The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
The Playwrights' Center of Minneapolis, encouraging US-Japan theater exchange as a resource supporting the development of playwrights
*6   Playwrights Foundation was founded in 1976 as a nonprofit service organization to discover and support local and national American playwrights in the inception and development of new plays.

*7   Founded in 1949, New Dramatists is the nation’s oldest nonprofit center for the development of talented playwrights. It is a national membership organization that cultivates the work of its resident playwrights through a free, seven-year program of play readings, workshops, educational and career support.

*8   The Lark was established in 1994to discover and develop new voices for the American theater. Initially it presented plays in full production, both new and classical works at a variety of venues in NYC. Its focus has shifted to new plays and their development. It also has active international programs.

*9   In partnership with the U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network, Inc. (CTN), The Saison Foundation, Art Network Japan (ANJ), PWC is conducting a) “Japan-U.S. Contemporary Plays and Playwrights Project,” which receives Japanese playwrights at PWC in Minneapolis and translate their works into English for public staged-readings; and b) American Contemporary Plays and Playwrights Series, which sends American playwrights to Japan and translate their works into Japanese for public staged-readings in Japan between 2006 and 2008.

*10   Kyoko Yoshida, Director of CTN (U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network, Inc.), who proposed the playwrights’ exchange projects with Japan to Polly Carl, is the interviewer of this article.
Are there other organizations which may be smaller than PWC but engaged in similar kind of activities?
    There is Playwrights Foundation (*6) in San Francisco, which is quite a bit smaller, but they do a lot with their smaller budget. New Dramatist (*7) in New York is of similar size. The Lark (*8) in New York is perhaps half our size. Z-Space in San Francisco does a little bit of what we do, but they do it specifically for their region, so they are not as fully national as some of those others I named. There are a couple of other organizations that are mainly seasonal programs such as Sundance Institute, which is more of a summer development programs that does very good work. The O’Neil has been around quite a bit longer than the PWC, and there too, it’s mostly a summer series of new plays.

Do you communicate with each other?
    Yes, and we all try to be supportive of the work of the other. In good American spirit there is a certain level of competition as we are vying for similar funds but it’s mostly very collegial.

With your vision of connecting the American theater artists with the world theater community, PWC also works beyond the U.S. boarders. In particular, PWC took on a 3-year exchange project of playwrights with Japan (*9) since 2006. Under this project, the three Japanese playwrights, i.e. Yukiko Motoya, Masataka Matsuda and Ai Nagai and their works were introduced to the American theater community. Please share your insights on translation of theatrical scripts and describe how you actually work on the translations.
    The playwrights’ exchange project with Japan is really the first serious international exchange that the PWC has taken on. There have been some scattered exchanges with other countries over the years, but this is really the first long term commitment to international exchange and translation that we’ve made. This is the value of mine that I brought with me when I took over the PWC. I recognized that these projects take enormous amount of time, so when you (*10) approached me four, five years ago, I knew that we wouldn’t be able to do more than one country simultaneously.
    When we bring Japanese playwrights under the Japan-U.S. Contemporary Plays and Playwrights Exchange Project, the actual process, in a word, is adding the Japanese playwrights, Japanese and American translators and dramaturges to the PWC’s Lab process. However, the process requires at least twice the time and work since each step of the process is conducted in both Japanese and English. First, our Japanese project partner, Saison Foundation, proposes us the candidates and their works. In order to select the scripts to develop at our Labs, we translate the playwrights’ bio and synopsis of their plays, sometimes producing a sample translation for about 10 pages of the script if necessary. We then select the Japanese and American translators and dramaturges and begin the translation. In regards to developing the translated English script, it depends on the translators, but basically, the Japanese translators take a crack at translating from Japanese into English to produce the first draft, then work closely with American co-translators to produce the second drat. After that, American dramaturges and I too will join the revisions. Of course, we ask questions of the Japanese playwrights during the process. All this needs to be done during the preparation phase. Then, we go into the “Lab” as Japanese playwrights and translators join the American team on –site in Minneapolis.
    For example, in case of Yukiko Motoya and Masataka Matsuda, both playwrights participated in the exchange project as one of several playwrights in “PlayLabs” in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Thus, they both stayed in Minneapolis between 10 days to 2 weeks (PlayLabs duration varies slightly each year), like other American playwrights at PlayLabs they participated in the Lab workshops three to four hours each day for the total of 30 hours, collaborating with American directors, actors, dramaturges, and both Japanese and American translators. One or two public staged-reading(s) were held within this timeframe. During the Lab workshops, not just the translators and the playwrights, but dramaturges, actors, directors, all participants in the collaboration probe into each and every word on the script with scrutiny, sometimes experiment with paraphrasing or changing the word order. When actors find certain dialogue hard to understand or deliver, they won’t hesitate to ask questions. The American directors usually answer them, confirming the interpretations with the Japanese playwrights, or sometimes, struggle together for a while, then decide to adjust the translations. It’s quite a scene when questions and answers in both English and Japanese go back and forth in quick succession.
    Ms. Ai Nagai, who was our third playwright of this project, participated in the PWC’s Director’s Series Lab, separate from PlayLabs. The basic process is the same for all Labs, but depending on the personalities of the playwrights and the collaborating “creative team,” differences emerge naturally. When we were developing Ms. Nagai’s “Women in a Holy Mess (Katazuketai Onnnatachi),” which unfolds through dialogues of three women in their fifties, who’ve been friends from their youth, the three American actors particularly liked the script, and were so enthusiastic about commenting on the translations, that we needed to go out of the theater where we were rehearsing to the lobby, set up a round table to specifically discuss options and edits on the translated script.
    One thing I’d like to say in particular about the exchange project with Japan is that the work at both ends has been superb. The plays that have been sent to me are top quality. There are amazing writers that are coming out from Japan. These are plays that not only resonate for Japanese audiences but really have potential to resonate for an American audience. They require the time and effort and we translate them with real care and expertise.
    It’s been equally labor intensive and rewarding to bring the American writers’ works to Japan and translate them into Japanese for staged-readings, yet, it’s been a different experience for me. What I feel we’re providing from this end are excellent translations that can be produced in other places. What I feel is happening in Japan is that there is a directing vision brought to the plays that opens up the minds of the American playwrights that we work with. In part, because I don’t speak Japanese, I don’t have a sense of where those plays might go after the staged reading.
    Yet, this very morning, I got an e-mail from Trista Baldwin, who was in Japan last year, and Shiratama Hitsujiya, the Japanese director for her play. They are trying to do a Japanese English version, a sort of a new version of her play, “Doe,” that will be in English and Japanese to be produced. So, our exchange project created this new relationship and potentially a new play. That’s a project that I’d love to support.
    The work and collaborations in the exchange project have been superb, but there have been difficulties also. What I’ve learned myself, and I’m not surprised by this, is that you can’t just do translation for the sake of doing translation. You have to commit all the way, which I think we’ve done in these projects. You have to commit to all the time and all the energy and resources for all of the collaborators to come from Japan or to come from the U.S., and to have the people from both cultures in the room all the time trying to make sense of what we don’t know about each other.
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