Interview with Chile Translator Adam Versenyi


How does one become a professional translator? Did you study this in school? 

While I did take a seminar on literary translation with Suzanne Jill Levine (preeminent translator of Latin American fiction) when I was in college where I produced a rather ghastly translation Julio Cortázar's short story Cartas de mamá, I began translating Latin American theatre when I was in graduate school at the Yale School of Drama in the MFA program in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism.  An Argentine named Alberto Minero was running the theatre department of what was then the Institute for Iberoamerican Affairs (now the Americas Society) and had produced a festival of Latin American plays in Spanish in New York City.  He sent two of the plays by Griselda Gambaro to the Yale Rep for consideration and Gitta Honnegger, the dramaturg there at the time and one of my professors, knew I had the language and gave them to me to review for consideration at the Rep.  Up until that point I had read and studied Latin American poetry and prose but for some reason it had never occurred to me that there was theatre in Latin America.  I read the two plays, fell in love with them, translated them, and began my life long mission to introduce English speakers to the vast richness of Latin American theatre.  A labor of love that expanded to include theatre from any language in the world translated into English when I founded my journal The Mercurian: A Theatrical Translation Review in 2007.

How did you meet and come to collaborate with Ramon Griffero? 

I first met Ramon in 1991 when USIA and ITI sponsored director/dramaturg teams on trips to Latin America.  The then Artistic Director of PlayMakers Repertory Company, David Hammond, and I took a trip to Mexico City, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and Santiago de Chile during which we met with actors, directors, producers, and government officials in each location and saw a lot of theatre.  While in Chile we met Ramón who was both running a cultural center called El Trolley in a warehouse that had formerly been used by the trolley workers union, and had his own theatre company, Teatro de Fin de Siglo.  I found him and the work done by his company quite compelling.  Several years later we were both part of a grant proposal out of City Theatre in Pittsburgh to do a production of a Calderón de la Barca play.  The idea was that I would do the translation and then Ramón would take it and apply his magic to it.  That project never came to fruition, but we kept in touch and when I was back in Santiago in 2011 we got together for dinner.  As we were saying our good-byes Ramón handed me a collection of ten plays that his company had produced.  I read them on the flight back home and immediately contacted him to ask to translate them.  Those are the plays in my collection Ramón Griffero: Your Desires in Fragments published by Oberon Books in 2016. Since then I've also translated his play Prometheus, the Beginning as a commission for Ohio Northern University's International Play Festival and am working on a translation of his little book of aesthetic theory, The Dramaturgy of Space.

What languages and types of plays do you translate?

While I consider myself to be fluent in Spanish I only translate from Spanish to English.  There are so many nuances of language and culture that a non-native speaker of the language being translated into will miss.  I've focused on translating Latin American theatre and have done plays by the Argentines Griselda Gambaro and Agustín Cuzzani, and the Mexican Sabina Berman, in addition to Ramón's work.  I translate plays that offer something that we don't find in our US theatrical culture, dramaturgically, formally, or theatrically.  I'm often drawn to plays that I don't initially understand but find theatrically compelling.  Translating them, getting inside of them, enables me to understand them and create an English translation that does the same for both my collaborators in the US and for the audience.

Cups of Wrath & Legua’s Gynecologist | Chile

Thursday, May 2, 2019

6:30 PM - 9:30 PM

Instituto Cervantes Chicago 31 West Ohio Street Chicago, IL, 60654  (map)

Playwright: Ramon Griffero

Translator: Adam Versényi

Director: Jon Dambacher

Partner: Instituto Cervantes of Chicago

Join us after the show for a champaign reception to toast our 10 year anniversary!