WHAT IS 'THE CITY THEATRE OF THE FUTURE'?| 31 May 2022
(by Milo Rau)
Do you like waiting for it to start?
Do you like being on stage?
Or do you rather sit in the crowd?
Do you like the warmth of projectors on your face?
What do you like about theatre?
What is theatre for you?
These are some questions Arne De Tremerie asks in The Interrogation, the monologue that will conclude this evening – a show about the impact of theatre, perhaps of art in general. A monologue about the beauty and the terror of this most collective work, this most chaotic way of making sense: theatre, performance.
“From Tragic to Magic – a Season of New Collectives”, this is the slogan of our next season. For this season, we will produce and invite more than 60 makers and shows from Flanders, Belgium, Europe and the other five continents to our NTGent stages, the “City Theatre of the Future”: from the Ghentian artist Miet Warlop to the Swiss maker Thom Luz, from Lua Casella to Alain Platel, from Chokri Ben Chikha to Lara Staal, from Olympique Dramatique to Frank Focketyn and Sien Eggers, from the young maker Martha Balthazar to the Libanese mythical director Rabih Mroué, from TGStan to Benjamin Verdonck, from the Brasilian activist Kay Sara to the young Ghentian director Jesse Vandamme, from Sierra Leone an performer Princess Isatu Hassan Bangura to the French writer Édouard Louis.
We bring together names, that are part of the pantheon of Flemish and World theatre with others that are seen for the first time on a stage. We unite professionals with non-professionals, actors with activists. Animals meet robots, sounds meet bodies – and even the climate itself will be present.
Of course we will not only present plays. Like this evening, we will continue to produce and show films, we will create debates, campaigns, festivals, together with our local and international partners. We continue to work in a longterm perspective with partners in crisis regions, like we do with our Filmschool in Mosul or our collaboration with the Landless Movement in the Amazon. And we created a network of 10 city theatres all over Europe and imagined a system to tour plays by recreating them in the context of every city. Because a city theatre is more than a stage for plays. It is an agora, a place where all the voices and stories of a society are to be told. Yes, a city theatre is a democracy in small. It is, you could say, the blueprint for an ideal republic in the making – with all its conflicts, its diverse opinions, its dreams and hopes. For that reason, it is the task of a city theatre to not only represent the presence and the past on stage, but to also negotiate the future. In dialogue with you, the public, with the city, with the world.
“We only know who we are in exchange with others”, as philosopher Hannah Arendt says. For that reason, every show, every production, every evening is an absolute beginning, humble and naïve and megalomaniac at the same time. Like if theatre would start to exist every day anew.
Every one of our makers, of our new collectives asks: What do we like in theatre? What is drama, tragedy, comedy for me, for you, for us? What is NTGent? What is THE CITY THEATRE OF THE FUTURE?
“Theatre is a palace of dreams”, Maeterlinck said. Thom Luz, who will stage a play of Maeterlinck next season, says in a video we present later this evening: “I prefer it when a story is not told by actions and narration, but by sounds, by music.” Ghentian maker Martha Balthazar loves, as she will tell us in her video, the opposite: she loves gatherings of people, Martha loves choirs. Some love to be alone, others are afraid of that. Some love the big stories, other the small ones. And as you know, the smallest, most personal stories can turn out to be the biggest, the most complex ones. However, everyone of our 60 makers, from all parts of this world, has another interpretation what this is: NTGent, The City Theatre of Future. As we are all sitting here, united in diversity.
(by Chokri Ben Chikha)
So what is a city theatre? The name says it all: it is a barometer in the city. What if we play the debate in the city even more strongly? What if we build even more bridges of knowledge? What if we focus even more on a distinctive character?
Significant steps have already been taken. But there were also obstacles. Not least the budget cuts and the pandemic. But I dream on.
What if, with our performances, we no longer committed ourselves purely to the quick tour logic of plug & play, but instead forged intense ties with other cities? What if, every time we make a big production in Ghent and it plays in another city, we remake it, attuned to and in cooperation with the local context? So what if we involve stronger local 'players'? In every city we can involve the newspaper vendor, an art school, a civil society organization, a law firm, an activist group, a journalist.
Stopping with the plug and play logic also prevents artistic laziness. Each new context challenges the concept of the performance anew, taking us creators out of our comfort zone, forcing us to question our creation again and again. Local re-creation also adds layers of meaning that make the original artwork richer, especially when it comes to distinct socio-political narratives. Local variants also ensure sustainability. We always strive to have an impact. We feed the local context and are enriched ourselves. And we shrink our ecological footprint.
And yes, it does involve a slow, labor-intensive and not very financially viable process... It goes against neoliberal logic. And yes, some of you will think that this is a local, provincialist approach to art... Well, I can tell you one thing: 'We are all f*cking local'.
We are skeptical of cultural universalism. The idea that we artists create something that is so smart and so universal that everyone can understand it. And that it allows you to travel effortlessly from city to city. We are all local: however geographically dispersed, that secluded stratosphere of international art houses is just as much "local" or even "provincial" - to be defined as an area into which it is difficult to penetrate.
