Written by Magda Romanska and Kasia Lech

All theatre is local. All theatre is global. Both statements are true: theatre has always been and continues to be a vehicle for national identity formation, self-representation, and self-understanding, but increasingly it is also becoming a place for international dialogue, where disparate cultures, values, and national interests can find, if not mutual understanding, at least mutual coexistence. Yet making and writing about theatre in a global context is not that easy.  That is why we founded TheTheatreTimes.com

TheTheatreTimes.com is an all-volunteer international digital platform that seeks to globalize theatre criticism by challenging unequal modes of sharing and accessing knowledge. We showcase theatre, theatre artists, and theatre organizations in less visible places through local voices that know and understand local cultures and theatre ecosystems. TheTheatreTimes.com publishes reviews, interviews, essays, and news stories each day from a variety of sources, searchable by country, region, professional field, and topic. In addition to original content, we have agreements with many regional publications that allow us to repost their stories, reviews, interviews, and articles, further enhancing our readers’ experience and allowing them to connect to other theatre-makers and theatre-goers around the world.

Since its launch in November 2016, TheTheatreTimes.com has published over 5,000 articles, interviews, and theatre reviews covering theatre in 90 countries and regions. With 32 thematic sections, more than 150 Regional Managing Editors, and over 60 media partners around the world, we have grown to be the most far-reaching and comprehensive global theatre portal today.

TheTheatreTimes.com is envisioned as a transnational discursive space that brings together theatre scholars, theatre-makers, and theatre lovers, generating opportunities for interaction and creative development amongst a wide network. Our collaborative, decentralized model runs counter to so-called helicopter research, an approach in which less wealthy nations provide research source material but don’t always share the benefits of the research: “Most scientific-journal articles come from wealthy countries in the global north. Often, well-funded researchers initiate short-term projects in southern countries — which are typically poorer and often have a history of colonial occupation — frequently without seeking substantive local input or expertise. Dubbed parachute or helicopter research, this is a long-standing tradition steeped in colonialism.”[1]

During much of the last century, Western theatre scholarship and theatre-making have been in a similar, somewhat predatory — colonial and postcolonial — relationship with the rest of the world. American, British, or Western European theatre scholars and artists would travel to faraway locales — Africa, Asia, South America, or Eastern Europe — to gain some, often superficial, knowledge of the local theatre ecosystem. They would use whatever they needed for their scholarship and theatre-making, too often without concern for the people and art they’d borrowed, written about, and left behind. The entire semiotic landscape of a particular culture would be subsumed under Western understanding, processed, and interpreted through the prism of Western cultural codes and canons. This is not to say that such a state of affairs has never led to mutually respectful relationships and collaborations, but such methodology has not benefited the rest of the world and has also not helped the West.

In today’s interconnected, global world, social media and digital tools provide access to the virtual public space for everyone, and Western scholars and theatre-makers do not need to serve as cultural intermediaries. By giving a platform to local, and regional editors, native language speakers, and cultural insiders, TheTheatreTimes.com seeks a new model of intercultural exchange. All of our editors have direct access to our platform; they are interpreters of their own cultures; and they represent their theatre as is, without filters. Thanks to modern technology, developing such a pluralistic model of cultural sharing is no longer a pipe dream. In the old model, access to international theatre and the accompanying professional network of collaborators and opportunities was owned by those who could afford to travel. Even today, specialized articles written by knowledgeable scholars familiar with local theatre cultures are often locked behind paywalls of commercial scholarly online platforms. Most theatre practitioners and academics around the world do not have or cannot afford access to these databases.[2]

In addition to generating original content, we have also acted as an archival depository of local theatre research that would otherwise disappear. Since our founding, we have saved many archives of online theatre publications that went defunct for lack of resources. These include theatre criticism covered by the Central and Eastern European London Review, the Buenos Aires Herald, Teater1.dk, the British Ukrainian Society, AltTheatre Canada, The Blurb Australia, and Niquash (documenting Iraqi culture), to name a few. We consider preserving the legacies of these local online outlets essential to maintaining local theatre ecosystems and theatre research.

TheTheatreTimes.com: The Story

TheTheatreTimes.com was founded in 2016 by Magda Romanska and Beatriz Cabur, a London-based theatre director and playwright. Since 2018, TheTheatreTimes.com has been under the leadership of Magda Romanska and Kasia Lech. Romanska is a scholar, dramaturg, and writer; Professor of Theatre at Emerson College in Boston, MA; Principal Researcher at metaLAB (at) Harvard; and a Faculty Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard. Kasia Lech is a theatre artist, scholar, and Associate Professor of Global Performance History at the University of Amsterdam. She is also an Affiliate at metaLAB (at) Harvard.

