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Found in Translation

The Ohio Northern University Department of Theatre Arts presents the 11th International Play Festival in the Stambaugh Studio Theatre from Thursday, Feb. 19, to Saturday, Feb. 21, at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 21, and Sunday, Feb. 22, at 2 p.m.

This year’s festival will feature the English-language, U.S. premiere of Nevada by Cuban playwright Abel González Melo. The play will be directed by guest director Otto Minera from Mexico City and translated by Yael Prizant.

Melo’s play is set in contemporary Havana and stylistically combines a poetic theatre of images with gritty naturalism. Nevada tells the tale of a group of characters scraping together a living amidst Cuba’s economic adversities and whose dreams seem to be just beyond reach. Set in 2008, Melo’s play is a darkly poetic, passionate expression of Cuban existence.

Ohio Northern University has a knack for getting the most out of its students. Typically, this means that the University excels at providing opportunities and inspiration so that students are able to achieve beyond their own expectations.

But sometimes we mean it quite literally.

Brandea McIntyre, a member of ONU’s Honors Program, is pursuing dual degrees in international theatre arts and Spanish. For her, Ohio Northern’s 11th International Play Festival is more than just something she’s involved with. It’s the perfect combination of her many passions, the epicenter of her senior year and the culmination of her ONU education.

“When the faculty first decided on using the Spanish-language play Nevada for the International Play Festival, they said, ‘Brandea’s working that,’ she says.

As the only fluent Spanish speaker on the production staff, (cast member Jeremy Martinez, a senior theatre major from Palmview, Texas, is also fluent) McIntyre has been integral to the entire process of planning, researching and hosting the festival celebrating Cuban contributions to theatre.

In the first week of January, three faculty members and three students involved in the production, including McIntyre, spent four days in Havana, Cuba, doing research for the production. They toured Havana with Nevada playwright Abel González Melo, exploring all the locations where the action of the play occurs, and brought back extensive photographs and video, some of which will provide the basis for the scenic design for the production.

“To be in Havana at such a historical time of change was really a life-changing opportunity; the group shared all that they learned in Havana with the entire cast, thus, enriching the production immeasurably,” says Joan Robbins, ONU dramaturge and lecturer in theatre arts.


Left to right: Brian Phillips, Kathe DeVault, Kaylah Duling, Nicole Giangola, Brandea McIntyre, Joan Robbins, Otto Minera, Abel Gonzalez Melo, and Carlos Celdrá pose for a photo in front of the San Cristobal Catedral in the Plaza de la Catedral, in Havanna, Cuba.

The historic opportunity Robbins speaks of is the normalizing of relations between the United States and Cuba announced by U.S. President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro on Dec. 17, 2014. This “Cuban Thaw” permitted Melo to travel to ONU for the first time.

The playwright is on campus this week, attending final rehearsals and the performances as well as talkbacks with the audience and symposia with students. Otto Minera, a distinguished Mexican director, has been in residence at ONU guest-directing Nevada for five weeks. Yael Prizant, translator and Cuban theatre scholar, is also here working with the cast in rehearsal and revising the translation.

McIntyre is serving as Melo’s interpreter for a series of lectures he is giving in conjunction with the Department of Modern Languages and the Department of English this week.

“I don’t think he’ll need me, though. He speaks wonderful English,” she says.

As stage director for Nevada, McIntyre is also busy preparing for the show’s five performances. One of the things about ONU’s theatre department she thinks might impress Melo, a theatre professor in his own right, is the meticulous documentation they keep of every performance.

“I have a binder about 5 inches thick that tracks every change we’ve made to the show. If the director wants to know what we did in a particular scene three days ago, I can show him,” she says.

This attention to detail and her love for the Spanish language and Latin American culture — McIntyre spent four years of her childhood living in Venezuela — make working on this International Play Festival feel like something the department did just for her. While she knows that’s not entirely true, she learned this year that it’s also not entirely false.

As the student representative for the faculty meetings within the Department of Theatre Arts, she has seen firsthand how much consideration is given to selecting shows that will allow the incoming senior class to shine.

“I’m the student representative for the faculty meetings within the Department of Theatre Arts, so I’m seeing how the season planning is going for next year, and the faculty does keep in mind who the seniors are, and what they are interested in doing for their capstone projects,” she says. “I don’t think my fluency in Spanish was the reason we chose this play, but I know it was a factor.”


Brandea McIntyre (right) and fellow senior Kaylah Duling (left) in Havanna, Cuba.

Originally, McIntyre was going to fulfill her Honors Capstone obligation with an evaluation of the play’s English translation. Since plays are never translated word for word into different languages, it opens the material up for interpretation. However, when she learned that the department was applying to travel to Cuba for research, she quickly changed her mind and decided to record a visual timeline of her experiences in Havana through photographs and videos.

“Havana is a city that is stuck in the past but also is modernizing really quickly,” see says. “There really are old cars from the ’50s and ’60s, and everything is bright colors, and the people are extremely friendly.”

In addition to traveling to Cuba for theatre arts, McIntyre has studied abroad in Costa Rica as part of her Spanish studies and learned about international aid projects in the Dominican Republic. She’s quick to point out how helpful her faculty has been in helping her do the things she wanted to do, to the point of even helping her find funding.

“Never be afraid to ask or throw an idea out there,” she says. “You’ll be amazed at what the professors can do. Even if you propose something outlandish, they’ll know what they can accomplish, and then they’ll work with the University to find something that’s extraordinary.”

The Ohio Northern University Department of Theatre Arts presents the 11th International Play Festival in the Stambaugh Studio Theatre from Thursday, Feb. 19, to Saturday, Feb. 21, at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 21, and Sunday, Feb. 22, at 2 p.m.