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Playwrights Corner


Authors' Notes

Frédéric Sonntag
© Christa Borregaard
Finnish experience | Frédéric Sonntag

« The first thing to say about our Finnish experience (and it was an experience) is that it was about discovering - and dealing with - a language, because the first time I heard the opening lines in my play in Finnish I have to admit it was a huge shock. Hearing your play in a language you don't speak is always a special, almost magical experience for a playwright in that, while understanding nothing, you understand everything. And I don't think I'm wrong in saying that 99% of the time a playwright's initial reaction to a reading or performance of one of his plays in a foreign language is: "It's amazing, I understand nothing, but I understood everything."

The point in the "I understood everything" is not so much the amazement at being able to follow the general meaning, which is quite normal, but rather at being able to follow the tiniest details of meaning. Knowing every nook and cranny of his play, the playwright thus has the odd experience of being able to follow what is specifically said even though it escapes him, and of understanding what he can't understand (a magical occurrence if there ever was one).

Hearing one's play in Finnish is an even more intense experience. It seems immediately clear that this case will be the exception and you won't be able to follow or understand anything; there is no frame of reference or anything to hold onto. You feel totally lost from the start listening to the monologue - whereas, in another language, words with shared origins here and there might act as touchstones. So during the first days you must learn (or tame!) the language, to grasp how it works and how it is structured. While getting accustomed to the strangeness (Finnish is not an Indo-European language and has no kinship with French), you gradually understand what this sets in motion and modifies in a very concrete way in terms of thinking and stage direction. You can't direct an actor in Finnish the way you would in French. The language doesn't follow the same logic, the voice isn't placed in the same way, the catchwords and liaisons are not the same. And yet, that said, you gradually begin to grasp something, starting with the timing. Is the timing right? Is it accurate?

Then the issues that arise turn out to be the same - what meaning needs to be heard, what is at stake in this or that scene, what may or must be played out. Then you manage to follow. You hear. You understand. Until the language comes back and casually confuses you again, reminding you of its strangeness. Another thing I ought to mention – and I should have started with this – was our connection with the excellent team at the Kom Theater, and the fine welcome we (Michel Raskine, Guy Delamotte, Véro Dahuron, Philippe Malone and I) received there. And to say that you can feel at home even when you're miles from home, where bonds may develop that are as powerful - and even more powerful - than those you create at times in your own country (and this was only two months after another powerful and beautiful connection with the staff at the Husets Teater in Copenhagen). And also to express their vibrant, irresistible enthusiasm at working on the text with us, and our shared desire to pursue that exchange. How? We'll see. At our next meeting. »

  Frédéric Sonntag
September 2011
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