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AD: ‘Theater Babel doesn’t do ‘ah gosh’

Theater Babel doesn’t do ‘ah gosh’


picture: Carel van Hees


At Theater Babel Rotterdam, actors with disabilities and actors without disabilities stand together on stage. The location performances, unique in the Netherlands, are a great success. Pathetic? “Our actors really aren’t.”
by Anton Slotboom, AD regio Rotterdam, June 7, 2018

Grace walks, but she walks very difficultly. The fact that her body is deformed doesn’t stop her from shining in the latest production of Theater Babel Rotterdam, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. She dances, in a group, but also all by herself, in front of hundreds of spectators each evening. Therefore she leaves nothing to chance: these weeks Grace is rehearsing every day together with her colleagues so that she can shine on stage in September. “Grace can really move beautifully,” says theater director and manager Paul Röttger (64).

“In the show, she is seen as part of the group, but at one point, Grace is also on stage alone.” And that might scare audiences for a moment, Paul suspects. “Because there are a lot of people who have never gotten close to people with disabilities. But it’s a wonderful moment.” Besides, Paul predicts: within ten minutes or so, the audience has forgotten the limitations of some of the cast. Grace’s, too. “Fortunately, we hear that often. It’s also the best compliment we can get. Because in the end that’s what we do it all for. With Theater Rotterdam we are working on a society in which we take people with disabilities 100% seriously. Unfortunately, we are the only company in the Netherlands that takes this approach. That’s why our ambition with Babel is to go national in a few years’ time. This approach deserves it.


Different trade
Theater Babel Rotterdam has been performing for two years now with a cast of people both with and without disabilities. Actors with disabilities come to the company from a day care program, where they actually have to audition. Coaches from Pameijer assist these actors, who have physical, mental or psychiatric disabilities, in this process. If they are accepted, they get lessons every morning and they polish their talents. Together with actors without disabilities they then stand on stage. For a few years now, Babel has been performing these shows on location, while working and rehearsing in its own building in Delfshaven.

The decision a few years ago to continue with this inclusive cast makes director Röttger overjoyed. “That’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I’ve really gotten a different profession since we’ve been playing with this composition. Look I’ve been a director, actor and director all my life and I had found my ways in all these years. But everything has become different now.” For example, he can never just walk through the building anymore. “Our actors demand attention. They want to be seen, also because they are not always seen elsewhere. So my whole days since then have largely consisted of pure social contact.” From that, he has rebounded.

“My heart has gotten bigger because of it. I have become a different person. I already didn’t want to go quietly into my old age, but now I can’t do that at all. I’m 64, but I really can’t retire for the time being. The actors need me and I want to be there for them.”

The 30th anniversary of Theater Babel Rotterdam will be celebrated with Piazza della Vita, its latest production. It features 36 actors, about half of whom have disabilities. The performance is full of live music, dance and song.

The scenery is still being worked on, the content still has to be worked on, but rehearsals for the premiere at the end of September are already in full swing. “We play in the old Bonheur Theater, a beautiful, large, empty space. I really want the audience to become part of the play. Visitors will soon be sitting on the square. There are many theater groups in which not everyone understands what the underlying idea is, but that is not the case with us. We work professionally. I make professional theater and get the best out of all our actors,” says Röttger.

Pathetic? No, the actors are absolutely not. “It’s definitely not ach-gossie theater,” says public relations manager Dominique Mol. And tastemaker Grace? For the dancing star of the show, playing will be a triumph, her director knows. “Of course it is also exciting for her,” says Röttger. That stage is still a big threshold for all our actors with limitations. Afterwards we get together. We always cook for our audience and our actors serve the dishes. During those moments there is always a long talk about our performances. We really do that with each other, too.”

Eating together is part of the success formula, the birthday Theater Babel Rotterdam attracts more and more visitors. “The threshold of our performances has really become lower since our new composition of the cast. We are now attracting audiences from healthcare, welfare and the arts. That’s special. That is another reason why we have never regretted our new direction.”

article by Anton Slotboom, AD regio Rotterdam, June 7, 2018
picture Het gedroomde café : Carel van Hees
picture Paul Röttger : Marieke Odekerken