Director Michael Lessac grew up on the streets of New York City, where he says the concept of forgiveness was not easily embraced. Now he finds himself traveling internationally promoting the power of forgiveness with his theatrical creation.
Truth in Translation recounts the real-life stories shared by the perpetrators and victims during South Africa's apartheid conflict, which lasted through most of the last half of the 20th century. The stories come via the interpreters from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who translated narratives into the 11 different languages of South Africa and broadcast them throughout the various towns to be understood by all residents.
"The translators had to speak in the first person, so there was no time to think," says Lessac, founder and artistic director of the Colonnades Theatre Lab in New York City and South Africa, about his project. "They had to absorb every truth, every lie, everything over the last 50 years that happened to their country."
Forgiveness and reconciliation are dominant themes, since the perpetrators are offered amnesty in exchange for telling the truth, face-to-face, to the victims. Lessac says his main intention is "to create dialogue and have people begin talking about what happened."
The production puts Truth Commission translators between the perpetrators and victims while combining music and theatre. Thirteen South African actors play the roles of the translators.
"We see the lives of the young interpreters and how they changed as they were interpreting," he says.
In November 2005, the actors worked with Lessac and acclaimed African composer Hugh Masekela in a three-week workshop in Johannesburg to develop a musical score. Masekela won best Composer at the August 2007 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and the production itself was nominated in three out of the four musical theatre categories.
Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize winners who both played huge roles in South Africa's transition to democracy, are primary figures mentioned in the production.
"What happened in South Africa could be a microcosm for the rest of the world," Lessac says.
Truth premiered in Rwanda and is touring internationally to bring awareness about countries in conflict.
"It's not a dark, uncomfortable telling of a holocaust, but rather a celebration of a group of people that came out of this so strong," Lessac says. "It's a tiny revolutionary leap giving hope to people wondering if we can ever get along with each other."
Truth in Translation
CC's Armstrong Hall, 14 E. Cache la Poudre St.
Sept. 21-23; Friday, 8 p.m., Saturday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m.
A Conversation with Michael Lessac
Studio Bee at the Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.Monday, Sept. 24, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $25, $15 for students; call 227-0086.