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  • Imagining Alternative Globalizations through Performance
  • Barry Freeman and Catherine Graham

How have our ways of making and discussing theatre and performance in Canada changed in the context of the recent acceleration of globalization? The initial wave of Canadian nationalism that led to the founding of Canadian Theatre Review, scholarly organizations such as the Canadian Association for Theatre Research, and many of our major institutional theatres concentrated on local stories and local modes of performance as part of a post-colonial protest against the cultural dominance of the old imperial centres—in Canada’s case, mainly London, New York, and Paris. This strategy has had far-reaching effects on the development of performance practices in Canada, both in the theatres and in the streets, but the increasing intensity of market globalization in recent years has led to different challenges in the struggle to develop Canadian voices. The canons of empire are no longer the ideals against which Canadian performances are asked to measure themselves. In this new age of globalization, the performances we create are more likely to be judged in relation to blockbuster movies, mega-musicals, or avant-garde performances that circulate through international performance festivals organized as centres of elite consumption.

Globalization has a long history in the Western world, arguably dating back to the colonial conquests that financed the earliest stages of European modernity and led to the creation of the Canadian settler state. But contemporary discussions of globalization refer to a much more recent phenomenon, facilitated by modern air travel and Internet-based communication, and firmly grounded in imagining the world as a series of markets. In Theatre & Globalization, Dan Rebellato defines this globalization as “the rise of global capitalism operating under neoliberal policy conditions” (12). This is the globalization of the multinational corporation, of the global outsourcing of labour, and of increasing inequalities of wealth. A complex phenomenon, or set of phenomena, it has been led by the West, and it can be said to be having both positive and negative political, social, and cultural consequences the world over.

Some cultural critics, sociologists, and political theorists now argue that ideas of “nation,” such as the one which has in the past framed our thinking about what Canadian theatre is or should be, are declining in importance. Arjun Appadurai, for instance, argues that the nation state has begun to cede to a more heterogeneous, horizontal system of affiliation across cultural diasporas, civil society organizations, and social movements. “Nation states,” he writes, “are not likely to be the long-term arbiters of the relationship between globality and modernity” (19). As our confidence in the idea of the nation state wanes, Appadurai argues that we are looking across distributed networks for social connection and value, across an emergent global public sphere he divides into ethnoscapes, technoscapes, mediascapes, and ideoscapes. While the political power of the nation state will not disappear anytime soon, the new flows created by neoliberal globalization are forcing us to reconsider how we imagine the role of local cultural work in a global context.

It is in this light that we are interested in exploring the theme of alternative globalizations and performance. We draw on the idea of an alter-globalization, an approach to globalization that rejects both a false opposition between the local and the global, and the idea that markets are the only basis for a global world view. “Alter-globalization” is a translation of the French “alter-mondialisation,” a term coined by Arnaud Zacharie of the group ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens) in Belgium in the late 1990s (Pleyers 6). The context in which it arose is worth noting. In Belgium at the time, a farright party, the Vlaams Blok, which advocated the preservation of Flemish culture through virulently anti-immigration and antiimmigrant policies, would go on to win almost a quarter of the Flemish vote in regional elections in 2004 (Erk 495–497). In such a context, anti-globalization can easily become fertile terrain for xenophobic racism. To avoid falling into this trap, Belgian opponents of neoliberalism accepted the new term “alter-globalization” as a way of indicating that they are not opposed to...


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