Truth in Translation tells the stories of young, untested interpreters who became the ‘voice’ of victim and perpetrator. They translated simultaneously in the first person, with no time for thought and no option to turn away. Everything flowed through them - lies and truths, forgiveness and rage, pain and celebration. They absorbed everything without having the time to process what they were hearing and speaking until it came back to them in dreams, in their relations with each other and in the haze of drink and dark humor that inevitably came after testimony. Their mandate was to “not become involved.” Their attempt to follow this mandate is their story. This struggle to remain impervious to what they witness, to use whatever they can find to keep them from self-destruction, leads to the growing awareness that they are not that different from the people for whom they interpret. It is the story of what happens to people who cannot turn away, who are forced to see every side of each truth and lie, and in so doing, test their own identities to the limit. It is a story of what it feels like to bear witness without the option of denial, ultimately revealing that if we drop our masks, we will not die. We will become stronger.
Embedded in Hugh Masekela’s haunting music of the characters’ collective memory, the stories of the actual TRC interpreters are merged with the memories and personal, improvised life stories of the actors themselves. Actual testimony is drawn upon throughout the play, and included in song lyrics. The script was developed in a collaboration over time between a collective of South African actors, director/creator Michael Lessac, and writer/collaborator Paavo Tom Tammi.
As the production moves from country to country, other writers contribute and the dialogue provoked across cultures becomes material for further development of the script.