The Rotterdam Centre for Theatre (rcth) decided to play ‘ONT-HEEMD’ (= root-less or dis-placed) the first ten times especially for refugees and afterwards for the general public. Why? And what can we expect from the show? rcth director Paul Röttger, also director of ONT-HEEMD, tells about his choices.
You thought it would be a good idea to play ‘Ont-heemd’ for refugees?
“Yes, at rcth we work with people who have disabilities. I see every day what their ‘being the other’ can do to a person and what causes it. They are often set aside and are feeling displaced. Many of them live in an assisted living situation, or they live with people and at places they have not chosen themselves. Often those places are out of town, somewhere on the outskirts. The same is true for people in refugee centers. It touches me deeply that people who have fled, have a trauma, are packed in a gray place where they have to wait until a decision is made about their fate. After a visit to a major refugee center and a conversation with the COA (Center Reception of Asylum Seekers), I knew that I wanted to make the performance for them. ”
How do you see the refugee issue?
“I am very angry when I hear people talk about ‘our values’ being threatened. People in need should be helped, period. And then you go into dialogue with them. You just might find out that their values are much better than ours! At this time, there are people in politics that want to put those who ‘are different’ away, somewhere where they are removed from our society. I resist that. And I want to show you. ”
Besides refugees, young people from secondary schools are also invited to the first performances of ‘Ont-heemd’?
“Yes, we have been working with various schools and it seemed like a wonderful idea to create an encounter between young people and refugees. We are at the rcth accustomed to cooking for our audience after the performance, and to eat together. We’re going to do that now as well. It is a lovingly prepared meal and the food should have a cleansing and soothing effect, because the performance can get under your skin. ”
Can you give an example?
“Well, there’s a scene in which the audience and the actors are waiting together, without knowing what for. They do this in a room without identity, they do not know whether they’ll stay there or not. You experience the homelessness, being unseen or feeling unknown. ”
What message do you have for the refugees who come to see?
“I especially want to say to them: I want to welcome, embrace you, learn from you. I want them to feel that they matter, that they may join in, give them a place. That’s what I would like very much. ”
You perform the show on location. Why?
“Our own theater is too snug and cozy for this performance. That makes you feel right at home, and that was just not what we wanted. We opted for a giant shed behind the Sparta Stadium in Spangenberg. Exactly the sort of area where refugees are received in our country. Sometimes by the hundreds. ”
How’s “Ont-heemd’ going to continue in 2017?
“When we performed the show ten times for refugees, we’ll play for the regular theater audience. But we’ll continue to invite refugees. Moreover, we want to actively connect visitors to refugees, by asking them to take a fugitive to a cultural activity of choice. Hoping to really bring about contact, real encounters. That is our job as a theater. ”