Since its inception, TheTheatreTimes.com has launched a number of special features, including Performap.com and the International Online Theatre Festival. Funded through the Yale Digital Humanities Lab and an LMDA Innovation Grant, Performap is an Interactive Digital Map of Global Theatre Festivals. The map allows users to find and track all international theatre festivals happening around the world in real-time. It provides information about the location, dates, website, and reports written by local writers and traveling reporters. The map is searchable by location, type of festival and date. Performap is an invaluable resource for scholastic, journalistic, and management research on theatre and performance festivals worldwide. Scholars specializing in theatre and performance studies, anthropology, sociology, economics, and urban planning can use it for broad research on culture and local economies.

Another TheTheatreTimes’s initiative is the International Online Theatre Festival (IOTF), which showcases a range of work from global artists and companies, as well as renowned filmmakers who have turned to theatre as a mode through which to explore process, craftsmanship, and performativity. In the span of one month, IOTF presents works by international theatre artists and companies from around the world, serving as a platform for encounters between international theatre and audiences. It is free to participate and free to watch, aiming to create an online space that blurs geographical boundaries and brings us together as a community. IOFT is underpinned by TheTheatreTimes.com’s aims to decolonize theatre criticism and provide more accessible modes for theatre encounters.

IOFT also gives opportunities for close meetings between artists, spectators, and scholars through its online discussion panels and through the theme of the festival that every year responds to an urgent social issue. In 2019, the focus was on transformation and resistance. In 2020 and 2021, the themes were contextualized by the global COVID-19 pandemic. IOTF 2020, which launched during the lockdowns served as a global space for isolated theatre community, streaming shows from many countries and regions.  IOFT 2021 spotlighted works made and/or captured during the lockdown as artists, theatres, and audiences adapted to the challenges of making work during the pandemic. The 2023 theme, Theatre and Its Others, honoured the human, animal, and machine interdependencies of theatre practices and tested cultural, social, political, and economic acts of “Othering.”

IOFT 2023 presented 39 shows from 23 countries, across all six continents; IOTF 2021 showcased 33 shows from 24 countries; IOTF 2020 featured 42 shows from 16 countries; and IOTF 2019 featured 26 shows from 10 countries. In total, all four editions of the festival showcased over one hundred global theatre shows, with over a million people participating in the four editions. We also have been collaborating with partners such as the European Theatre Convention, Digital Theatre+, Ninateka, Polish Cultural Institute in London, Between.Pomiędzy Foundation, Schaubühne Berlin, and metaLAB (at) Harvard, ensuring the engagement of new artists and audiences. Following TheTheatreTimes.com’s pluralistic approach to cultural sharing, the IOTF repertoire is always led by its local, regional editors, native language speakers, and cultural insiders. This way, we ensure that the IOFT reflects the diversity of voices in contemporary global theatre. Our audiences continue to grow. They include seasoned theatre-goers but also new users, who have never before attended a live theatre show. IOTF reached many corners of the world, and we often receive words of gratitude from viewers who would not be able to see the wealth of cultural output we provide if it were not freely available on the internet.

In 2017, OnTap did a podcast about us, and called us a ‘heroic project.’[3] In 2018, we won the Elliott Hayes Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dramaturgy from the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA.org). In 2021, our International Online Theatre Festival was the second-place winner of the Culture Online International Award for “Best Online Project.” A total of 452 projects were submitted for the competition from more than 20 countries.

Challenges

This has not been easy. In fact, it has been exhausting, and at times impossible, with challenges related to economic and political realities, resources, sustainability, and invisible labor.  Global conflicts often ask of us to negotiate between competing transnational interests; disparities in support of local cultures demand that we stretch our resources beyond our capacities; the issues we cover, from refugee crises, genocides, and the COVID-19 pandemic, to international women, disability and LGBTQ+ rights — or their lack — leave us hopeless. And yet, out of the wreckage of human lives left behind by the daily global calamities, we also see the indomitable human spirit sprouting through. We see theatre artists rising up to reclaim their voices, their rights, their stories, and their dignity. We see theatre that connects and communicates, that faces, with perseverance and the quiet heroism of everyday life and everyday art making, the trauma and misery of human existence.

