“Democracy” is the most celebrated play of Mindaugas Nastaravicius—a Lithuanian playwright who won a “Golden Cross of the Stage,” the highest award for theater in Lithuania. LITAO was approached to translate this play and adapt it for China for the 2016 Bookworm International Literary Festival.
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True literary translation means cultural integration. Beyond language, we had to make sure ALL the elements of the play, from names and characters to jokes and cultural references, worked in China. Even the title of the play—Democracy—could attract unwanted political attention in a country like China. We changed it to an innocuous title in Chinese, 停电大楼, similar to “The Power is Out”—something intriguing without alerting the eyes of Chinese censors. The playwright had intended to translate simply the original concept and ideas—knowing that while his topics were universal, his references were not—and we worked with him closely to get his vision right but also relevant for China. His play featured Lithuanians in various social strata with personalities and characteristics familiar to Lithuanians; we adjusted that to prototypical characters from mainland China. A Russian Lithuanian therefore became a character from Northeast China, both known for their thick accents and alcoholic tolerance. All Catholic references were changed to Buddhist ones to better reﬂect local Chinese roots. We collaborated on all of this to the author’s satisfaction within only one(!) month.
The Chinese reading of the play was well-received by audience members at the 2016 Bookworm Festival in Chengdu, China; the festival organizers were also extremely impressed at our culturally-astute adaptation. Subsequently, the playwright was approached by mainland China theaters offering to stage the play, as well as opportunities to publish it in Chinese.