(Generation Without Borders is an essay contest created by TCG , the home of the U.S. center of the International Theater Institute(ITI-US), as part of the 50th Anniversary of World Theatre Day. Originally posted by the the New York City World Theatre Day Coalition at www.nycwtd.blogspot.com.)
I chose to make my home in Wales (UK), and live my life through the medium of Welsh, its minority language (though my plays are all written in English in an attempt to cross both the internal and external borders). Over the years I have spoken of the need for my culture to reach out and dialogue globally, believing that through dialogue one gains perspective and strength. Digital technologies have recently enabled inter-cultural dialogue on an historically unprecedented level. However, with seemingly infinite opportunities to dialogue, perhaps now is the time to question more carefully what we truly want to communicate?’
Yes, we are currently at a ‘hinge point’ of global connectivity. However, throughout the centuries, we have been at other ‘hinge points’, created by the inventions of new media, which have radically re-mapped the lines of communication in the world. The consequences of which have been as life changing in past times, as the current digital revolution is in ours (consider the impact of the printing press upon the established church). One could argue therefore, that the issue is not one of connectivity – media is media. The dilemma is, as it always has been when a new media emerges, what, of our cultural experience, do we chose to communicate and what is actually communicable?
For, what we chose to communicate of ourselves is invariably a subjective choice. It is governed by how we perceive ourselves within the world and how we wish the world to perceive us. Theatre itself is highly subjective. It is an expression of its time and place. That is its strength, that is also its weakness as it tends to generate a set of signs only wholly understood by the community from which and for which it is formed.
Having made a subjective choice (having written a play), we mistakenly believe that our cultural expression is translatable (especially if there is a shared lingua franca). However, nothing , it can be argued, is translatable. As Baudrillard writes (Fatal Strategies) ‘We never communicate. In the to-and-fro of communication, the instantaneity of looking, light and seduction is already lost’. Communication is, at best, interpretation; translation of signs.
My wife was an editor at a translation house. For her, translation was an outmoded practice. Instead, she sought ‘cultural equivalence’ – to create a set of signs that would create an emotive response in the recipient culture equivalent to the emotive response in the source culture. For, misinterpretation is endemic to communication.
As Raymond Williams writes (Culture and Society 1780-1950) ‘We fail to realize… that much of what we call communication is necessarily, no more in itself than transmission, that is to say, a one way sending. Reception and response, which complete communication, depend on other factors than the techniques’.
Against the odds, we, as theatre practitioners, strive to communicate – or write our ‘one way sendings’. But, could our attempts to reach out globally / to cross borders through our work compromise our cultural specificity as we aim for a trans-global expression in an increasingly cosmopolitan world? Is there a danger that we will eventually write for a stage of relevance both to all and as a consequence, no-one? (This is obviously in relation to text based theatre over which non-text based theatre has an advantage – a punch is a punch in any language!)
N. B. I am not questioning the opportunities technology offers to create global networks / spread debate and best practice etc. I read with equal relish HowlRound (US), the posting of the National Theatre Wales, the newsletter of T.I.N (Netherlands) and emails from practitioners in Zimbabwe. My concern is the impact of globalization upon artistic expression.
In an interview in Trans-Global Readings (ed. Caridad Svich), Jose Esteban Munoz writes of the Latino theatre in the US “If the object of this new cosmopolitanism is to abandon the nation, (I) would be opposed to such an undertaking… the notion of trans-nationalism that most interest (me) is the idea of collational linkages between different modalities of cultural and political nationalism. To this end (I) pursue the idea of trans-localism’.
Wales is a small nation, and from the perspective of any small nation / community of people, the global appears seductive. Small nations / communities need to communicate (against the apparent odds of being understood) in order to be… understood. The web offers them an unprecedented forum. However, one wonders what will practitioners from small nations, such as Wales (or practitioners from currently bigger ones) chose to compromise on the altar of global communication – especially as cultural forces shift? Their localism? Their linguistic differences? Their cultural borders? For without borders, what is any nation / community of people / practitioner? Such is the dynamic between trans-globalism and trans-localism. We may be global citizens, but there are billions of worlds in this world.
For, if culture comes from the local, in a global culture where the local is down-graded, might there lurk a hidden danger. Instead of it being a case of ‘What do we want to communicate’, in future, might it not be a case of ‘What, if anything, will we have left to communicate’ regardless of whether communication is an illusion or not?
Ian Rowlands is a writer / director living in Wales. His play, Blink ran at 59E59 as part of the Brits off Broadway festival in 2008. An International Associate of The Lark, NY. His last three plays were developed in conjunction with the company: Desire Lines (subsequently produced by Sherman Cymru, toured Wales in 2011) and the two play project Troyanne / Historia (both plays were read at NYTW in December 2011).
The New York City World Theatre Day Coalition is comprised of representatives of theatre companies and advocacy groups whose common goal is to promote World Theatre Day within the New York City theatre community. To find out how you can participate or about upcoming events visit www.nycwtd.com.