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From Concept to Performance: Writing, Translating, and Staging “No Direction”

By The Editors of Words Without Borders

Tonight, “No Direction”—a microplay by Miguel Alcantud and Santiago Molero, translated by Sarah Maitland, and directed by Debra Caplan—will be performed, along with two other plays from WWB’s current issue, at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. We spoke with Miguel, Santiago, Sarah, and Debra about the evolution of “No Direction” from its inception and writing to its translation into English and then to the stage.

Words Without Borders (WWB): What was the inspiration for “No Direction”?

Miguel Alanctud and Santiago Molero (writers): “No Direction” was born from the idea of ​​telling a story in a different way: making it so that everything happens backward. We wanted the audience to see the effect before the cause, to observe the consequences before the acts that originated them, and to feel the reaction of the characters before the action that makes them react.

Our goal was to force the spectator-reader to do the mental exercise of remembering and building a logical order for the action in their heads, which obliges them to participate actively in the play.

While working on it, we realized that it could work as a palindrome—that it can be read the same in one direction and the other—just as the name of the female protagonist: ANA. The title refers to this formal singularity as well as to the vital disorientation suffered by its male protagonist.

To develop the unique relationship of this couple, we used a psychological disorder known as “codependency.” Codependency refers to an obsessive and compulsive attitude toward and  need to control of other people due to one’s own insecurity.

WWB: What was the collaborative process like as cowriters? Did you work on sections of it separately, or was it all created together?

Miguel Alanctud and Santiago Molero (writers): We worked on everything together. One of us brought one idea, and we’d get some coffee and start brainstorming that idea. Later we worked on the basic outline together and then, separately, we wrote the text. First one of us, then the other, so that when we finished, we really couldn’t separate what one or the other had written.

WWB: Sarah—as the translator, how did you first connect with Miguel and Santiago?

Sarah Maitland (translator): My inroad to Miguel, Santiago, and “No Direction” was the Microteatro Por Dinero theater company, based in Madrid—they had previously staged the Spanish version of the play and I’m a big fan of what they do.

WWB: Was there anything especially surprising or challenging about bringing the piece from Spanish into English?

Sarah Maitland (translator): For me, the most challenging aspect of the translation was ensuring that although this is a play where there is a great deal of temporal dislocation, all of the phrasing needed to somehow flow logically in English, despite the deliberately disjointed unfolding of dramatic events this play presents. 

WWB: What drew you to “No Direction” as a piece that you’d want to stage? Are there particular elements of the piece that you are hoping to highlight?

Debra Caplan (director): When I first read the piece, I was intrigued by the circular looping of the dialogue and I wondered how that would read on stage. On paper, the repetition is present but subtle. In the hands of actors, however, the repetition can become more pronounced. I worked with the actors to connect the repeated phrases with visual and auditory hooks—a certain look, the holding of a hand, a lean, a sigh. When the repeated text begins to unwind and reverse, so too do the actions. 

Sarah Maitland (translator): This is a really special play that makes the most of microtheater’s flexible style. Just like in a short story, microtheater has to grab your attention from the very beginning and take you on a dramatic journey without the luxury of time to play with character and plot development. And in this play, a disjuncture in time is at the very heart of the drama. We don’t really know as the audience what’s going on in this piece, and this requires us to really work as spectators, to piece together the events into a logical flow.

WWB: What do you see as being most challenging in bringing this piece to the stage?

Debra Caplan (director): The biggest challenge in staging this piece was helping the actors to find their footing with a scene that is intentionally confusing. A written text doesn’t require readers to settle on specificity, but an actor needs to lock in an interpretation of the text in order to be dramaturgically legible. It took us a while to find our footing with this piece in rehearsal, but ultimately, the actors made choices that settled the specificity for them while still preserving ambiguity for the audience.

Sarah Maitland (translator): As the translator, one of the most challenging aspects was to simultaneously enable English speakers to get this glimpse into the Spanish original, without accidentally plugging the dramatic ambiguities that the authors had created. This is a very clever play that refuses to give the audience any answers until the very last moment, and as the translator, it’s absolutely essential not to give away too much too soon!

WWB: During the rehearsal process, were there elements that changed, either due to the process of staging it or because of what the actors brought to the piece? Are there aspects of the piece that you feel are illuminated by its transformation to the stage?

Debra Caplan (director): In rehearsal, we had to figure out how to pin down these characters for the actors while still maintaining a sense of ambiguity for the audience—a delicate balancing act, to be sure. If anything, I think that staging this piece further revealed just how complex it is. We ended with more questions than we began with. In staging this play, I tried to raise as many questions as possible and keep them in play as long as possible rather than definitively answering any of them.

In NYC? Don’t miss tonight’s performance of “No Direction”

Published Dec 13, 2016   Copyright 2016 The Editors of Words Without Borders

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