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For international performances, consider translation.

Jez Lowe, the English folksinger, cracked a joke at a folk festival performance that involved the geography of England in front of an essentially American audience. There were a few titters, snorts, and guffaws, but the joke flew past most of the audience without stopping to light. Apparently, he didn’t know that Americans seldom know their own geography, let alone have an ability to identify where cities are in some other country. Les Barker actually has American versions of some of his poems. His “Jason and the Arguments” is based loosely around an accident at a British nuclear power plant. For his US audiences, he changes it to refer to Three Mile Island. He makes similar changes for other poems where he changes the names of political parties and such.

The folks who brought Harry Potter to the US also did this, with much less reason. The first book was entitled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in England. It was based on an object that every student of alchemy would be familiar with. Apparently, the US distributor was of the opinion that most people in the US had never studied alchemy, so they changed the name to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Thereby they probably confused more people than they would have with the original title, since the Philosopher’s Stone was a true object of historical questing.

The true point here is once again related to communication. It is said that the English and Americans are two peoples separated by one language. This is quite true, and you can throw in the Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and people from various other countries where English is supposedly spoken. Each group has its own slang as well as dialectual variants that separate the countries. History and politics are also separators. For instance, the attitude of many US citizens is that firearms owned by individuals secure our freedoms from the government. In most other English speaking countries, you will not only find harsher restrictions on weapons, but also an attitude of incomprehension toward the US attitude. If you have the opportunity to perform in a foreign country, make sure that you look over your poems with an eye toward clearing up any cross-border incomprehensibilities. You might decide to read the poem as is; you might do some translating changes; or you might decide the poem is inappropriate for the audience. Make the decisions conscious ones.

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