Juan Ragrigán is an internationally acclaimed playwright, whose awards include Best Chilean Play, Apes Prize, Agustin Siré Prize from the Academy of Fine Arts, the Altazor Prize for Best Dramatist and most recently the National Theatre Prize.
So why haven’t we, in the UK, heard of him?
Step up Karen Morash and Head for Heights Theatre – a new company that has brought Ragrigán’s work to the British stage for the first time. Its brand new translation of Las Brutas (Beasts) is currently running at Theatre 503, where it has attracted rave reviews and sell out crowds. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Morash and ask a few questions about her company, career and passion for translated work: “There is a real artistry to translation. We’re producing an authentic representation of these people – Catherine (Boyle, the company’s translator) has lived that life and spent the time there. All too often, we see these people’s lives filtered through the middle classes – we assume that they don’t have the elegance to tell their story, but we feel that the simplicity and authenticity of their account is their eloquence.”
The company aims to bring new translations to the British stage and, in the process, to introduce us to new voices. This translation was developed with Out Of The Wings, an academic project, and the National Theatre Studio, but the company has chosen to present the finished piece at Theatre 503. “This is an appropriate audience for us: 503 is a theatre that recognises good writing and is willing to take a chance on something different,” says Morash.
The choice of theatre has also allowed the company to expand its programme, introducing Q&A sessions as well as play readings and one-off events during the course of the run. Last week, there was a rehearsed reading of another of Ragrigán’s plays, performed and directed by actors completely unassociated with Las Brutas. “The readings have given us a chance to engage other, younger artists, allowing them to take part in our work.” Morash seems keen to build a future for Head For Heights, using this debut performance as a launch pad for other work. It’s a young and ambitious company, but from an already established background. The translator, Catherine Boyle, has translated for the RSC, the director Sue Dunderdale teaches at RADA, and Morash is currently studying for a PhD alongside writing and producing. I asked her why she chose to produce work as a side project: “I think working as a producer helps to develop your artistic side – it’s important to understand the many facets of theatre making and the practicalities involved”.
Her advice for budding producers follows a similar line: “Don’t forget your creative side.” She explained that even the most administrative task in production can demand creativity. In the case of Las Brutas, the set designer has used genuine rubble from the London riots in order to highlight the authenticity and contemporary relevance of the play, and it falls to Morash to translate this feature into intriguing marketing ploy.
“You need to be open-minded, and prepared that producing entails a lot of work, much of which will go unnoticed… There’s always something else to do – your job is never finished!” As a producer, Morash finds herself incredibly busy for short bursts at a time, which suits the rest of her life as a student and writer. I asked her what drives her, why she produces: “There’s an incredible feeling of pride when you see everything come together, when you sit in the audience and know that you have been responsible for joining the dots, and piecing the show together.”
She maintains that there is no “normal route” into producing, “although there is some great support out there; people willing to help young producers. Stage One is a great example – even its website is full of useful resources.”
Morash is a great example of a young artist who knows what she wants to achieve, and isn’t afraid to get out there and try. What I found so impressive was her dedication to a number of disciplines – her complete immersion in the world, and the knowledge and ability that comes with it (although she did admit that she’s recently curtailed her review writing after moving in similar circles as those she had been reviewing!). It’s pretty clear that Head For Heights will be making a noticeable impact in the arts, trailblazing a new interest in translated work in the near future.