(Generation Without Borders is an essay series created by TCG for the 50th Anniversary of World Theatre Day. Amanda Quaid’s essay is one of three winning essays that will be published in the May/June issue of AMERICAN THEATRE magazine. Learn more and submit your own essay here.)
Our generation has unprecedented connectedness. 24/7 access to media and social networks means we can experience events around the globe, in real time. Websites like YouTube serve as instant world platforms. For young theatre artists, much of this is positive. We can use media to promote our work. We can bring companies from abroad to our cities and learn how they interpret the stories we share. We can use our voice as artists to expose hypocrisy and fight oppression worldwide like never before. But unless we connect first with our immediate communities, we risk becoming a generation of artists, in some ways, more bordered-off than ever before.
Compared with generations past, theatre artists today are more likely to commute to rehearsal with earphones on, listening to the soundtracks of our lives instead of the voices around us. We send quick, pithy texts instead of calling even our best friends. Many of us actors keep our cellphones in our dressing rooms and text throughout the play, unable to relinquish “connectedness” for a two hour stretch even while we act–the one thing that purportedly makes us feel the most connected.
This isn’t to point a finger. Our generation is accustomed to communicating with multiple people simultaneously. We experience it as being hyper-connected to a world community, part of the buzz we get from being a Generation Without Borders. And it is wildly attractive. To be connected across state lines, time zones, and continents is an achievement we should make use of.
But there is a flip-side. As connected as we are globally, we are increasingly cut off from our own communities. Our iPod drowns out the person sitting next to us on our commute. We don’t know the name of our neighbor on the other side of the wall. We text with our friend across the country rather than notice the distinctive way the stranger in front of us holds his cane. While some borders have dissolved, new, perhaps subtler, borders have emerged all around us.
My call to action for the artists of Generation Without Borders is to strengthen our communities. To be present. To take the buds out of our ears and listen. To witness and relate to the plights of strangers we see in the street. To be moved by a play and share our thoughts with our fellow audience members before immediately posting a status update. To look out. To offer up. To volunteer in our communities and know who our neighbors are. Let’s embrace what’s best about our new connectedness and reject what threatens to make us self-absorbed, distracted, and myopic.
Theatre makers of our generation can lead the way in this movement towards connectedness and empathy. And we must. Theatre is about exploring what it means to be human, what we all have in common. Our generation must start with our immediate surroundings and observe, relate, participate. Only then will we truly earn our distinction as a Generation Without Borders.
Amanda Quaid is a theater actor from New York City. Her first professional stage role was Juliet in Romeo and Juliet at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival at age 18, and she got her Actors Equity card playing Rosalind in As You Like It at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C. She made her Broadway debut in 2008 in Equus opposite Daniel Radcliffe. Quaid has performed Off-Broadway and regionally in classical plays by Shakespeare, Shaw, Yeats, Dekker, Ford, and Corneille, and has collaborated with contemporary playwrights Tony Kushner, Christopher Durang, and Ethan Coen. Favorite credits include Brecht’s Galileo opposite F. Murray Abraham (Classic Stage Company), Mrs. Warren’s Profession opposite Elizabeth Ashley
(Shakespeare Theatre), and Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Corneille’s The Illusion directed by Michael Mayer (Signature Theatre). Quaid graduated with honors from Vassar and is on the faculty of HB Studio, where she teaches speech and dialects to actors from around the world. She was selected by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs to be a 2012 participant in SPARC: Seniors Partnering with Artists Citywide, placing her as an artist-in-residence at NYC senior centers to lead workshops in Shakespeare’s verse.