The World Theatre Day/Crossing Borders Salon: Canada

by Chantal Bilodeau

in Global Citizenship

Post image for The World Theatre Day/<i>Crossing Borders</i> Salon: Canada

(This post is a part of the World Theatre Day 2014/Crossing Borders blog salon. Email Gus Schulenburg if you’d like to participate.)

We cross borders all the time. When we take actions that are not in accordance with our values, we cross psychological borders. When we make ourselves vulnerable by opening up to someone we don’t know, we cross emotional borders. When we make an effort to encounter people from different countries, we cross cultural borders. And so on.

Crossing borders requires specific skills: we must reach deep, open our hearts and be willing to accept change. It is first and foremost an act of transformation. Confronted with the unknown, we choose whether to embrace it or reject it. And this choice, because it pushes us out of our comfort zone and forces us to look at the world with new eyes, can be destabilizing. We start to worry about the future or long for the past. We fret. Yet the truth is that the outcome hardly matters. The very act of crossing the border is, in and of itself, both the challenge and the reward.

Just like border crossing, theatre is an act of transformation. We watch characters overcome obstacles in the pursuit of something they deeply care about. We silently witness the challenges and the losses and the heartaches. We accompany them to the very brink of decision, to that place where no further movement is possible unless the old skin is shed. And in that moment where a character bravely crosses her own personal borders and surrenders to the need to transform, we, through the miracle of empathy, transform too.

I am proud to say I have crossed many borders in my life. I left Canada as an adult and created a new life for myself in the U.S. I abandoned one profession (graphic design) and embraced a new one (playwriting). I learned to write plays in a language that is not my mother tongue. Through translation, I constantly hop back and forth between cultures. And most recently, I have taken to exploring the border between art and science, and art and policy.

Perhaps because I am used to crossing borders, I naturally gravitate towards them. So I was thrilled when TCG asked me to curate this blog salon series highlighting border-crossing theatre artists. While my colleague Andrea Thome will focus on Mexico, I will look at ways in which the U.S. interacts with its Northern neighbor. Interestingly, the U.S.-Canada border is the longest international border in the world shared between the same pair of countries. But while a line drawn on a map centuries ago defines who we pay taxes to, cultural influences tend to ignore this construction and run on a North-South axis: Toronto has probably more in common with New York than with Vancouver, and the spirit of the West Coast is as well and alive in British Columbia as it is in California.

Over the next few weeks, I will be inviting Canadian and American theatre artists to share their border-crossing experiences. You will hear from organizations in both countries involved in U.S.-Canada collaborations. You will meet Canadian artists who have made the U.S. their homes and U.S. artists who have moved to Canada. You will also be introduced to some of Canada’s “internal” borders. With two distinct languages and cultures and a significant First Nation population, all spread out over a huge geographic area, it seems Canadians are always reaching across some sort of divide to encounter each other. I am excited to take you on this journey and I hope these stories will inspire you to cross a new border, or at the very least, to cross a familiar one with a renewed taste for adventure.

Chantal Bilodeau is a New York-based playwright and translator originally from Montreal. She also serves as the Artistic Director of The Arctic Cycle – an organization created to support the writing, development and production of eight plays that examine the impact of climate change on the eight countries of the Arctic. Recent awards include the 2014 Woodward International Playwriting Prize as well as First Prize in the 2012 Earth Matters on Stage Ecodrama Festival and the 2011 Uprising National Playwriting Competition. She is the recipient of a Jerome Travel & Study Grant and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.