TheTheatreTimes.com and all its projects are free to access. We — Magda and Kasia — envision TheTheatreTimes.com as foremost a service organization, filling in the blanks in coverage and visibility for overlooked regions, organizations, and people; and welcoming, and supporting, as many colleagues as we can with the scarce resources we have. We rely on volunteers (ranging from university students to world-renowned scholars), media partners, artists (who share their work), and our own free labor. Occasionally, we have a sponsor helping us fund our student editors. Higher education institutions, including the Center for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto; the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama at the University of London; and Emerson College in Boston, MA, which funded the work of their graduate students who help us to run TheTheatreTimes. Other organizations, such as the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, the Yale Digital Humanities, Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of Americas (LMDA), and the Amsterdam School of Historical Studies supported individual projects or events that spoke to their respective aims. The core of our team are the volunteer assistant editors — often theatre students or recent graduates — who repost works from our media partners, transcribe interviews, and proofread work. Whenever we can, we create opportunities for them to interview artists, write reviews, travel to theatre festivals, or their own projects, mentoring them when appropriate. If you or your institution would like to sponsor either a project or a student, get in touch!

We have never had a sustainable, long-term source of funding for our daily operations. The difficulty in obtaining funding is the fact that TheTheatreTimes.com is transnational; it does not sit within one set of specific political-geographical borders. It does not promote one culture to show its international impact. TheTheatreTimes.com wants to champion theatre globally. However, public funding bodies aim at promoting specific cultures in the interests of governments — whether local, national, or wider, such as the European Union — that finance them (see for example, Meerzon et al.[4]). For these organizations — for very valid reasons — international is important as ‘evidence’ of the ‘success’ of the culture they promote rather than a value in itself. Moreover, the more visible cultures also have more resources available for promoting them internationally, and the ones less visible do not. In turn, running TheTheatreTimes.com means a constant choice between writing endless funding applications, finding alternative non-monetary models of remuneration, or giving up on projects.

At the same time, we are two female academics with heavy workloads, scholarly projects and commitments, and personal lives that need time and care. All these have been also resources on which TheTheatreTimes.com has grown and been cultivated. The administrative side of TheTheatreTimes.com is extensive. We respond to numerous emails, correct errors in articles, fix captions, post articles, contact editors, media partners, search for new collaboration opportunities, seek funding. The website needs updates, fixing of the IT errors, plug-in installations, to name some of the often-occurring tasks.

Moreover, challenging unequal modes of knowledge sharing and accessing and amplifying less-heard voices also depends on who can and who cannot ‘afford’ to volunteer their work to TheTheatreTimes.com. In many countries, writing reviews and essays on theatre for the general public is an important source of income for theatre academics. For some artists, making their work available for audiences to watch for free is not actually ‘free’; the other artists involved in the work may still need to be paid. There are also the costs connected to making one’s work accessible to broader audiences. While we are committed to widening our circles and reaching voices across cultures, especially voices with less agency in global theatre discourse, we are also very aware that the English language — its ‘standards’ of grammar, writing, argumentation — plays a significant role as a cultural intermediary. This role is underpinned by the status of English as a global language that, paradoxically, arises from its status as an acquired language. English proficiency, access to English-language sources, the cost of translation, and editing are the sieve that often determines who shapes theatrical discourses. We have relied on many colleagues and graduate students to translate texts of authors who did not speak English, proofread works, and create surtitles.

The Theatre Times is a pioneering project in its mission, vision, and execution. It provides a collective and pluralistic model of theatre criticism and engagement never previously seen or implemented by any international theatre organization at that scale. It attempts to create a transnational infrastructure in which theatre, the oldest art form that evolved independently across all cultures, can become a driving force to address glocal debates and political and ethical dilemmas. Between decolonization, globalization, the technological progress of artificial intelligence, the posthuman turn of data-driven digital reality, political and military conflicts, and the increasing impact of climactic change, theatre has a role and responsibility to engage with our civilizational challenges, and The Theatre Times aims to serve as a starting point for the development of cross-cultural understandings and critical vocabularies.

Endnotes

[1] Virginia Gewin, “Pack Up the Parachute: Why Global North-South Collaborations Need to Change,” Nature, 24 July 2023, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-02313-1.

[2] Magda Romanska, “”The Theatre Times: Why? Why Now?” The Theatre Times. 9 December 2016.” https://thetheatretimes.com/theatre-times-now/

[3] Theatre and Performance Podcast. On TAP. January 24, 2017. http://www.ontappod.com/home/2017/1/24/010-1

[4] Yana Meerzon, Katharina Pewny, and Tessa Vannieuwenhuyze, “Introduction: Migration and Multilingualism,” Modern Drama, vol. 61, no. 3, Sept. 2018, pp. 257–70, https://doi.org/10.3138/md.61.3.01.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.

This post was written by Magda Romanska and Kasia Lech.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.