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Authors' Notes

Claire Rengade Claire Rengade’s Obrador Diary
Playwrights corner | Claire Rengade

« In Barcelona we were kidnapped by the merry staff of the Sala Beckett who managed – through some amazing feat – to bring together 50 writers in the same farmhouse-with-a-view; and no one tried to run away – physically speaking.

As for this residency in a foreign country, all the playwrights took their writing to heart and worked conscientiously – focusing on contemporary playwriting in the conference rooms from 10am to 3pm almost every day.

I was in the group of eleven playwrights who didn’t speak the same language. It was an international conference, so people talked even more than usual – in a kind of custom-made Esperanto, the main component of which was English-as-a-foreign-language. There were Belgians, French, Argentines, Spanish, Quebecois, Catalans, Germans, and English from England too. We even had Helena, who spoke all our different languages very well, and Ahmed Ghazali - the moderator, also a playwright, like Helena. We all wrote, and then talked about it, and ultimately used words from all our different languages in the same sentences. If you were looking for a word, you knew someone next to you could be your dictionary. So we praised ourselves for being precise, and even for looking inside each other’s minds, because when another language uses different images, it opens up doors for you. The theme, alibi, or leitmotif of the day was « other cultures »; and we were swimming in them.

In the late afternoon we listened to our texts in a different language (Catalan), read by Catalan actors who also had a copy of the original text in English (it was as if, when you wrote it in French, you had actually written three texts), then it was staged in the cellar (careful – it was vaulted and had niches) by Thomas, a German actor/director (phew – a fourth language!).

Beware – I’m about to make some personal remarks here. For instance, it’s strange, but when you heard your text for the first time in a language that you didn’t speak (as was the case here for me), well it’s strange but you understood every word spoken – as if you did speak the language. So, was it true or not? Was this really you or not? Was the writing the same or not? Or was it a translated text?
And sometimes while listening to other people’s texts, I had a strange feeling of liking the piece – although I couldn’t grasp the actual words. Then I’d make up new words to show them I could feel how they were trying to come up with something I’d like. I didn’t know the words at first. I made them up as we went along. Then I wrote them down.

PWe dissected words down to the tiniest details. The verbs were rounded out. We would linger and go all quiet, then start talking again, teaching each another (there was still time), giving each other support and feeling stronger in numbers. We talked about how the work could continue at a distance.
Likewise, we wrote to each other and played a snappy game of « questions and answers ». It’s going to be a book of questions between playwrights and languages. It’s something that just grew on its own, so we’re pursuing it.

That’s kind of what the Mas Espuela conference was all about. It was also about taking long walks in the evening down a little road, about a great meal where we laughed and danced, and shows every night. Well, I guess it’s time to get on the bus now.
It was a sweet and skilfully planned kidnapping. We called each other by our first names, and really meant it. Playwriting was truly an integral part of life there – and the plays were written in a vibrant new language.
May the journey be a fine one for all of you.

  Claire Rengade  
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