Lia Beeson

Lia Beeson
Lia Beeson

Each season the Oregon Shakespeare Festival offers special performances of plays featuring open captions in Spanish. Cuban-born Lia Beeson provides many of the translations. As we lunched at the Breadboard restaurant, Lia told me about translating for theater at OSF and her flight from Cuba.

EH: You do translations for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival?

LB: The last thing I translated was the Octavio Solis adaption of Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” for the performance featuring open captions in Spanish. In special shows, while the play goes on on-stage, they show Spanish captions for the Spanish-speaking audience. It’s different from a regular translation. I follow the guidelines for subtitling movies. The translator tries to put down as simple and as readable words as possible; 30 to 50 percent of the dialogue is supposed to be dropped off. The pride in translation is to provide language that is just as elegant and appealing as it is in the other language. You can’t do that in a caption and expect the people to read it. Usually I only do open-caption translations for them, but OSF also asked me for a full translation of “Don Quixote.”

EH: Solis wrote his adaptation of “Don Quixote” in English?

LB: Yes. Octavio was born in the U.S. I suppose English is his native language. He grew up in a Chicano ambience; he likes to write about his Chicano experience. OSF commissioned him to adapt “Don Quixote” and he made it a fun play.

EH: When did you leave Cuba?

LB: I came to the United States in 1961. Then, Castro’s policy was, “If they want to go, let them go.” At least we were allowed to go. There were riots while we were being processed in customs. For a moment I thought it was all a put-on: “From here I am not going to the ferry boat, I’m going to jail.” But lo and behold, somebody calmed down the riot and we were let onto the boat.

In those days in Cuba, English was taught in primary school, but all of the English was learned from Cuban teachers. When I came to the U.S. in 1961, I had a doctorate degree in romance literature, but sometimes I couldn’t understand even “table” or “chair” in English.

EH: When did you begin working with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival?

LB: I started in 2001, when they produced Nilo Cruz’s “Two Sisters and a Piano.” It was set in Cuba. Nilo is Cuban, but he came here when he was 11 years old. All of his education was here in the United States; he writes his plays in English, but about Cuba. OSF used me mostly for background information and to assist the speech coach with the Cuban accent. Then Nilo wrote “Lorca in a Green Dress” and they hired me to write a simultaneous translation. After that I was asked to translate “By the Waters of Babylon” and “Romeo and Juliet.” They used earphones then. They aren’t using earphones anymore. Earphones were not practical because you could hear the English, too; it was distracting. Recently I revised some captions for “Our Town” and I translated the Spanish captions for “The Clay Cart.”

I’m sure that not many people know all that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival does for the Spanish-speaking audience.

A special performance of “Macbeth” with Spanish open-captioning will be presented by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on Oct. 21 at 1:30 p.m. in the Angus Bowmer Theater. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased via Alonso in the OSF box office at 482-4331.

Evalyn Hansen is a resident of Ashland. She has a bachelor's degree in dramatic arts from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's degree from San Francisco State University. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre, and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at

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