Pushing paper, pushing hands, pushing the envelope: Three eleanors (arts as historiography) as theatrical translation across media

Dorothy Chansky

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


When Martha Cheung asserts that translators dealing with historic materials might use her pushing-hands approach to “think of past and present in a relation of interdependence, with past events informing the present and present perspectives illuminating the past, the two alternately pushing and yielding” (ibid.: 161; this volume, p. 25), she might be directly addressing the realm of theater practice. Pushing-hands, as Cheung elegantly and effi ciently explains it, draws on an advanced martial arts form in which cooperation, awareness, reaction, and a continuous interplay of opposites work to yield heightened attention and the ability to survive via embracing and using the power of one’s partner(s). Such cooperation and interplay describe exactly how actors are taught and encouraged to relate to one another in rehearsal and performance. They “play off” one another, balancing actions and reactions to text, objects, emotions, and character, individually and collectively. One might also say that an engaged audience “pushes hands” with the performers, if one accepts that audience presence affects actors’ performance in the moment. When a production’s source material (often a script) originated in any former era, Cheung’s notion of “past and present in a relation of interdependence” is palpable. Theater practitioners who use translated scripts from the past understand that they are engaged in a process of transporting other times into the present-a process in which negotiation is requisite. Indeed, their source materials are doubly rendered present: the scripts undergo traditional translation and the verbal translation undergoes performative realization via contemporary bodies and sensibilities.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Pushing-Hands of Translation and its Theory
Subtitle of host publicationIn memoriam Martha Cheung, 1953-2013
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781317450597
ISBN (Print)9781138901759
StatePublished - May 12 2016


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