One of the most common accusations we hear from adults is that the younger generation ‘only knows how to moan’. This is what we think about when we sit down to write our thoughts about the future of theatre and we stop short. Is all we have to say anything more than a small court where we judge art as it now exists and convict the guilty ones? We have a lot of complaints, we won’t deny that. But if you want us to be completely honest -at this point, allow us to blow our own trumpet- we believe that without our critique, this field will remain stagnant. The world is changing, evolving (perhaps even improving, if we want to be optimistic) and we must constantly push in that direction. We will make sure to have a counter-proposal for all things we criticise but we also ask you to do your part and listen to us.
The first issue that concerns us is the so-called ‘theatre for teenagers’. With one of us being a fifth-year student of high school and the other one a first-year student of the university, we had a lot of time to explore this stage in recent years. Through conversation, however, we realize that of the numerous performances each one of us has attended, very few really belonged to this stage and even fewer have touched us. The problem is simple: teenage theatre was rarely really ‘teenage’. It spoke more to an adult audience and simply wore the label of youth or -and this was the most common- it addressed children.
We realize, of course, that what we are asking for implies a highly elusive balance between the elements of childhood and maturity, a balance that represents adolescence. But since the directors of the youth performances have been there themselves, shouldn’t they be able to easily identify with the young people of today? Maybe that’s what they want to believe. But times change and people forget (we do not blame you, but we want to be honest…). Either to avoid taboo subjects, which, however, are as difficult to discuss as they are inseparable from a fundamentally convincing narrative of adolescence or because perhaps even the most open-minded adult does not break away from the stereotypes that the media zealously bombard them with regarding the younger generations, the end result is far from the real concerns of the teenagers as much as the actors are far from the ages of the characters they represent, leading to a representation-parody.
The problem is simple: teenage theatre was rarely really ‘teenage’. It spoke more to an adult audience and simply wore the label of youth or -and this was the most common- it addressed children.
And while we cannot ask you to go back in time and remember your youth (sorry again), you always have the opportunity to involve the target audience at every phase of the creative process, to talk to them, to ask for their help – either during rehearsals or on the stage itself. Quite simply: we believe that the most honest narrative, free from the creator’s fear of disappointing the audience, will be the one based on immediate and unfiltered feedback – and if you think it as a risk, we promise it is not, and we take full responsibility.
One of the questions that arise, as we discuss ‘forbidden’ issues, stands out: How much is it permitted to expose a young person to issues of politics, both of general, historical matters and (and this is where concerns arise) of current affairs their country faces? Our answer is ‘as much as you dare speak without hiding behind your finger’.
The truth is that, no matter how much we like to ignore it, our generation was thrown in the deep quickly and abruptly, and this deems it the most sensitized one so far. We grew up during the financial crisis and the refugee crisis, we learned, since elementary school, what foods are long-lasting, we went to the supermarket with coins in hand and shopped ‘for the families who needed it’ – we did not know these families, but probably the younger the age, the more spontaneous the desire to offer help. With the rise of the anti-climate change movement, we saw on television teenagers our age (or even younger) fighting against the most powerful people on the planet, we bought metal flasks and straws, we became vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian and any other ‘-erian’ each one of us could support, we took on the streets and demonstrated. In 2019, the children of 2002 became, at the age of 17, the first minor(!) voters in the parliamentary elections of Greece.
So we ask you, and the question is highly rhetorical: Do you think that a young person today will not be able to manage a political performance? On the contrary, young people are thirsty for information, desperately looking for new ways to channel their concerns, to share their restlessness. After all, we have the same democratic rights you have. So why should we be excluded from the dialogue which feeds them? If you are afraid that we will not understand some historical or conceptually complex aspects of such a performance, explain them to us (and we promise not to pretend we already know and listen) but if you are afraid that we are indifferent to such issues, then very simply, without a trace of self-pity and without asking for your pity, we answer that we have not been given this option.
This is the world in which we live. That’s why it surprises us that it is completely different from the one we see on the theatre stage. If not in the name of social activism, then in the name of (any) realism, where are the LGBTQI+ characters? Where are the disabled, the neurodivergent, and (we emphasize the ‘and’, as opposed to ‘or’ because real people do not choose ONE identity as a cover and are done with it) the characters of national diversity? And when they -rarely- appear, why should their role be either secondary or purely focused on the difficulties they face as part of the minority? The cis, heterosexual, white, able-bodied, neurotypical man as the focus of the majority of the works that are performed is not only tiring; it is slowly alienating the audience as well.
So we ask you, and the question is highly rhetorical: Do you think that a young person today will not be able to manage a political performance?
We want characters in whom we can see ourselves, our friends, our boyfriends/girlfriends/partners (of any gender), and in fact written and played by people who belong to the very minorities they describe. Proper representation of minorities is an immediate demand of the young audience (weighty word, we know it, but we will use it anyway) and not for reasons of moral destigmatization, but simply because that is how the world is. Whoever refuses to capture it probably refuses to live in it as well and we will not feed their delusions.
Of course, we cannot ignore the obvious when making suggestions for the future of theatre: the role that technology will play. Electronic devices and social media are coming to offer brand new platforms to expand the artist and new possibilities to experiment as digital media evolves and becomes more and more easily accessible. Maybe technology is influencing traditional art spaces with virtual tours and online performances? Or in the very experience of the spectators and their interaction with the work of art, allowing them to become co-creators by simply pushing a button? In the new decade, the almighty smartphone and its applications are slowly trying to penetrate the field of modern theatre and their proposals are admittedly tempting.
So instead of telling you the obvious -we are neither programmers nor directors to give the Ten Plus One Ways to this new spectacular, ‘digital’ theatre- we will tell you the opposite: DO NOT count on sensationalism. Admittedly, the unknown and the new, when combined with the stereotypical young person, for whom the mobile phone is an extension of their hand, attract attention. But if we are sure of one thing, it is that nothing, no matter how popular or impressive it is, can replace the essential content and dialogue between the work of art and the viewer.
If an idea can get off the ground with the help of technical means, we will be at the forefront to support it. However, the use of technology in the name of the use of technology alone can only bring a very superficial result, sterile from all forms of vitality and humanity, a bait whose mere presence will offend the demanding spectator. Especially coming out of quarantine, each of us will have already spent in front of a screen as many hours as we would in a lifetime. Do not waste our time just because your budget allows it.
So this is what we had to say about the future of theatre. Or maybe not. Because with each passing moment we will have new concerns, new complaints, new proposals. You may think that we are either awkward or ungrateful, or self-absorbed and in love with the sound of our voices when we whine, or that we are tired of confinement, distance education, and online labs. However, we are probably just tired, but passionate, both about what is happening around us and about the art that is born from it, with loud voices that we want -and will force them- to be heard.