Where I Stand On History’s Timeline

by Nina Yarbrough

in Generation Without Borders

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(Generation Without Borders is an essay series created by TCG for the 50th Anniversary of World Theatre Day. Nina Yarbrough’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.)

What does Generation Without Borders mean to you as a theatre-maker?

I am a Black woman living in the United States in the 21st Century.  My privileges and state sanctioned rights far exceed those of my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother at least twentyfold.  Fifty years ago they lacked basic protection under the United States Constitution.  Fifty years prior to that, no woman-Black or otherwise had voting rights.  In order to answer the question, “What does Generation Without Borders mean to me as a theatre-maker,” I have to look at where I stand on history’s timeline.  To be a theatre practitioner in this day and age is to be a living anachronism of the philosophical and revolutionary variety.

Often times we “children of the pear garden,” (as my college adviser would often refer to us) are out of sync with the world around us.  Our industry has always been one of forward momentum.  We build, create, and destroy so that we may build and create again the next day.  Technologies and processes employed in our craft are by their design meant to evolve.  If theatre seeks to take a mirror and hold it up to society and reflect back to its audience what it sees, the way in which we reflect must continuously transcend what came before.  An anachronism is by definition out of place with the events around it.  Good theatre, when it is truly spectacular will challenge the status quo by ripping it from its place in time and freeze it for further study and scrutiny.

I genuinely believe that theatre-makers are creatures of perception and understanding.  We are scientists; always observing, experimenting, and asking questions – testing out different theories.  As a result, our world has gotten smaller and smaller.  We do not exist in a vacuum and as the timeline progresses the influence of others has manifested itself in more tangible ways.  What we choose to create, how we build it, and the methods for destruction can no longer be done in the privacy of our back yards.  It will be on YouTube before the day is out.  This is a truth that crosses all disciplines.  The imposed borders placed on us as artists and citizens have been steadily pushed outward until they seem to almost disappear.  The sheer volume of potential held in the most impoverished hands is exponential.  With “local” becoming more “global” the art we choose to produce is more easily accessible by a growing public who often don’t speak our native tongue.  As a borderless generation the responsibility is daunting but equally as exhilarating, because when we finally get it right, the possibilities will be endless.

Nina Yarbrough: The youngest child of a single mother, I was born and raised in Cincinnati, OH. In 2009 I obtained my Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Berea College, located in Berea, KY. There, I studied acting, received my first sewing machine (a Singer Slant-O-Matic Rocketeer which I named Rosie), and where I realized that I am far more dangerous with words, pen, and paper, than any politician or gunslinger this side of the Ohio River. In terms of the here and now, what I am is just another cohesive mass of cells, respiratory complications, and bits of attitude that got mixed up in my mama’s baby oven. I love sushi and chocolate-though not necessarily together, but never having had it…who am I to judge? I have plans of one day taking over the world without anyone noticing. My goals are to lead a long fruitful life, travel, and write as many plays and books of poetry as possible. In the end I simply wish to age gracefully, let my humor be my legacy, and die peacefully with dignity.