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Interview with the Translator

Richer Resources: You have been interested in Dramaturgy for a long time. What was the seed of this interest for you?

Doug Langworthy: I have always had two passions in my life: theatre and German literature, so when I discovered this field of theatre practice, it allowed me to combine both of my interests. This was especially true when I "discovered" dramaturgy by working on a friend's production of Brecht's Mother Courage. I did research on the play, the playwright, the historical context, helped edit the translation, and helped the director figure out what made this play tick dramatically. I had found myself doing dramaturgy without even trying to, and it felt great. I knew I had found my niche.

I guess I would say what excites me most about dramaturgy is helping to bring the text alive for an audience. Many times in rehearsal I'll say to the director something like, "from the audience's point of view this moment isn't clear." You could say I'm a surrogate for the audience. The audience usually isn't aware of how a dramaturg contributes to a production (except for lobby displays and program notes), but if I'm doing my job right, I've helped give the show clarity and a beating heart.

Richer Resources: What parts of theater interest you the most?

Doug Langworthy:  I guess I would have to say the rehearsal. The rehearsal is probably the most creative phase of preparing a play for production, unleashing the creativity of the director, actors and dramaturg to try to find the keys that unlock the inner workings of a specific theatre piece. The process is filled with trial and error, but mostly a sense of exploration and play, testing specific choices against the dramatic text to see what bears the ripest fruit. Theatre is a collaborative art, and the rehearsal is collaboration in its purest form.

I also am fascinated by the audience experience. How a group of people come together to witness the enacting of a story, for two hours becoming a collective, a congregation if you will, which will share a human experience in real time. Each audience has its own chemistryóone night an audience is vocal and responsive, the next night quiet and attentive. But which audience had the stronger experience? Itís hard to generalize. In the end it does come back to the individualís response.

Richer Resources:  What is your favorite piece of drama?

Doug Langworthy:
Iíll have to cheat and pick two. Oedipus Rex is still probably the best structured play that we have. The fact that Oedipus, cast in the role of reluctant detective, turns out to be the guilty party, and that the audience finds this out by steps, simultaneously with Oedipus, is sheer brilliance. The closer he gets to uncovering the truth the closer he gets to revealing the tragedy in which he has unknowingly trapped himself. The perfect example of the inextricability of form and content.

My other favorite play is Macbeth. It is the most compact of all of Shakespeareís tragedies, telling the downfall of Macbeth with the minimum of brushstrokes. The poetry of the text, especially in the soliloquies, is so powerful because it is so distilled. Itís probably his most penetrating look at one manís lust for power and his subsequent downfall. A late play, Macbeth shows Shakespeare at the height of his dramatic prowess.

Richer Resources: What do you find most rewarding about the work you do with theater?

Doug Langworthy:  Being a dramaturg means wearing many hats. I love the research I do for a production, delving deep into the play and its context. I love sitting in rehearsal, trying to help the director decode the secrets of the play, freeing it from the page into three-dimensional life. But I suppose what I love most is translating plays, which brings into my work my passion for German literature. Translation is akin to actingóI must take on the voice of the author, much as an actor takes on the voice of a character. Itís an interpretive act. I have to try to be as true as I can to the writerís voice while transforming the text into lively spoken English that doesnít sound like a translation. Itís not an easy task, but I suppose itís the challenge that I most enjoy.

Richer Resources: Do you have a favorite playwright?

Doug Langworthy: I could say Shakespeare, but that would be too obvious a choice, so I prefer in this context to name my favorite German playwright: Bertolt Brecht. As a critic of capitalism, his plays always seem relevant in this day and age. Like Shakespeare, Brecht was a playwright and a poet, and his poetic skills save his socially motivated plays from being mere message delivery systems. There is a toughness and ironic humor to his work as well that keep his plays entertaining. I have translated Brechtís The Good Person of Szechuan, a play about how hard it is to be good in an economically unequal society, and am preparing to take on his first play, Baal, about a bad-boy artist. There is something about Brechtís razor-sharp language that translates particularly well to American English.

Richer Resources: One of our favorite questions to ask of a scholar is, 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?

Doug Langworthy: A play becomes a classic because it contains some universal or enduring truth. I feel that truths can strike us the most forcefully when they come at us from a distance, from another time and place, from another culture. Bertolt Brecht intentionally did not set his plays in contemporary Germany, although he was speaking to that audience. He invented a term, Verfremdungseffekt, that describes what happens when we recognize a truth presented metaphorically, from a distance of time or place. I would venture so far as to say discoveries made through the mediation of metaphor can be the most enduring discoveries we make.

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

Douglas Langworthy
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