Talking about Generation

Working on Antigone - I’m aware that generation divides have a long history in the western world and in the theatre.

[Patti Smith Video]

That children desperately want distance and difference from their parents is so engrained in modern western thought as to be cliché when spoken aloud. The field of psychoanalysis is built around this want.

We are also in a specific time of generational shift. A massive and incredibly privileged generation in the Boomers is getting older. This is causing institutional upheaval all over the place. Theatre is no exception. In Canada, many of our mid-sized theatres were started by Boomers - inspired by the Massey Commission, Trudeau money and

We are no longer in those times, and questions of what comes next and how it comes is very much in the air.

Along with this, there is a mini-baby boom happening with mid-30s artists (at least where I am) - this also changes things: suddenly stability, parental leave and daycare are issues for the “emerging” class. People with babies and mortgages (not to mention years of experience) are less likely to wait patiently.

No matter what the strategies and tactics end up being, pretending there’s no generational difference or tension is irresponsible and naive.

A few things I’m thinking about generations:

Beware of speaking of progress

We need to see these differences and tensions outside the frame of linear progress. Things are not moving only in one, progressive, way.[1] The new doesn’t surpass, oust or necessarily improve the old.

Different times and ages require different responses. Looking for an "objective" better-or-worse is probably unhelpful. Change subjects us all.

The privilege to deny difference.

(A great video game metaphor for explaining privilege)

  • "Race doesn’t matter” says the Caucasian.
  • "There’s no glass ceiling” says the man.
  • "Class doesn’t effect success” says the wealthy.
  • "The generational divide is a construct” says the generation in power.


Generational power is weird wonky stuff.

The trouble is that no one thinks they’re “in power.” We can fetishize the aesthetic of young bodies, while dismissing the thoughts of young minds. We can insist on experience and “out of the box thinking”. We dismiss grey-hairs as conservative or old fashioned while relying on their wisdom, experience and resources.

It’s happening all over.

"Now entering retirement age, Boomer administrators are finding themselves hovering between holding on and letting go of their current leadership positions in a field they largely established. The next generation is markedly different from theirs, however, and they are apprehensive about handing over the reins." --(from Boomers, XY’s and the Making of a Generational Shift in Arts Management by Victoria J. Saunders

I believe in mentorship and the wisdom of elders. Experience is real and time on the deck can make us better. And there is something important about change and letting go.

Diversity mandates must include a generational diversity more substantial and honest than fetishizing the next hot young thing, supporting the younger artists who make work that is most like the work of the artists before them and/or condescending to give under 35’s[2] a “break.”

It must include respect and meaningful relationships with elders and experience while acknowledging that there will be consequent difference in intent, aesthetics and approaches - artistically and administratively. These differences will sometimes mean disagreement and conflict.

Finding ways to navigate these questions is going to be the work for the next 5-10 years.

  1. For example, social services have never improved in my lifetime. There has only been a fight to maintain or slow the decline of resources. ?
  2. Luckily as a 36 year old, I’m well clear of such daft categories. ?