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Robert Cohen

Interview with the Translator

Richer Resources: You have been involved in the dramatic arts for a very long time. How and when did you first become interested in the area of drama?

Robert Cohen: I grew up in Washington, DC, and my parents took me to the musical, Oklahoma! in the early 1950s, and then dramatic plays including "The Caine Mutiny Courtmartial" with Henry Fonda, "Mrs. McThing" with Helen Hayes, and "The Lark" with Julie Andrews. Then I started going to New York - and even though Iíve lived in California for the last fifty years, I never stopped! While it never occurred to me to go into theatre as a career until my senior year in college, I certainly fell in love with it from the audience! It was not until I was a senior, however, and preparing to go to Law School, that I suddenly decided to switch into becoming a drama teacher and a play director. And so instead of applying to Harvard Law School, I made an application to the Yale Drama School, and I took it from there. The writing of books and plays and theatre reviews followed thereafter.

Richer Resources: What do you most love about the theater?

Robert Cohen: Everything: that it is about ideas, that it is a visual and poetic art, that it includes music and speaking and costumes and scenery, and that, above all, it is about people, watched by people and performed by people who are right in front of them, laughing and crying. It is a HUMAN art
ófrom beginning to end.

Richer Resources: Most of your other books seem to be about the art and skill of acting and the theater itself Ė what prompted you to translate Clizia?

Robert Cohen:
Well, I have also written several plays and one of them is about NiccolÚ Machiavelli (originally titled The Prince (Dramatic Publishing Company) and subsequently Machiavelli: the art of terror), which is currently in the active repertoire of the National Theatre of Romania in Cluj-Napoca, and has been presented in several cities around the United States and abroad. Part of that play includes a brief scene from Machiavelliís Clizia. After translating a page or two from it to use in my play, I decided to translate the entire play, which we produced as an ďafterplayĒ for those who wanted to stick around (at 11pm) and see it. Thatís where it stood until you wrote offering to publish it
ófor which I am enormously grateful.

Richer Resources: What do you find most rewarding about acting? About directing? About translating classic works?

Robert Cohen: Iíve always enjoyed the process of writing, directing and translating. I translated two operas that I had been commissioned to direct, Magic Flute and Carmen, even though they already had good translations I could have used for free. I simply loved creating the emotions and ideas of the play, and the (absolutely required) rhymes, syllable and stress structures, and singable notes of the stanzas. The only area of theatre I rarely enjoyed was acting: I love teaching it to others, and writing about it for my students, but I donít like ďteaching myselfĒ while Iím onstage
óas itís the opposite of what I ask my students to do. I havenít acted in a play since the 1970s.

Richer Resources: Do you have a favorite play?

Robert Cohen: Every director I know has the same answer to this question: Itís ďthe play Iím now doing."

Richer Resources: What do you feel is the value of dramatic classics to modern day understandings? In other words, how are classics relevant to today's reader?

Robert Cohen: In every way. First, because they are great plays, and they show that even a 400 year old play
óor even a 2500 year old oneócan make audiences laugh, cry, and learn valuable realities of their daily livesóand how to deal with them. And second, because they provide us with a panorama of human history, and what people thought at the time the plays were written. Of the more-than-one hundred plays Iíve directed, Iíve done no more than two by any playwright I can think of but Iíve staged seventeen Shakespeares, three of them multiple times.

Richer Resources: Thank you very much for granting this interview, Professor Cohen.

Robert Cohen: My pleasure!

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