Story of the Cole Foundation Mentorship for Emerging Translators

–  by Maureen Labonté, PWM Translation Dramaturg

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How It All Began

Emma Tibaldo and I meet for lunch every now and then. It’s a way for us to stay in touch, to catch up on what the other is doing, to gossip a little, to get into a few heated discussions and to make plans. We talk dramaturgy, play development and, of course, translation. At one such lunch, way back in 2009, we ended up discussing the actual process of translating. That led us to wondering about where the next generation of translators would come from and then to a long discussion about whether translation for the stage can be taught.

Well, to make a long story short, after a few more meetings and brainstorming sessions, Emma approached Barry Cole with the idea of a competition which would encourage the development of new voices in Canadian translation. Barry liked the idea and the rest is history!! The Cole Foundation decided to support the idea and join Playwrights’ Workshop Montréal in this venture. 

What started as a Translation Unit became a Competition in 2012, then a Prize a few years later and is now a Mentorship.

How and Why It Works

Before applying for the Mentorship, emerging translators must choose the play they wish to translate and contact the playwright for permission: Establishing a connection to the play and the playwright in advance means that the applicant is already invested in the proposed work and would be in a position to begin work immediately following the announcement of the selected project.

The Translators

Playwright and librettist, Alexis Diamond, was the first winner of the Cole Competition for Emerging Translators in 2012-13. She translated Marie-Claude Verdier’s Je n’y suis plus. I’m Not Here, produced and directed by Alexis and her company Composite Theatre, was selected to be part of the 2016 Summerworks Festival in Toronto, the Voilà Festival in the United Kingdom and the BoucheWHACKED Festival in Vancouver. Alexis has not looked back! She’s gone on to translate a number of plays, including Pascal Brullemans’ TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) play Vipérine/Amaryllis and Pascale St-Onge’s play Tarmac for the National Theatre School, and has contributed to translations for Cirque du Soleil’s latest touring show written by Olivier Kemeid. In January, she went to New Orleans with her translation of Marie-Hélène Larose-Truchon’s Minuit, Midnight.

In 2014, well-known Montreal theatre artist, Johanna Nutter, was awarded the Cole Prize. She translated Chlore, by Nicolas Michon and Florence Longpré. Chlorine was produced by Johanna’s theatre company creature/creature at Centaur Theatre in October 2016 as part of Centaur’s Brave New Look series. Since then, Johanna has translated plays by Guillaume Corbeil and Annick Lefebvre and was chosen to be part of the first CEAD-PWM Formation en traduction program.

Melissa Bull was the recipient of the 2015 Cole Foundation Competition for Emerging Translators. Her translation of Pascale Rafie’s La recette de baklawas, The Baklawa Recipe,  opened at Centaur Theatre here in Montreal in January 2018. It was directed by PWM’s Emma Tibaldo. Melissa is already working on her second translation for the stage, the award-winning Québécois play, J’accuse by Annick Lefebvre. Melissa is the editor of Maisonneuve magazine’s “Writing from Quebec” column. She has published a book of poetry, Rue, a collection of short stories, The Knockoff Eclipse, and has translated such authors as Nelly Arcan and Marie-Sissi Labrèche.

Jordan Arseneault was the 2016 recipient of the Cole Foundation Prize. He translated Eric Noel’s Faire des enfants. His translation River Bed was given a public reading at PWM in November 2017. There has been interest in the play from theatres in Toronto. Jordan is doing a Masters in Translation at McGill University.

There were two winners of the 2017-18 Mentorship Prize – John Jack Paterson and Jennie Herbin. John Jack Paterson worked on well-known Quebec playwright, Daniel Danis’ TYA play (12 and up), Kiwi. The translation was given a public reading at PWM as well as in Vancouver at the BoucheWHACKED Festival. Jennie Herbin translated Catherine Chabot’s Table rase which was a huge hit in French here in Montreal and on tour. The English production, Clean Slate, produced by Talisman Theatre had a three-week run this spring at Théâtre La Chapelle.

The 2019 Recipient is David Gagnon Walker. David is a recent graduate of the Playwriting Program at the National Theatre School and has just started a one-year residency as Artist-in-Residence at 2b Theatre in Halifax. He will be translating Gabrielle Chapdelaine’s La retraite.

The Future of Theatre Translation

An Afterword by PWM

It has been so heartening to witness the successes of each and every recipient of this unique mentorship since its beginnings! We look forward to discovering what new projects these talented artists will tackle in the future, and to taking part in the development of emerging translators for many years to come. We can’t thank the Cole Foundation enough for their ongoing and invaluable support that allows this important work to thrive and to flourish, and promises a fruitful future in theatre translation!

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