieces, or translating the works themselves, I get excited.  There are a couple of pieces in this year's Fringe that are translated, or partially translated.  The Chasm: Two Prevailing Winds of Gabriela Mistral is, perhaps, the most notable.

Produced by Disquietude Theater Company, the show is half Spanish and half English.  The play is based on the poetry of Garbiela Mistral, a famous Chilean poet.  Playwright Hector Roberts has translated some of the works, but has chosen to leave some parts in the original tongue. Hector combined with the show's director, Shelia Regan, to answer my usual battery of queries:

Q:  What prompted you to start performing?

Sheila:  Theatre was the place where I fit in.  In high school, I played soccer, but the jocks just thought I was weird.  When I did theatre, they just thought I was normal.  So I kept doing it.

Hector: I have performed in the past, but not recently.

Q:  Have you done Fringe Shows before?  If so, what were they?  Fill me in on your Fringe history:

Hector:  I ran the music box theater a while back as a Fringe venue. I especially enjoyed Follies and Pageant. Sheila:  I used to be a volunteer usher for the Fringe when I was in college.  Last year, the company I work (Teatro del Pueblo) did a fringe show called Echoes from the New World.  Teatro is doing another show this year called Vote for Pedro which I am peripherally involved with.

Q:  What inspired this work?

Hector:  This is a project that in some respects has been in the process for quite some time. I was introduced to Gabriela Mistral's poetry at a very early age by my mother. She would often adapt poems from Mistral's Ternura collection and sing them as lullabies. These were tender lines, full of maternity and a very rich a medium for a mother to communicate with her son.  Consequently, with my school years commenced, I saw just how richly feminine, fecund and maternal those verses were, and naturally, as boys do at that age, I started shying away from them, but never forgot them.

As I grew older and started reading our modest library at home I was very surprised to find other poems by Mistral: shockingly brutal, filled with an anguish and abject despair that I did not yet comprehend but-being curious already at that age-I very much enjoyed.  They were poems of desolation, of loss, barrenness. Later on in studies and in creative processes I started to associate with an image that has drawn others: the image of chasm; however, not a fissure, but rather a plane where two opposite entities converge, as a nadir and also as a departure. I became very involved with this image, and how it has the power to bring two completely opposite entities that will never in a million years coexist into the same plane.

Q: Why the Fringe?

Hector:  It offered the right time frame, venue and exposure to workshop the piece.

Q: What are you doing right now to prepare for the Fringe?

Sheila:  This last weekend I sanded a cradle.  Hector is writing the email campaign.  He has been working constantly on the super-titles and images for the past few days.

Q:  Are there any unique challenges working on this project?

Sheila:  Well, having a cast this large (8 actors) can be tricky to get everyone in the same place at the same time.  Also, the language was a challenge.  I am not fluent in Spanish, so directing the scenes that are in Spanish was difficult (had a cheat sheet to get through it.)

Hector:  Staying up all night working on projections. That, and Language: the text we chose for this project is very rich in imagery and very Chilean in its Spanish: translating some of it was very challenging. In the translation process, I would sometimes struggle for an hour with a single line of poetry, trying several ways to extract its imagery, rhythm and meaning into English.

Sheila:  A particular challenge was acquiring images of bones.  I had to go to the butcher shop, and got a bunch of really big bones.  We boiled them for like 6 hours to get all the flesh and cartilage off.  One of them had a hoof on it that we had to shimmy off.  Then we bleached them, and Hector took them to a construction site to take photos of them.

Hector:  Come see the Chasm not for the text, or movement: but to see images of some very cool bones!

Q: What's your favorite thing about getting ready for the Fringe thus far?

Sheila:  I like the energy.  I like having production meetings with my boyfriend at four in the morning.

Q:  Do you like Canada?

Hector:  I've never been asked that, although  I was born on Canada Day.  Does that make me an honorary citizen?

Sheila:  It's cold there.  I like Margaret Atwood.

Hector: It's cold here too! (Hector is from California).  

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