Monday 27 August 2012

The Structure of a Story

We've been touring two slightly different versions of What I Heard About the World in Portugal and the UK over the last two years. In Portugal Jorge performs in Portuguese and English, whilst Chris and I perform in English, and the English text is surtitled. In the UK version we all perform in English. In both versions, a small section in French is surtitled in the home language of wherever we are.

In the UK version, Jorge tells a story in Portuguese which isn't surtitled. He checks if anyone in the audience speaks Portuguese, and if anyone does, he includes them in the story-telling. It is important to us that Jorge gets to speak in his native language in the UK version of the show, as it means he is able to be more "himself". And I guess on a really simple level it's a reminder that we can't understand everything that happens in other countries, other languages.

This week we've been in Helsinki with the show, at the STAGE festival at Korjaamo, and it's the first time (bar early work-in-progress showings in Germany) that the show has been performed in a country where neither English or Portuguese is the first language. We performed the English version of the show, with the majority of the English language (plus the French) surtitled in Finnish. Of course the Finns' grasp of English is, on the whole, embarrassingly good.

There were two sections that we didn't surtitle, because they are the loosest performance-wise,  the most conversational, and so quite easy to follow for an audience who have a bit of English. We also think (though with only anecdotal evidence) that it is more distracting for the surtitles to seem to be inaccurate as we go "off script" live.  Even though the audience are listening to a whole show not in their first language, we decided to keep the section where Jorge tells a story in Portuguese - without surtitles - for the reasons mentioned above.

After the second performance we had a post-show discussion, and we were talking about this with a couple of audience members. They said that they really liked "not understanding" the Portuguese-language story, because it changed their relationship with Jorge and made the show "more human". One of them then observed that although he couldn't understand what Jorge was saying, he could follow, from Jorge's delivery, "the structure of a story" as he was telling it. 

I really like this idea, and I realised that this observation articulates something I already think about that section of the show, where we are playing with how briefly we can tell certain stories, and still make the point with them that we're trying to make. This is the section of What I Heard About the World that is most like the story-telling in Story Map - five stories told directly to the audience, a couple of different ones (from me) each night. For me it feels like the stories in this section have been told several different ways, with different structures, until we have found the structure that suits them - suits what we want to do with them - best. The content of the story is the same, but we try several structures for it before settling on the right one.