This short essay was originally submitted to the TCG Generations without Borders essay competition for World Theatre Day 2012, answering, in part, their question of what a generation without borders means to me, a theatrical creator. Happy World Theatre Day, everyone.)
Theatre is inherently local.
As a proud, card-carrying member of the Generation Without Borders, this was a hard realization. With the internet, social networking, RSS feeds, and email listings, it has never been so easy to connect with members of one’s own culture, to find and form groups of people, to communicate, and to connect. For some mediums, this has lead to a new renaissance. Why not for theatres as well! But we theatre-makers can’t take full advantage… at least not in the same way as other mediums are doing so.
For example, consider video-makers; they have never had it so rich, with YouTube alone hosting 48 hours of new content every minute – nearly eight years of content uploaded every day, and over three billion videos viewed each day. We have more and more designer cable networks. Netflix. Hulu. (Though not here in Canada.) There is more potential for creation with this medium than ever before. Not quite borderless, as the Chinese government, and Hulu, and proponents of SOPA and PIPA would assure you, but we’re getting there.
For theatre-makers, however, our medium cannot exponentially blossom in the same way. Don’t get me wrong; with communications technology, some costs do go down. We have new ways to find our audiences. But we are still inherently local; we need bums in seats.
This is, however, also our advantage, for as the world continues to trade face-to-face meetings for phone texts and facebook chats, or television programs for grandmother’s stories, the power of in-person performance can only grow. The strength of theatre – that connection between actors and audience, that sense of singular, ephemeral event – will only grow stronger. As real world connections become fewer and farther between, the electricity of great theatre will become even more shocking, palpitating, energizing.
So I am an optimist. While more people choose to spend their evenings at home, we now have better ways than ever to find those local audience members who want to build theatrical experiences with us. And those people we find, will discover those hours in the theatre to be more radically different to their day-to-day lives than ever before, because here, at its simplest element, is a person in the same room as you, talking to you, telling you a story.