Theatre Without Borders: Our History
The evolution of Theatre Without Borders (TWB) began in November 2003 when American theatre director Roberta Levitow returned to the U.S. from a Fulbright Senior Specialist residency at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Following attendance at Egypt’s renowned Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre and theatre workshops in East Africa and Poland, she was searching for artists, theatres and organizations in the U.S. that shared her interest in international exchange.
She soon discovered other friends and colleagues who were infused with the spirit of internationalism: Erik Ehn, playwright (former Dean of Theatre at Cal Arts & Chair of the Theatre Department at Brown University, presently at University of New Mexico) who had traveled to Rwanda in order to write his theatrical response to the 1994 Genocide of the Tutsi’s Maria Kizito; Catherine Filloux another Fulbright Senior Specialist and playwright, who had been creating theatre pieces with artists in Cambodia; and Deborah Brevoort, also a playwright, who had done playwriting in Denmark, Mexico, Australia and Canada.
Together, this small group started meeting to talk about ways to activate and expand international theatre exchange in the U.S. They began a series of conversations with Joan Channick (former Deputy Director of Theatre communications Group & Director of the International Theatre Institute/US Center and Dean of the Yale School of Drama, presently Professor in the Practice of Theater Management and Chair of the Theater Management program at the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale), as well as with Todd London (formerly of New Dramatists and Head of the Theatre Program at the University of Washington, presently Head of the MFA Playwriting Program at the New School’s School of Drama and the Director of Theatre Relations for the Dramatists Guild of America.)
On May 10, 2004, Catherine organized an informal “theatre without borders” gathering at New Dramatists to discuss international exchange. Expecting no more than 15 people to attend, they were surprised to find the theatre packed with 70 theatre artists who had heard about the gathering via word of mouth and had shown up to the part of the conversation. Before we knew it, our e-mail list of 6 names had grown to over 400 worldwide.
Morgan Allen (playwright and former General Manager at New Dramatists), offered to help us create and maintain our original website (with enormous thanks to technical advisor Randy Paris.) Daniel Banks (director, NYU performing arts scholar and presently co-director of DNAWORKS), offered to help us design and implement our symposium in New York City. Directors Sarah Cameron Sunde and Marie-Louise Miller of The Translation Think Tank offered to collaborate on a pilot international translation project. Ellen Kaplan, artist and Smith College professor, offered to edit a book featuring essays on international exchange.
The eventual April 2005 two-day symposium at New Dramatists in New York City, entitled THE FUTURE OF INTERNATIONAL EXCHANGE: CHALLENGES, REWARDS, RESPONSIBILITIES, POSSIBILITIES, drew over 100 theatre artists and administrators from throughout the United States and around the world. Director and producer Marcy Arlin (Immigrants Theatre Project), playwright Ruth Margraff (presently at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago), director and dramaturg Daniel Brunet (German Theatre Abroad) and theatre artist & web designer Greg Beuthin were some of the participants who joined the ever expanding and evolving TWB working group.
Between 2005 and 2015, Theatre Without Borders continued to grow in community and in influence. Early and valued advisors included international theatre veterans the late-Martha Coigney (former Executive Director of the I.T.I. US Center), Philip Arnoult (Founding Director of the Center for International Theatre Development, Towson, Maryland), Bill Reichblum (formerly of Kadmus Arts, presently the Publisher of the journal LIBERTIES), Michael Fields (Dell’Arte Theatre Company), Emilya Cachapero (T.C.G./Theatre Communications Group’s I.T.I US Center) and Melanie Joseph (formerly the Founding Director of The Foundry).
In 2005, TWB began a 7-year relationship with Dr. Cynthia Cohen at Brandeis University (formerly of the Co-Existence Program, presently Director of the Peacebuilding and the Arts Program). With the goal of exploring the intersection of Theatre and Peacebuilding, Dr. Cohen led an inquiry that resulted in a 2-volume anthology, a 50-minute documentary and the ongoing ACTING TOGETHER ON THE WORLD STAGE PROJECT (https://www.atwsresources.com/).
The ACTING TOGETHER PROJECT work culminated in the September 2010, ACTING TOGETHER ON THE WORLD STAGE Conference at La MaMa, where over 400 artists from over 30 countries spent 4-days together examining theatre practice in conflict zones. Today TWB artists continue to provide insights into theatre and peacebuilding practice world-wide.
On January 7, 2015, TWB celebrated a partnership with Marie Le Sourd of On the Move (the European Union cultural mobility website) and Dr. Frank Hentschker of the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, The Graduate Center, CUNY to create the first-ever Cultural Mobility Funding Guide for the USA: Theatre, Dance and the Performing Arts. The Launch Symposium was attended by over 300 guests from over 25 countries.
January 28-February 1, 2015, TWB partnered with the former Tricklock Company and their Revolutions International Theatre Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to create a Symposium weekend discussing in-depth questions about inter-cultural practice. The partnership with Tricklock Company, now renamed Revolutions Inc., has continued. Co-organized symposiums have included focus on youth, education and most recently the climate crisis.
Since 2017, TWB has worked in active partnership with Chantal Bilodeau, playwright and founding director of The Arctic Cycle (Arts & Climate Change) to create The Climate Change Theatre Action as global arts-activism each COP/Conference of the Partners meetings 2017, 2019, 2021. This interaction led to the Theatre in the Age of Climate Change Convening hosted by the Howlround Theatre Commons in Boston, at Emory College: https://howlround.com/theatre-in-the-age-of-climate-change-convening
In 2020, with abundant thanks to Lisa Schlesinger (playwright, University of Iowa theatre faculty member and TWB core-member) along with TWB co-founder Catherine Filloux, TWB began negotiations with the University of Iowa Special Collections, as part of the University of Iowa Libraries, to accept and maintain the Theatre Without Borders (TWB) Archives. This donation was completed in 2022. The University of Iowa Theatre Department is pleased to partner TWB in receiving the donation, as the university evolves a new theatre arts & social change certificate program. The University of Iowa Special Collections “advances direct engagement in learning, research, and creative work through providing staff expertise and exceptional collections on our campus and worldwide. We acquire, preserve, and make available primary sources in many areas and across many disciplines and historical periods. We nourish creative research, learning, and teaching for a broad audience. We emphasize the artefactual nature of our materials, but encourage additional interaction with them by providing digitized versions.” The presence of Theatre Without Borders on-campus at the University of Iowa promises additional possibilities for special events, courses, and symposia that will engage the campus community with national and global practitioners exploring the intersection of the arts and positive social change.
Today, TWB continues to inspire and to be inspired by the passion and creativity of the international performing arts community