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Opinion: Letter to Hein Janssen

Inspired by Hein Janssen’s review of Mooi Weer & Zo in Volkskrant, our employee Brecht Hermans wrote a reaction in the form of a letter. Because he thinks it’s a shame Hein Janssen talks about everything that disappeared from the theatre landscape in Rotterdam, but he doesn’t mention what’s new. Here underneath you can read the letter, the review (in Dutch) can be found here.

 

Dear Hein,

Very enthusiastic, I read your review of Meeuw by Mooi Weer & Zo in the Volkskrant of the 28th of November. I saw the show too and I reviewed it positively at theaterkrant.nl.

 

What I really like in your review, is how you take into account the theatre context in Rotterdam. That Bonheur and Onafhankelijk Toneel have disappeared is a sad evolution indeed. Only, I think it’s a shame that you focus so much on what isn’t or what’s not going well. Because in Rotterdam, new organizations are coming up. One of them is Theater Babel Rotterdam, the only structural subsidized inclusive theatre company in the world. I would like to introduce it to you.

 

Theater Babel Rotterdam was formed three years ago from a fusion of the Rotterdams Centrum voor Theater and Theater Maatwerk. A prove that not every fusion is difficult, as Theater Babel is, like I said, the only structural subsidized inclusive theatre company in the world – and even though that’s nice to say on our website, in fact it saddens us to be unique in this. Our inclusive company, led by Paul Röttger, exists of professional actors with and without disabilities. They work and perform together, and learn from each other. We are pioneers in inclusive theatre. And that from Rotterdam!

 

It’s going well with Theater Babel Rotterdam, and it continues to get even better. In 2018, we performed 235 productions. Our new production, Piazza della vita, a theatre choreography by Paul Röttger has received good reviews and were often sold out. In 2019, we continue to play Piazza. In this production, we show life as it is and as it should be. We dream of a society in which there is room for everybody, space to meet and learn to understand the other. At Babel, we show that this is possible.

 

We perform the show at our new location. Against all theatre tendencies, we expanded this year. Next to our location in Delfshaven, we now rent a beautiful building at the Eendrachtsstraat, a side street of the Witte de With, in the heart of Rotterdam. A 19th century gym hall, the former base for Theater Bonheur. We make sure this space for theatre will not be lost.

 

Babel finds itself with its feet in the world and close to the skin of the audience. You don’t find a separation between the space of the actors and the audience here: the audience sits around us, they join us in the production. After each show, we eat together with our audience. The actors cook, serve and dine with the audience. You can get to know our actors, not just in their role but as humans, and we learn from our audience. It completes the theatrical encounter.

 

Next to our evening productions, we perform for schools. This year we developed Sex in Rotterdam ’18. A show about sexuality for high school students. A difficult matter, I can hear you think. But what many teachers don’t dare to discuss, we don’t back away from: we talk with students from diverse backgrounds about sexuality. In the comforting context of a large tent, carpets on the floor, our actors perform monologues about sex, 1 on 1. Fun sex, stupid sex, difficult sex, painful sex, hilarious sex. Very direct, very intimate, very special. And during the after-talk, the students prove to have a lot to say.

 

Can you imagine that? An inclusive mix of actors performing a show about sexuality? When was the last time you asked a person with the syndrome of Down about their sex life? Do you dare to? At Babel we see that it works. The direct approach of our actors triggers a marvelous honesty in the students. You should really come to experience that.

 

Next to the shows, we make theatre ateliers for schools. We developed one for the Week of Child Abuse. The students joined our actors on the theatre floor. In a playful way, they get to know each other and then talk about difficult but important themes. Babel doesn’t back off for any conversation.

 

For Gemeente Rotterdam, we came up with workshops ‘inclusive work floor’ and ‘behind the counter’, in which employees of the city discover what an inclusive work floor could look like and how they can assist people with disabilities when they come to their counter. This all starting from our belief in an inclusive society.

 

What we do, is unique. It has never been done, we have to invent everything. To make it easier for other theatre makers that want to work inclusively, we develop a transferrable methodology. We do this together with Hogeschool Rotterdam, Lectoraat Disability Studies, Diversity in Participation. Because we would love to see our sector work inclusively more often. We dream about inclusivity and diversity in the arts.

 

Because about diversity in theatre, a lot has been written. But where do we find it? Both on the stage and in the audience, it’s pretty one-sided. And at a level of policy and governance as well. We bring more colour, variation and unexpected encounters into the arts. It’s our duty in a city as Rotterdam, in which 175 nationalities live together!

 

Let’s not deny it: working inclusively isn’t easy. It asks more from actors and theatre makers. But it inspires new forms of theatre and methodologies. All our actors and employees testify that the inclusive work lets you grow as a person. And we can our regular actors, the people with disabilities, make big steps as well.

 

Dear Hein, I would like to invite you to come experience Theater Babel Rotterdam from close-by. You are very welcome at our productions and it would be nice if you can stay for dinner with us. Always vegetarian and biological. When are you coming?

 

Kind regards

Brecht Hermans
theatre maker & PR assistant at Theater Babel Rotterdam