Blackadder Receives Prestigious Howard Foundation Fellowship

Knox professor of theatre will translate three plays from German to English

April 25, 2011

Knox College professor of theatre Neil Blackadder has been awarded a 2011-12 fellowship from the George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation to translate three contemporary German-language plays into English.

The foundation, based at Brown University in Rhode Island, selects a limited number of scholars each year to receive the prestigious fellowships to fund projects in selected fields of study. About 10 fellowships are awarded annually.

Blackadder will translate three works by Swiss playwright Lukas Bärfuss [pronounced BARE-foos]. The plays are:

  • The Test, about a man who finds out he isn't the father of the young man whom he thought was his son.
  • Malaga, about divorcing parents who decide to hire a young man to take care of their daughter when both briefly leave town.
  • Alice's Trip to Switzerland, about people traveling to Switzerland to commit suicide legally, and about a doctor who wishes to help them.

Blackadder hopes his translations of Bärfuss' plays will result in theatrical productions of the works in the United States and Great Britain.

"I suppose I see myself partly as serving to broaden the horizons of American and British theatre by introducing them to work that they're not familiar with, and that in certain ways is distinct from the work that's produced by British and American writers," he said.

"What I like about this playwright is he deals with topics that may derive from the Swiss context, but they're the kinds of issues that American and British audiences are likely to be interested in, too," he added.

Directing rehearsal of a Knox theatrical productionBlackadder's translation of Bärfuss' The Sexual Neuroses of our Parents was produced in London and New York, and it was published in the United States and the United Kingdom.

He also directed a Knox College production of his own translation of the German-language play Rosa and Blanca by Rebekka Kricheldorf.

A member of the Knox faculty since 1998, Blackadder teaches European theatre, dramaturgy, theatre history, and playwriting.

"What's been nice is that teaching playwriting and translating plays are two things that have meshed very well because they both require you to understand a play from the inside, from the author's point of view," he said. "So I feel like the teaching has enhanced the translation, and vice versa."

Blackadder said his translation work provides him with "an alertness to the nuances of languages," which influences his interactions with Knox students when he teaches them in class or directs them in a play.

During rehearsals for Exit the King, a play that Blackadder currently is directing, he frequently refers to the work's original French text. As a result, "I am able to explain to the students something that sort of lies behind the English, that might not be immediately apparent in the translation, but that is apparent in the French."

"In a more general sense, I think, (translation work) affects my work with the students in terms of the importance of that level of detail, of really getting into the nuances -- of what difference it makes if it's this word or that word, how the actor might deal with it differently, depending which word it is," he added.

Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 48 states and 51 countries. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.