How Do You Say “Standby”?

by David J. McGraw

Theatre is universal, but the language to make it is local. ​[This piece was written and scheduled well before the tragedy in Paris on Friday, Nov. 13. We understand that learning tech terms in another language might not be the primary thing on people's minds as they prepare to travel abroad with a show right now,  but this is still good information we wanted people to have. A fuller post on a stage manager's responsilbities in tragic events, and how they can prepare for them, is coming. -Jacob, SD editor.] 

A stage manager who is preparing for an international gig e-mailed me a fantastic but mysterious Rosetta Stone for touring:  single-page guides that translate American technical theatre terms translated into multiple languages.  What wonderful finds!  Even in the age of Google Translate, it is hard to convert technical terminology, especially when the words have secondary meanings from everyday conversation (Leg, Flat, Mixer, Upstage, anyone?)  These reference charts had been passed among stage managers for years, but who made these wonderful touring cheat sheets?  Although I was tempted to contact Starlee Kine at the podcast Mystery Show, I did a bit of my own detective work and found a gentlemen named Mark Mongold.

Mark was a bit surprised to be contacted about some paperwork he created in the late 1990s, but he was happy to fill in the blanks on these great tools and their provenance.  Mark toured with a number of dance companies – Twyla Tharp, Jennifer  Muller, NYCB, The Feld Ballet, David Parsons, Gus Giordano, A Ballroom Dance Company, among others – in the 1980s and 90s.  He also supervised production for quite a few European dance companies on their American tours.  So Mark often needed to do quick translations when on tour himself or when receiving international acts on American stages.  Mark Mongold is now the Director of Production for the New York City Center Theatre, so he still makes use of his own creations from time to time.

Mark is quick to admit that he is not a linguist or trained interpreter, but necessity was the mother of invention to create these translation guides.  He himself is a fan of Theatre Words, which serve as full translation guides of theatrical terms in 28 languages!  But on a load-in day, carrying a full guidebook can be cumbersome,* so Mark developed these language “magic sheets” for working with international artists and technicians.  He cautioned me that there may be translation errors and that some older terms could have newer translations, especially for identifying technology.

Mark has generously allowed us to share all of his collection, including FrenchPortuguese, Spanish, Russian and Italian translation sheets, here with just two requirements: keep updating the translations and share freely for the good of the theatrical community.  Atenção!

* Theatre Words now offers iPhone and Android apps for all your theatre translation needs!