Rachel Henson cites her formative experiences in Chinese as watching Meng Jinghui's student version of 'Waiting for Godot' and lessons with her teacher, Liu Fusheng, in how to use a Beijing Opera spear, frequently punctuated by cigarette breaks and curious conversation.
She has written Chinese language teaching materials based around film and TV sit-com scripts for UK universities and assisted on Basic and Intermediate Chinese, a Grammar and Workbook, published by Routledge.
Rachel fell in love with the whole romance of the Chinese woman warrior long before 'Kill Bill', and in a bid to become invincible, trained for two years in the Beijing Opera woman warrior role (武旦), supported by a Leverhulme Study Abroad Scholarship.
She funded the next five years in Beijing working for Chinese PR, Production and Arts organisations, assisting on the production of several ground breaking arts events: Beijing International Jazz Festival and Beijing's first outdoor music festival, Heineken Beat (James, Femi Kuti). During this time she wrote and performed a solo theatre show Taking Candy From Babies and toured China with a solo dance cabaret piece Bieniu (别扭). She became British Council Arts Manager in 2001, programming UK arts in Beijing (Morcheeba, Akram Khan, Kneehigh Theatre) and working on arts collaborations with Visiting Arts and the International Workshop Festival.
Since returning to the UK, she has been focussed on literary translation, setting up Word Picture Studio, a creative translation studio, with Cristina Bevir, and on developing her own practice as an artist and writer. Her latest show Flickers, an innovative trail for public spaces using film and animation, was developed with support from Arts Council England. Flickers has been commissioned for ANTI Festival, Finland 2009 and Brighton Festival 2010.
Recent literary translation work includes pitching her pet project, an English translation of the cult Hong Kong children's series McMug and McDull, and translating Shanghainese playwright Nick Yu's epic work on the 2008 earthquake for the Royal Court Theatre's International Playwrights Residency. Rachel's adaptation of Zhang Henshui's White Snake was recently read by actor Hugh Quarshie at the British Museum. Rachel also works freelance as a liaison interpreter and theatre audio describer for people with a visual impairment.
Word Picture Studio is a creative translation studio working with literature, theatre, film, documentary and visual art by Chinese speaking artists and writers. Word Picture Studio translators have long-term experience of living and working as artists and writers in both China and the UK. As outsiders with an insider’s take on a text, Word Picture Studio researches and identifies unique projects for themselves and commissions for clients often giving input from initial research to contextualisation.
Word Picture Studio considers translation a collaborative artistic process. At least one native speaker of Chinese and one of English works on each text, working with the author where appropriate. Careful attention is paid to the real-life context of each project. In the case of theatre and film scripts, we aim to workshop a script before finalising a translation.
Word Picture Studio is interested in projects with a strong individual voice.
Rachel Henson translated for READ PAPER REPUBLIC, week 13, 10 September 2015.