Translating/Directing Jon Fosse’s texts + Oslo Elsewhere
Sarah Cameron Sunde is an American, New York based interdisciplinary environmental artist. Her most notable work to date is 36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea, a public, video, and performance artwork made in collaboration with water and communities across the world.
art, artist, water, visual
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Translating/Directing Jon Fosse’s texts + Oslo Elsewhere

Category
curation/culture producer, Project, theater, translation

Translating & Directing Jon Fosse (2023 Nobel Laureate) from Norwegian into American-English with Oslo Elsewhere

“FIERCE POETIC SIMPLICITY”
– Anita Gates, The New York Times (on deathvariations, 2006)
A feeling unlike anything else I was seeing in the theater.’
– Ben Brantley, The New York Times (reflecting on seeing the 2012 production of A Summer Day, 2023)

In 2003, when Sunde started working with Jon Fosse and his text NATTA SYNG SINE SONGAR (NIGHT SINGS ITS SONGS) with a plan to order to direct his U.S. debut production, she realized that in order for this work to reach the hearts and minds of a New York audience, she was going to need to translate the work herself.  As an American with a Norwegian father, Sunde had learned to speak the language when she lived and went to school in Norway as a 12-year old.  She was instinctively aware of the complications and limitations of the British translations. With Fosse’s encouragement, Sunde set out to create her own American-English translation – the first of its kind – of a Jon Fosse’s play, specifically for a New York production.

It was a long and challenging process, but a fruitful one. It became clear that there was a lack of awareness about the need for theatrical translations into American-English.  Together with artist/dramaturg Marie-Louise Miller, she started the Translation Think Tank as an arm of Theatre without Borders to advocate for the “art of translation” in venues around the country.

In order to produce Jon Fosse’s plays, Sunde teamed up with Norwegian actor Anna Gutto (now also a filmmaker) and together they created Oslo Elsewhere in 2004.  Oslo Elsewhere’s mission was to bring the most innovative plays and ideas about contemporary theater from Norway to the United States, and vice versa.

Sunde and Gutto were passionate about developing new translations to their fullest potential and producing bold, relevant, fiercely theatrical plays; plays with space, plays with a pulse, plays that challenge our sensibilities and provoke our audience beyond the everyday. From 2004-2008, Oslo Elsewhere produced three major projects at 59E59 Theaters and 45 Bleecker and has continued to be active in commissioning translations on a small scale since then.  To date, Sunde has translated six Fosse plays and a handful of other works by Norwegian writers. DEATHVARIATIONS and SA KA LA are published by PAJ, and an excerpt of NIGHT SINGS ITS SONGS IS AVAILABLE is available through Words Without Borders.


“In translating plays there are always things that are ‘untranslatable’. That is the challenge. Plays are meant to be experienced live, one cannot simply translate text; one must translate the action that lies underneath the text. Action will always be cultural. So will subtleties and humor. Therefore, it is imperative to translate specifically for the culture that one is working in and to translate specifically for production.”  –SCS

Jon Fosse is Norway’s leading contemporary playwright. His work has been translated into over 50 languages and produced all over the world. He was recently named the 2023 Nobel Laureate for Literature. Since 2004, Sunde has served as Fosse’s primary American-English translator/translator.

If you would like to read the full scripts of the translations, please don’t hesitate to reach out to:  studio [at] sarahcameronsunde [dot] com 

SILENCE AND SPACE

by Sarah Cameron Sunde
An essay formally introducing Jon Fosse to an American academic audience, published by Performing Arts Journal (PAJ), 2007.
Download Essay

NIGHT SINGS ITS SONGS

by Jon Fosse, translated/directed by Sarah Cameron Sunde (2003)

– between day and night, dream and nightmare –
A modern day tragedy about two people who love each other desperately, but in an attempt to find each other again, push each other into a downward spiral of miscommunication.

U.S. debut production of Jon Fosse’s work

“Uniformly excellent…Mr. Fosse (pronounced FAH-suh), who is Norwegian, and Sarah Cameron Sunde, the American who translated his play, have an ear for conversation, particularly for the synergy of repetition and for the fine line between generality and allegory” – THE NEW YORK TIMES 

 

DEATHVARIATIONS

by Jon Fosse, translated/directed by Sarah Cameron Sunde (2006)

When her daughter dies, a woman digs through her past, unearthing each of the losses in her life. She comes to find that death, her frequent visitor, may not be her enemy. Jon Fosse heightens the language of the everyday to reveal the power behind what we leave unsaid and what remains unseen.

translation published by PAJ in 2007

“Fierce poetic simplicity…the cast of “deathvariations” is sometimes stunningly in touch with Mr. Fosse’s worldview. And no small credit goes to Sarah Cameron Sunde, who both translated and directed the play.” – THE NEW YORK TIMES

SA KA LA

by Jon Fosse, translated/directed by Sarah Cameron Sunde

“It was a beautiful day
the day Mom turned sixty
and that’s good
because we do love her
don’t we”

A new play about syllables and expectations, preserving time and wasting it.

translation published by PAJ in 2009

“Only after the show is over, when there’s a chance to sit and ponder the dying mother, the empty birthday party and the hidden infidelities, do Fosse’s finer points eventually reveal themselves.” – VARIETY

A SUMMER DAY

by Jon Fosse, translated/directed by Sarah Cameron Sunde

A man goes out on the water every day
He’ll be back soon
But I feel so anxious
It’s probably nothing

Set in an idyllic, but isolated old house overlooking the water, and in two different times, A Summer Day captures the dilemma of love in the present moment, as well as a distant memory. Fosse’s poetic, haunting, everyday language reminds us of potential in every second and the suspense of being alive.

“quietly brutal…a strong but stealthy undertow, a distinctive dramatic momentum unlike any other in New York theater these days” – THE NEW YORK TIMES 

DREAM OF AUTUMN

by Jon Fosse, translated by Sarah Cameron Sunde

What if death comes to you like a lover? The lover against whom all others were measured, who tempts you to let go of all responsibilities. You might be surprised to learn you’d fight this seduction, perfectly designed for you. Dream of Autumn is a look at what we cling to when it’s time to go.

“masterfully put into English by Sarah Cameron Sunde” – ENTERTAINMENT CENTRAL PITTSBURGH

Photos from top to bottom: all from U.S. Premieres of plays by Jon Fosse, translated and directed by Sarah Cameron Sunde, in the order in which they were produced: 1) Night Sings Its Songs, 2004;  2) deathvariations, 2006;  3) Sa Ka La, 2008;  4) A Summer Day, 2012;  5) Dream of Autumn, 2013;  6) A Summer Day (gif), 2013