Gonzalo Rodriguez Risco is a playwright and translator living in Lima, Peru. A recent graduate of Yale School of Drama, his works include "The French Play," "Journey to Santiago" and "Dramatis Personae." Fluent in English and Spanish, Rodriguez has also translated such classic American plays as "A Chorus Line" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" for South American audiences.
As a writer, is dealing with universal subjects rather than local or fleeting subjects a better way to reach a global audience? Or does something that appears local, deeply grounded in a particular culture, translate to a broader audience just by the act of telling it? My personal approach comes as a Spanish-speaking playwright who decided to write in English. I had to discover my way into this "foreign" language, and that way has become my particular voice as a writer in English. It's neither English as written by a natural English speaker nor a translation by a Spanish speaker. It lives somewhere in the middle.
As I was struggling to write my first plays in English, I quickly discovered that my efforts to write in a form of "street speak" would inevitably seem like sound bites from an action movie--not believable, filled with cliches. As my English came from formal education, it was too proper to sound real. All my tenses were the correct ones, the syntax matched perfectly and phrases were constructed so as to convey the exact meaning of what was being said, but with little nuance. My characters spoke too well to sound real. I found my solution in poetic language. My first play in English, "Journey to Santiago," was written in such a form. It had no meter or rhyme, but the lines were written in what I call "impossible speech," which acknowledges that we are indeed watching a play and that no one speaks like that in real life. But then, a play isn't real life.
I've spent the last few years writing in English, and now my efforts to write "street speak" are more successful. However, my upbringing in Peru, the way I look at the world through the eyes of a South American writer, that will never change. There will always be something a bit off in my plays in English. Embracing this difference, letting that be my voice, has changed my outlook as a writer in both languages. My themes are hopefully universal and relate to a broader audience. But the way I write, and the way I see the world, is deeply rooted in my experience as a Peruvian who grew up in the midst of civil war...