Going Beyond Borders with Young Theatre-Makers

by Emily Goulding

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. Submit your own essay for consideration to Gus Schulenburg.)

Blame it on the Internet.

Due to the way millenials share ideas, the work of international theater makers under 30 now has a common look and feel. Indeed, at no other point in history have young artists in places as disparate as New York, Palestine, Mexico, and Los Angeles been making work that is so strikingly similar in aesthetic and intent. In all of those places, young theater work is multi-media, is referential, and is collectivist. Think Banksy, but in Brazil. It is international by extension, rendering it disruptive by accident.

It goes beyond borders.

Here’s how Young New Globalists are breaking through the aesthetic and administrative borders that encapsulate modern theater-making:

Going Beyond Aesthetic Borders: From Berlin to the Bay Area, young theater makers are going beyond traditional theater and are fully embracing digital theatricality. For millenials, their “fourth wall” is the Internet. Millenials conceive of life in digital terms, and to a certain extent conceive of storytelling in digital terms. Postmodern, digital theater techniques – such as projections, graphics, and the use of Skype and Ustream – are an essential part of the millennial aesthetic, and digital audiences are a core, if not paramount, part of their audience.

This lends itself well to international work. Digital technology has made all the world a stage, and Facebook has made all millenials into documentarians. International theater makers can now share resources, experiences, and even entire performances with audiences in other countries, and in real time. And what messages are they sharing, these under-30 artists across the world? For the last couple years it’s been Have Hope, and Occupy.

Going Beyond Administrative Borders: The operational and administrative intuition of the Young New Globalist also functions beyond the borders of the institutional art world. Given that they are digital natives, they have an inherent sense that they can be everywhere at the same time, and this – at least to a certain degree – is incongruent with the legal and monetary structure of the sector.

For our sector and for society at large, globalization is more of a concept than it is a legal and monetary reality. Borders very much do exist, and are in fact strongly enforced. As advocates in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform movement remind us, goods and businesses move across borders easier than people do.

As it stands, international cultural work requires time-specified visas and country-specific funding which is usually “restricted”, as we say in the Development world. The restrictions are both administrative and political: line item expenditures are cemented, and politically sensitive countries – such as Cuba – are off-limits, even though they are producing some of the most interesting new theater work. When it comes to cultural exchange, the most politically salient program design is not always the most artistically salient choice.

The Young New Globalists adapt to this structure because they have to, but they fundamentally don’t understand why international cultural work has to be done only in this way. For a generation that can talk to their cousin in China anytime they want to via Skype, bureaucratic boundaries ring somewhat absurd. The Young New Globalist yearns for the same operational freedoms that their funders (some of whom are international corporations) enjoy: they yearn to spend their grant funds in a way that best supports the project and best advances the discipline, on whichever platform or in whichever country it may be practiced.

As the Young New Globalist moves into positions of leadership within organizations, institutional changes we might see in the next decade include: 1) the formation of a new legal status for international non-profits that would have the ability to do business with both for-profit and non-profit entities in multiple countries simultaneously, 2) the normalization of the “crowd-sourced” approach to funding, such as Kickstarter or the Pepsi Refresh campaign, 3) increased investment in individual creatives capable of creating micro or macro-level impact, such as the Creative Capital or Ashoka model.

Millenials can have unique capacity to contribute to the field of theater-making. They just need the capital and the operational flexibility to be able to implement their “beyond borders” approach.

Emily Goulding handles GALA’s fund development efforts. She began her career at Cornerstone Theater Company, and then went on to raise millions of dollars for community arts and media projects across the Americas. Prior to joining GALA, Emily managed the civic engagement work of Voto Latino, co-founded by Rosario Dawson. There, she managed communications campaigns that leveraged partnerships with iTunes, MTV3, and other pop culture outlets to reach millions of millennial Latinos. Emily is also a published essayist on issues of culture, politics, and new American communities. She holds a Bachelors degree in Modern Literature from U.C. Santa Cruz, and a Masters degree in Journalism from Georgetown University. Emily is of Irish and Nicaraguan descent, and is honored to help GALA build the future of Latino theatre.

  • Guest

    You should be writing for the WaPo style section