An Interview with Katherine Turnbull

An Interview with Katherine Turnbull, BFA 2011

Katherine Turnbull, headshot 2022

A BFA in Acting at Windsor can lead to so many different career paths. Our graduates can be found on theatre, film and tv productions across Canada, working as performers, writers, directors, designers and more. We took an opportunity to sit down with one of our graduates, Katherine Turnbull, to discuss her work on an English translation of La nuit du 4 au 5 by Rachel Graton, produced by Talisman Theatre in Montreal.

1. Tell us a little about the project. How did this show come about for you?

I was fortunate enough to translate an excerpt from La nuit du 4 au 5 by Rachel Graton as part of an emerging translators’ mentorship program offered jointly by Playwrights’ Workshop Montréal and Centre des auteurs dramatiques. I really connected with the material and the playwright, so when Talisman Theatre voiced an interest in commissioning the full translation, my mentor (and translation dramaturg for this project) Alexis Diamond sent them my way. It’s been a very long process, but I’m so glad I had this artistic outlet during the pandemic.

2. Night from the 4th to the 5th is such an important story and addresses some difficult themes. What is the importance of telling this story today?

It’s so prevalent in so many ways. For those who don’t know, it deals with a young woman’s sexual assault—what lead to that moment and what followed. It’s a deep dive into the shock and trauma of such an event, the aftermath within the medical and law enforcement domains, the effect on the victim and her family. Considering the staggering numbers of people who are at the receiving end of sexual violence—how can we not talk about it? What’s beautiful about this story is that it is devastating and difficult, but also funny and full of hope. It takes a lot of everyday things and breathes poetry and music into it. It also plays with the rumour mill that often churns after such an event; you get to hear all the different opinions or “takes” on what happened. In that way, the play also deals with stereotyping, biases, and assumptions.

3. What was your work like in translating the piece? How do you maintain the integrity of the story while navigating the nuances of interpretation that happen in translation?

The work was intense and challenging, but joyous. I had incredible support from the author and my translation dramaturg. I would set mini deadlines for myself so I would have time to “percolate” between bouts of work, kind of like a computer program running in the background. I also gave myself little breaks from it, a couple of weeks here or there to gain some distance and perspective on it. It takes a lot of time, attention to detail, and patience. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read through the original script, going line by line comparing my translation to the original. It takes a certain amount of flexibility to get the same meaning, thought, or ambience across in English. The two languages are just so different. I was often in contact with the author, asking her questions about meaning, intent, and thought processes. When in doubt, I reached out. I also had guidance from my translation dramaturg and mentor, Alexis Diamond, who is fantastic. She had me asking all the right questions so that the story itself, as well as the feeling of it, was conveyed despite the language change.

4. And of course, we have to ask - how did your experience as a UWindsor student prepare you for your career? Are there skills that you learned as a student that you still apply to your work today?

I graduated UWindsor with a BFA [Honours] in Acting and a minor in French Studies, which has been an excellent base for my career. I feel as though my education set me up to think critically, be open and receptive, and stay curious. It introduced me to great thinkers, writers, and artists. Being an actor with the thorough training we get in theory, practice, text analysis, etc. allows me to look at these texts from many perspectives, which is helpful. Translation, as you pointed out in your previous question, is interpretation, just like acting. A lot of the same preparation, research, and analysis applies. (I would even “perform” my translation up on my feet to get a sense of how it sounded out loud.) The sheer amount of writing I did during my time at UWindsor (in English and French) helped hone my writing skills and my process.