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Joy Sorman & Catherine Lacey in Conversation ONLINE EVENT Albertine Bookstore/French Embassy

Blandine Savetier and Taylor Gaines about adapting "Snow" by Orhan Pamuk

As part of the presentation at CUNY-The Graduate Center of Snow, an adaptation of Orhan Pamuk's novel for the stage, Blandine Savetier, director, and Taylor Gaines, translator, spoke of their experience:

Blandine: I have a strong relationship with Orhan Pamuk's books. I read and loved all of them. They speak deeply to me. I identify easily with his characters, their quest for modernity and authenticity.

From all his books, Snow if the most theatrical, both because of its form – it contains some strong dialogues and inner monologues- and because theatre is an essential subject in the novel. When I first read Snow, it was in 2007 just after Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, I immediately thought that I would adapt it for theatre.  Waddah Saab, Dramarturg,  and I started working on the adaptation in 2014, and it took us more than 2 years to finish it.

The first step has been to select parts of the novel that we liked particularly, either because of their dramaturgical intensity, or because of their stylistic beauty, or else because of their content (like dialogues with strong conflicts of ideas). We put this first selection together and felt that it contained the essence of the book.

This reassured us about the feasibility of the adaptation and I wrote to Orhan Pamuk to ask him for a meeting and for the authorisation to adapt his novel for theatre. We met him first at the end of 2014, in Istanbul. This was an important meeting as Orhan Pamuk wanted to be sure that we would respect the spirit of his book. One important feature of the novel is that Pamuk doesn't judge his characters. He strives to show us their internal motivations, what moves them as human beings. So he wanted to be sure that we would respect that key aspect of his book. Once he was reassured about that, he helped us a lot. We had regular exchanges with him about the characters, the Turkish context of the novel… etc. He gave us some useful materials, he gave us useful contacts when we went to shoot images in Kars. But Orhan Pamuk fully appreciated that turning his novel into a play was a creation in itself and he respected my creative work as a theatre director, as long as we wouldn't distort any important aspect of his novel.

The adaptation involved a considerable work of rewriting of the selected parts of the novel to give them a theatrical style: shorter, sharper sentences that convey theatrical urgency, intensity or rhythm. This was particularly needed with the French translation of the novel, which often used literary formulations, not suitable for a theatre adaptation. We also retranslated some parts of the novel with the help of Valérie Gay Aksoy, Orhan Pamuk's current translator into French.

The text of the adaptation continued to evolve during the rehearsals. It is only when a text is played on stage that one can fully appreciate how theatrical it is. So we continued to finetune the adaptation, not only during the rehearsals but even after we started to play and tour the play in France, abroad and specially in China.  In a sense, it is and should remain an unfinished work, a continuous quest for life and truth on stage.

My desire in adapting Snow for stage was to give life to the richness of this topical novel, its burning themes, give content with theatrical language to the dialogue between the West and the Orient, at a time when identity and religion-related tensions are violently parting us.

Snow brings us back to the origins of theatre. Although it is at times funny, even farcical, Orhan Pamuk has put his novel under the sign of tragedy. Snow is a political novel in the greatest sense of the word, as it questions the deep, intimate thoughts with which human beings relate themselves to a community, a country.  ”The art of the novel, is the way through which one can change the representation of the other, the stranger, the enemy”. These words whispered to us by Orhan Pamuk, echo my desire to bring Snow to stage: move the perception of borders between us and others.

At the source of each of my artistic projects, is the excitement of unleashing a creativity that will stretch the borders of my own identity

Blandine Savetier - New York, October 2018

Taylor:   My approach to the translation and production of this reading has been very process- and actor-focused. One difference between theatre translation and other kinds of literary translation is the work with actors, which is revelatory and crucial to the production of a text that is effective on stage. When I translate a text, I try to imagine the multitude of ways a French actor might interpret the lines, and how those lines might land on a French audience. I then attempt to give the American actor the same breadth of options, with phrasing that approximates the emotional rhythms of the original, words with the same ferocity and specificity or emotional ambiguity. But all of this inside my head is nothing without the genius of actual actors before me, who reveal alternate pathways and interesting options. I am really looking forward to workshopping the translation with this cast and the director and dramaturg who adapted the text in French, Blandine and Waddah, and discovering the play in English. 

I was also attracted to Snow for many reasons:  When I discovered that there was a theatrical adaptation of Snow, I was very excited, and when I read it, I was even more excited about bringing it to the United States in one form or another. I immediately felt a strong parallel between the political-emotional climate of the United States and of Turkey as described in Snow. They are countries torn between ideals: conservative and liberal, religious and secular, traditional and intellectual, with citizens on both sides who feel misrepresented by their government, and, in Ka’s case, like they don’t belong anywhere anymore. Snow is a vivid illustration of many things, literary and layered, but what drew me was the idea of it as a portrait of a national identity crisis, experienced by all the characters at different levels, with responses that range between religious radicalism, violent political demonstration, retreat from and return to religion and politics, love, art, atheism, and intellectualism. I also love that we hear articulate examination and defense of these perspectives, and none is overly simplified, vilified, or dismissed: the antithesis of ideological argument in the US today. All this within a Muslim context felt like a kind of art and perspective most people don't have access to, which was all the more reason, for me, to translate it. 

Taylor Gaines - New York, October 2018