Generation Without Gatekeepers

by Cory Tamler

in Generation Without Borders

Post image for Generation Without Gatekeepers

(Generation Without Borders is an essay series created by TCG for the 50th Anniversary of World Theatre Day. Submit your own essay for consideration to Gus Schulenburg.)

There is geography. There are borders between nations and borders between states and there is the border that separates my yard from your yard. These borders are symbols that are frequently concretized: a picket fence, the Berlin Wall.

There is the socioeconomic. There are borders between people with and without money; people with the best education, a poor education, no education. There are borders between people with and without smartphones.

There are people themselves. There are borders between races and borders between genders and borders between cultures and borders between people with different beliefs, and there’s the border marking the edge of each human mind, which may be the only border that’s truly, fundamentally, uncrossable.

Today’s theater world is a world of institutions. Even in America, the land of do-it-yourself, the bootstrap nation, theatermakers define ourselves by our relationships to major institutions. We intern at them, beg them to hire us as directors and designers, cajole them to produce our plays (and rail against them when they don’t). Some of us have our day jobs at them as administrators while the rest of us complain that all the money’s going to administrative salaries. We fork over cash to educational institutions for MFA’s and, later, support ourselves by teaching at those same institutions. Most theater professionals are gatekeepers, become gatekeepers, or depend for our artistic survival on our skillfulness at charming gatekeepers.

Gatekeeper implies a gate implies a barrier implies a border. A generation without borders will be a generation without gatekeepers.

Eva Bendl (Germany), Christina Kruise (USA), and Lily Junker (USA) in Yinzerspielen's 2009 production of Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? by German playwright Nora Schuessler. Cory Tamler directed this cross-cultural, bi-lingual premiere in Pittsburgh.

The most important theoretical and critical work being done in American theater today is the move towards countering the traditional institutional model through the creation of a creative commons. The New Play Institute’s explorations of the potential of new media – HowlRound, #Newplay TV, the New Play Map – are working to break down a lot of different barriers. Geographic. Artist/critic. Emerging/established. The idea of a creative commons is rapidly evolving in a direction that will provide an alternative to the institution-based gatekeeper model. It’s my generation’s job to make that alternative viable and, someday, preferable by participating in the creative commons, ignoring the gatekeepers, and acting as if the borders don’t exist.

And what does that mean for artistic practice, the work itself? Traditional theater, with its text-director-performers-audience hierarchy, reinforces the gatekeeper mentality. The text is gatekeeper to a higher truth. The director is gatekeeper to the text. The actors and designers are gatekeepers to the director’s vision. The audience is left outside clamoring to get in.

If we want to break out of this gatekeeper tradition, my generation of theatermakers must also stop making theater that reinforces it. Explore models that don’t privilege text, director, or space. Break barriers within our practice: make site-specific work, make community-based work, make interdisciplinary work, make cross-cultural work. Many of us are doing it already. Let’s be conscious about the choice. To be a generation without borders, we’ve got to generate without borders.


Cory Tamler is a playwright, director and theatermaker with a degree in physics and philosophy. Her plays have been produced in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Troy NY, Augsburg, Germany, and, most recently, in Scarborough, ME, where she was the playwright for Open Waters Theater Arts’ (www.open-waters.orgOf Farms and Fables, a community-based theater project conceived by director Jennie Hahn that put farmers and farm workers onstage alongside professional actors in a play about the future of agriculture. She was a 2010/2011 Fulbright Scholar to Berlin and a guest blogger at the 2011 Theatertreffen, Germany’s biggest theater festival. Her small international performance collective, Yinzerspielen (www.yinzerspielen.org), is committed to performance as research and the furthering of dynamic artist/audience relationships; right now, Yinzerspielen projects include theater in apartments and in Germany, and new plays written from Brazilian poetry and about hydraulic fracturing. Cory currently lives in Brooklyn but travels often. She will head to Belgrade this September on a CEC ArtsLink Project grant to create a site-transformative performance piece in collaboration with Serbian theater artists.