And yes, on an artistic level, the pitfall of anecdotalism, of the super-particular or even the identitarian, is looming when working locally. And it is indeed a thin line. On the one hand, doing justice to the local context and therefore staying away from the arrogance of cultural universalism.
And on the other hand, to stay away from the anecdotal and thus do justice to the broader expressiveness of the poetic potential of theatrical symbols, of image, body and sound. But I keep dreaming that a city theater of the future such as NTGent and, equally, an ambitious City of Ghent and, more broadly, the Flemish Government, will opt neither for the arrogant cultural universalism nor for the identitarian.
For we live in the era of the separation, or rather, the deep divide, between man and his environment, between city and country, between center and periphery. Building bridges, searching for sustainable connection is an urgency and a necessity.
If we don't commit to that, we will become a luxury item, a toy for politicial parties, or even worse irrelevant. In that case, they'd better convert our art houses into a garden center, a new Starbucks or a theatre museum of the future.
(by Miet Warlop)
I’m talking to stones charged by people’s ideas and moments that we shared. A theatre in the first place is a building, a kaleidoscope, a place where we can go to share ideas. Or at least propositions of ideas to see if we recognize each other.
When I think of theatre, I see it as if some investigator or inspector is sliding a picture of a nutcase or of a bloody body towards you sitting on the other side of the table and asking: do you know this person?
I have to say: it’s slightly uncomfortable to define what’s theatre for me since I try to never define myself in a title, to never put myself in a fixed category, to never become a slave of my own theatre or of the subject I want to investigate when I create a performance.
At the opposite, when I create something, I look for the best possible way to include, how much I can, what the case I’m investigating with my creation brings to me.
This is more an attitude or a way to treat ideas. And it turns out that that attitude speaks more directly than the real image we show on stage. Theatre should not always be a mirror of what is going on but a constant desire for what is absolutely absent or hidden or for what we need.
A stage should not be for a blind re-enactment to remember the past nor for a drawing of the time we are in - as If we wouldn’t feel the heat ourselves by just living our lives.
For example, for me a show works when it points at something we forget, something we miss, a way to open to others, to show opportunities or stuff that was hidden and that now will be finally revealed.
It is somehow impressive to see how this city theatre catapulted itself on the bumpier roads of speaking by exposing its vulnerability.
Luckily, since some years, we have NTGent following the movement or the shift that a theatre house is curated and not only programmed; for example, by including new people and realizing that a pizza is not a portion for one group, but it’s designed to be shared and it’s a culinary system to also variate the ingredients, according to the different tastes.
Some people didn’t get that yet as they come from a time where sharing was not in the front of their head. Just let us remind them.
I’m hopeful that we all guard each other from becoming the idiotic heroic version of ourselves and that blending and collaboration can be a gate to board the plane toward the consciousness of the one standing next to us; to not just land not knowing how we got there.
(by Lara Staal)
Who owns The City Theatre of The Future? Who is the owner of The City Theatre of The Future? Who owns the city? Who owns the theatre? And who owns the future? Who has access? Who does not? Who feels at home here and who does not? Who do we expect to see on the stage? And who not?
No theatre is for everyone, was a hard lesson I had to learn somewhere. Every place uses mechanisms of exclusion, consciously or unconsciously. The architecture of a building, the clothes worn by employees, the interior, the prices in the café, the prices of theatre tickets, the colour of the skin of the people who work there, the colour of the skin of the cleaner, the colour of the skin of the director, the proportion of men and women and in different positions, the exact location in the city... All the elements that define a place, function as filters.
And these filters ensure that some people feel that their language is spoken, that they know the references, that the stories are about them, that they understand what is going on and what is expected... and, conversely, that others have the feeling that they are not 'meant', that they are not addressed, that they remain invisible or have the feeling that they could never feel at home in such an environment.
That is why the city theatre of the future can only be diverse and pluralistic. I know that the word 'diversity' is used so often that no one knows what it means anymore. Let me elaborate:
1. Not of the same kind
2. more than one
3. Carrying more than one meaning or characteristics
4. Uniting more than one view or philosophy of life
5. Open to other political views and willing to cooperate
Only if what happens in the city theatre, on stage and behind the scenes, is truly pluralistic and diverse - different in form, approach, background, outlook, language, style, taste, conviction, age, experience - only then is there a chance that the people who feel addressed by that work, by those voices, those perspectives, those experiences, those imaginations, will also be different, diverse and pluralistic.
The theatre can be that gathering place in the city where very different people feel at home and very different experiences and stories can be told. And it can repair some of the uniformity that life has become in global capitalism. Break the isolation in which we all find ourselves. Broaden the one-sidedness of the media. Bringing in complexity. Politicising. All those things that are so badly needed in a pluralistic democracy.
