Contributed by Ianthe Demos
It strikes me that as a theater generation that is crossing borders and cultures with an ease that was hitherto unknown uncommon we carry a great responsibility.
How do we move towards eradicating old divisions and creating interdependence while simultaneously ensuring that theater remains a reflection of cultural, political and societal diversity?
As a director that divides her creative time between Greece and New York City, an artistic director that runs a company brimming with international artists, and an artist manager who has traveled across the world for the past ten years with a variety of international companies, I often wonder about the impact that my exposure to diversity has had on my work and my artistic beliefs.
I do not assume that the work I create as a director in the mountain villages of northern Greece will play the same way in the heart of NYC. Fundamentally, I understand that my audiences have different needs and desires in each place. I have a deep respect for the fact that as a performing company touring throughout the world the work must allow itself to be impacted by differing cultural environments. Simultaneously, as the artistic director of One Year Lease Theater Company, I have spent the last several years premiering work by international playwrights in NYC in an effort to expose NY audiences to these works and hopefully create cultural bridges thereby.
I do believe that we must be a generation without borders when it comes to presenting each other’s work. The beauty of the local becoming global is that, as artists we have greater opportunities to be exposed to a diverse range of work, explore the impact of that work on our own creative process and engage attempts to understand and celebrate our differences.
I also believe that we must be a generation that embraces our varying borders when it comes to creating work. We must remain open to the beauty that comes with being a foreigner and experiencing work that we don’t fully grasp due to a cultural, societal or political divide. It is, after all, these differences that retain the vibrancy of the theatrical event.
I was in a rehearsal room this past weekend with members of OYL’s acting ensemble. The project is a devised piece the company is creating entitled Shifting Baselines. The piece explores the influence of American culture on Balkan border crossings and migrants in the region. Our work on the piece has taken us in varying directions thus far: mask work; images and lines of text compiled from a visit to the Albania/Greece border crossing; improv work in which the ensemble explored its personal responses to nationalism; and various physical, character and textual workshops. We have become aware that however the piece evolves we must ensure that while inspiration is drawn, in part, from Balkan border crossings, we are not attempting to put ourselves in our subjects’ shoes but rather communicate on our understanding of them, from our cultural perspective.
During a summer evening in August 2011 OYL’s acting ensemble and I found ourselves sitting at a table outside a coffee stand by the Kakavia border – the crossing between Albania and Greece. Some of us watched a young man asking for money – and one of our actors asked if I would find out what he thought of America. I gave the man whatever change I had on me and struck up a conversation. It was only later when we were back in our rehearsal room that I discovered how this moment had made some of our company members uncomfortable.
We believed that this particular man would have jumped at any ability to escape his present condition, and here I was asking him questions for a theater piece with no intention other than to use our conversation as inspiration. It was the self-indulgence on my part that was the source of debate. The conflict inherent in my very interaction with the man now remains part of the exploration of the work. We are deliberately, and at times self-consciously, examining American influences on Balkan border crossings through the eyes of artists based in the US.
As borders become easier to cross we have a unique opportunity to unashamedly explore that which we don’t understand. Ultimately borders are equally strong depictions of a beautiful and powerful diversity as they are of the differences that harm us.
Ianthe Demos is the Artistic Director of One Year Lease Theater Company. OYL is committed to the creation of new work, the training of young theater artists, the development of new scripts inspired by ancient stories, and the advancement of international collaboration in the theater. Ianthe also directs within the company and is currently working on an upcoming production of Mark Ravenhill's pool (no water) which will receive its NYC premiere in May 2012.
Generation Without Borders is an essay contest created by Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the home of the U.S. center of the International Theater Institute(ITI-US), as part of the 50th Anniversary of World Theatre Day. To learn more about TCG/ITI-US and World Theatre Day, please click here.