With music by Hugh Masekela Truth in Translation tells the story of the young interpreters of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the end of apartheid, who were given an impossible mandate - “Do not become involved" - as they translated testimony into the 11 official languages of their nation. As young Afrikaans, Xhosa, Venda, Sotho, English, Zulu speakers, they became the voices of both “victim” and “perpetrator” and often fought the pressure of becoming both. While the nation, on an official level, attempted to combine truth with understanding and exchange memory for peace, these young interpreters, the ultimate witnesses, absorbed it all on a purely personal level - every lie and every side of every truth, with nothing but their humor and courage to help them face the past to survive the future.
Many have said that the South African Truth commission was an evolutionary leap for humanity and mankind. Others have said it was a fruitless dream, a witch-hunt, a betrayal of traditional justice. But for the people who were there it was a theatre of listening with an intensity that jarred them to their core, where a new and perhaps impossible sense of personal justice was explored. This stirring musical drama is a human statement – a universal, unsentimental story of a moment in time when truth, memory, identity and emotional chaos heroically clashed while a nation, different from any other, sought to avoid a bloodbath and construct a national peace on its own terms.
The stories of the actual translators are merged with the personal life stories of the actors themselves. The characters are based upon the memories and lives of the actors combined with their interpretations of the stories told by the living interpreters who worked at the Commission for the two and a half years it existed. The actual testimony is word for word and unchanged except for editing. The production is a theatrical memory of a moment in time when a country defied the world’s expectation of revenge and vengeance and asked itself – can we REALLY face the past to survive the future?
Michael Lessac is founder and Artistic Director of the acclaimed Colonnades Theatre Lab in New York City, where he has produced and directed over thirty productions and maintained and trained a company of eighteen actors, three playwrights and four composers. Interspersed with his work at the Colonnades, Michael Lessac has directed at the National Theatre of Yugoslavia, the Guthrie Theatre in Minnesota, the Denver Theatre Centre, the Arena Stage and the Kennedy Centre in Washington D.C., and the Public Theatre in New York City. He wrote and directed the feature film House of Cards, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Kathleen Turner, and has directed over 200 television shows and sixteen pilots including Taxi, Newhart, Grace Under Fire, The Drew Carey Show, The Naked Truth, Just Shoot Me, Everyone Loves Raymond, George and Leo, Titus, Lucky… among others. Michael Lessac is also a singer/songwriter and has recorded an album for Colombia Records. Michael Lessac holds a doctorate in developmental psychology, and has taught both theatre and psychology at numerous universities. In 2005, he established a sister company in South Africa, called Colonnades Theatre Lab, SA, which has been jointly responsible for the development of the award-winning theatre piece, Truth in Translation. The Truth in Translation project has toured to Rwanda, South Africa, the USA, Sweden, Belfast, Zimbabwe and won the Fringe First award at the Edinburgh Festival 2007.
Director: Michael Lessac
Text: a collaboration between Paavo Tom Tammi, Michael Lessac and the South African “Truth In Translation” company of actors
Concept and Direction: Michael Lessac
Music: Hugh Masekela
Cast: Dawid Minnaar: Marcel (a reporter); Interrogator in Gideon’s dream scene.
Jeroen Kranenburg: Schalk (a cameraman); Rudi (barman); Man with ashes; Gideon’s Father in dream.
Thembi Mtshali-Jones: Nobuhle, a comforter at the TRC; Mrs. Mtimkhulu; Cry of Winnie Mandela
Interpreters: Quanita Adams: Alia
Nick Boraine: Peter
Sibulele Gcilitshana: Nomawethu
Thembani Luzipho: Nhlanhla
Robert Koen: Gideon
Sandile Matsheni: Jake
Sizwe Msutu: Thabo
Ashleigh Harvey: Claire
Musicians: Aaron Folb (Bass guitar), Sfiso Tshabalala (Keyboard), Ray Molefe (Percussion)
Music Direction: Hugh Masekela
Additional Dialogue: Craig Higginson; Paul Selig
Set Designer: Gerhard Marx
Costume Designer: Maya Marx
Sound Designer: Simon Mahoney
Original Lighting Designer: Wesley France
Lighting Designers for Tour: Mannie Manim and C.J. Marshall
Assistant Music Directors: Ezbie Moilwa and Thembi Mtshali-Jones
Technical direction : C.J. Marshall
Stage Manager: Michael Inglis
Footage Design: Edited and assembled by Emma Tammi and Sharron Hawkes
Footage Archivist: Ruth Muller
Exhibition: Selected images from Maria Cantacuzino’s The F Word: Images of Forgiveness
Colonnades Theatre Lab Producers: Artistic Director and Producer: Michael Lessac
Executive Producer: Jacqueline Lessac
South African Producer: Yvette Hardie
International Producer: Robert Lear