'The City Theatre of The Future'... to me is a provocation that could come across as slightly arrogant or vain, as if NTGent knows what the future holds. At the same time, you could also see 'The City Theatre of The Future' as a form of commitment, an attempt to hold ourselves accountable. As a warning to constantly ask ourselves whether what we do is worthy of the future in everything we make, organise and facilitate.
Whether what we imagine really contributes to the pluralistic and inclusive society that the future potentially holds.
(by Jesse Vandamme)
I don't think 'the' City Theatre exists, there are as many theatres as there are makers. And even if you talk about a specific performance, 'the' performance will transform into a multitude of different evenings, each evening unique, born of the meeting between someone who stands on stage, and someone who looks and listens: the audience.
But as far as I'm concerned, you could speak of a force, a transformative power, which for me describes 'the' theatre, the potential of each performance, the reason why Werktoneel and I make performances.
The theme of next theatre season is 'From Tragic to Magic'. This theme feels closely tied to our group's quest. Whenever we search for new stories, we are drawn to those spaces where people go crazy, are totally unreasonable, or are hopelessly lost. We find freedom and poetry in them. Although we often have to bear our sorrows alone, negativity also possesses a power that can connect people. And in that connection, magic can emerge.
For example, the indifferent lightness with which me and my partner did our weekly shopping at the Lidl was suddenly interrupted by the sight of a woman lying on the ground in the parking lot, in such a way that we could not ignore her, and talking to her.
As we waited for the ambulance, we shared a few things, me and the lady, her on the ground and me on my knee, about her daughter, whom she saw too little, and about her cat. And we skipped a lot of steps, and suddenly found ourselves in a magical space together, she and I, as if we had known each other for a long time.
I think we are trying to look for a similar negative potency with our performances. And the encounter between me and this lady is similar to the one we seek between player and audience. And in the performances that we make we often look for the dark, fearful, secret and lost sides of our consciousness in the world. We hope to encounter each other in that stillness, in watching and listening together to that which fights with gravity.
We don't want to make analyses but experiences, to make a theatre that doesn't allow itself to be simply reduced, in which the themes are embodied, we want to be in the middle of something together, we want to tell fragmented, confused stories, and meet each other again in them.
We want to make a magical togetherness out of tragically getting lost. We believe that acknowledging and working with negativity is not enough, we want to try to capture its power in a player's acting. We believe in the magic of acting. That is our core. The players of our group are not performers but are at the heart of each creation. As complete human beings. We believe in the importance of playfulness, because otherwise we risk getting stuck in reality.
We hope that a City Theatre can be a place where the negative can be accepted, a place where subjectivity, loneliness, madness, can transform into an act of listening that is institutionalized. A place that is not closed to one group, but open to all.
(by Luanda Casella)
As one of the house artists of NTGent, I was invited to talk about my views on ‘the future’; I found this difficult, because I have a feeling that it was the mystification of the future that has brought us to the edge of the abyss. So here’s my elaboration.
Human beings have clearly come to accept the notion that they must own and create their own futures. And while humanity is facing the biggest problems in its history, we must not only keep up with the pace of disruption but also collectively come up with disruptive solutions. People seem to think the best way to tackle problems is to find new ways to disrupt; proposing solutions (which often involve a harmful faith in technology) that are really just new means of generating profit. On an individual level, these solutions often lead to miscommunication and disconnection.
So I guess the thought I could propose tonight, is this: When we look at the overall banality of disruption and turn to our art landscape, where we still have some sort of agency, how can we throw this logic into confusion and create space for poetic revolt, propose aesthetic disruption?
The future craves connection. We are desperate, longing for some breathing space for encounter, for a few hours of blissful rest and for some soothing energy for our deepest fears.
In a world that drenches us daily in infinite hopelessness, that dreads us with the tragical insanity that makes it somehow still turn, we cannot but crave magic. But magic unfortunately isn’t made out of dust; we must compose.
There’s no doubt that our imaginary is intoxicated and pulverised by the total inversion of ethics, the complete dismantling of communication. But our imaginary is also bruised by the total collapse of aesthetics. Many of us are simply anxious and craving beauty.
I truly believe the philosophies of the future can only come from survivors, physical and mental survivors of our political desert; the indigenous, the landless, the migrant, the activist, the queer, the marginalised, and of course, some intellectuals. But it will also come from the survivors of our aesthetic wasteland; artists.
Into the future we humbly try to push the boundaries of fiction and project some sort of fantasy. Like children, we seek what is fantastic, fascinating and fear the phantasmagoric, still we embrace it because we are used to nightmares.
I think saying NTGent is the city theatre of the future, is to say it is the city theatre of the present. “We live, after all, in the present: the present is inevitably the context for our reaction and response, and it matters.”
In the city theatre of the future we give expression to complex realities of the now. Utopian or dystopian, the fictions we create are deeply concerned with our collective experience, and the experience of our audiences, our interlocutors. Everything we do here is for the people living between us and the language we produce. It is you who give meaning to our works and who carry poetic revolt into any possibility of future.
So welcome to our new season; may it be terrifyingly beautiful!