Border crossing into real, genuine theatre. (Without the Shakespeare)

by Marilo Nuñez

in National Conference

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(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Survive | Thrive} blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich.) 

We are border crossers. All of us, every single one of us. Even those who think they’ve never travelled across a border, our ancestors, those who came before us, crossed borders. Like indigenous tribes before the conquest, travelling across thousands of miles across deserts and uninhabitable landscapes to find nourishment, shelter and a home, we crossed borders to search for our homes and the truth. Sometimes there were physical borders, and sometimes, psychological ones. But we crossed.

Today, borders contain us and keep us “safe” from harm and wars and invasion. Borders keep “them” out and keep “us” in. More times than not, the creation of these borders lead to wars and incessant violence and fighting. Originally borders were created and defined by geographic boundaries, then they were drawn up following the end of wars and revolutions, and of course, as we know, most of the nations we now know, had their borders imposed on them by colonial occupations or external oppressive political powers. No nation in the world has not at one time or another NOT been occupied. The lines in the sand have been drawn and used for the sole purpose of control and power. And they define us.

But what if we were to erase borders? What would happen to the world, if we were to open up the conversation between nations, territories, city limits? Would wars and conflicts end? Would we begin to blend and share our ancestral stories? This is the question I ask as I think about art and theatre creation today. I wonder, what would happen if we were to allow ourselves the possibility of opening up the borders that currently confine us; to begin to really see ourselves as global beings and really (and I mean really) embrace that dirty word, DIVERSITY? What would happen to our theatre? To really open it up, search far afield and produce work that is not from within the confines of our current “borders”? We don’t even have to look that far actually, because the reality is, our cities have already begun to erase borders. Our metropolitan hubs are the cornerstone for what theatre should and could look like if we allowed ourselves to broaden our scope and cross the borders. One just has to look at the individuals on a subway train to know what I mean.

We have lived within the borders of our realities for far too long. Are the “borders” we’ve created artistically, those defined by privilege, culture, education, colonial history, have these borders created what has become an overwhelmingly uneven distribution of creation and art making in North America? Here, in Canada, where democracy and equality apparently reign supreme, the theatre world has somehow stayed very much in the past, continuing to uphold an aged, male, and white, privileged point of view. Equality is not a mainstay of our theatres when it comes to casting or the plays that are seen on our stages. In a recent article, David Henry Hwang states something so embarrassingly obvious; I don’t understand how we continue to be stuck in the past. He states, “On Broadway and in the major New York theatres, roughly 80% of all roles are currently cast with white actors. Social justice concerns aside, this would be a poor diversity statistic in any industry, and a bad business model. As audiences grow more diverse, the theatre continues to draw from an increasingly shrinking, aging portion of the population. All sides on this debate can agree that theatres and producers should cast the best actor or actress for the job. When 80% of those hired come from only one ethnic group, however, is the best performer even getting a chance to audition?”

I think one of the solutions is to open up the “canon” and begin producing, developing and advocating for work written by non-white and living playwrights. Which brings me to one of the most challenging part of this essay, and in the month where this playwright was celebrated for having his 450th anniversary, it may be unpopular to say… I am about to challenge the underbelly of belief systems on which this country was founded. Colonial rule and the conquest of a nation (and all of the painful repercussions of those acts) are still very present in core values and in the art that we create and produce.  If we want to really put our money where our mouths are (and put more bums in seats) we need to stop producing Shakespeare and we need to put more money into funding the development of plays by living artists who are talking about today, now, our present. This will not only allow more actors of color to work (without the condescension of “color blind casting”) but will actually give our audiences, the ones we complain that are not attending our theatres, a voice. Is it feasible to produce work that speaks to (and about) who we are today with our differences of colors, religions, races, cultural identities, talking to us as we are? Where our differences become a part of the conversation to move us towards our similarities? Where is that border crossing? I want to see it in our theatres!

We would do well to begin to open up our artistic borders and begin sharing our stories across physical, psychological or cultural lines. Crossing a border is about entering into a new, unknown space/territory and bringing your history with you and marrying it with the “other”. Like the nomadic tribes of the time before, we have crossed and traveled across countless borders always searching for truth. And it’s about time that the truth intrinsically included you and I.


Marilo Nuñez is the Artistic Director of one of the only Latino-Canadian theatre companies in Canada. Alameda Theatre Company produces Canadian theatre with a distinct Latin American perspective, developing new work by Latino playwrights, creating professional opportunities for our artists and mentoring the next generation of Latino artists in Canada.