Inclusive theatre shows how you can live together
by Arend Vreugdenhil
This article is a translation of a Dutch article by Arend Vreugdenhil, from the board of directors of Pameijer and VGN (Vereniging Gehandicaptenzorg Nederland), written for the website of VGN after a visit to ‘From J. to Jessica’. You can find the original article here.
March 05, 2020
A production of Theater Babel Rotterdam inspires Arend Vreugdenhil to have a deeper thought on inclusion. ‘The VGN wants to stand up for a society in which all people live together, with or without disability. We are setting up a movement to make this happen. Inclusive theatre is an example in this.”
Can you be who you want to be?
Who do I want to be? Who am I? Introduce yourself?
These questions are asked by 34 actors. All with their own personality. To me, this production was really an impressive and touching experience.
Who are you really? Can you be who you want to be? And do you still want to know who you were? Thorough and intimate questions.
Since November 2019, Theater Babel Rotterdam is performing ‘From J. to Jessica’. A unique production in which main actor Jessica shares her transition from man to woman, a transition she is also going through in real life. In the play, both actors with and without disabilities perform. Her fellow actors are inspired by her courage and honesty. They turn themselves inside out as well and talk about their youth, their sexuality, their disabilities: who do they (not) want to be? Do they have the courage for that? And also: do they allow the other to be who they want to be? This is about me, us, about living together, in one word: inclusion.
On February 13, Laurentien van Oranje was a guest at this show. From within the Number 5 Foundation, she organizes dialogue sessions about this production, the inclusive theatre and the inclusive society. In these sessions, a lot of topics are being discussed, and I would like to name a few.
Inclusion is about living together
Inclusion: what is it and what does it to you? The production shows the actors in their intimacy. As someone said: ‘I am touched by the dearness of a person. This dearness has often been damaged. I recognize that feeling of dearness and the damaging of it deep within me, and that to me is inclusion!’
Inclusion is about the other and about yourself. Inclusion is about really living together. In the dialogue session, the question was asked: how can we carry out inclusion in a way that enriches society? Inclusion is not a problem but it’s an opportunity. How can we propagate this so that we feel and recognize it ourselves? What do we need more for this? Does the word inclusion fit, does it give energy? How can we charge it more, or do we come up with new words?
don’t mistake work with daytime activities
Work and daytime activities: the actors performing are all professionals. Yet, for some this theatre work is payed while for others it’s unpaid work. This unpaid work is often seen as daytime activity by the government and financiers. My own organisation, Pameijer, prefers to focus on work for all people. But the term ‘daytime activity’ is stubborn and not really appropriate. It doesn’t do justice to what we want to achieve with each other and to what we make: professional theatre. How can we apply the rewards and the use of terms about our work in a way that makes everyone feel like they are part of it, really inclusive? We didn’t find an answer to this question. It would be nice if we, as VGN, can make a change in this the upcoming years.
Inclusive theatre is more than wheelchair accessibility
Inclusive theatre: this production shows how many interesting stories there are to tell. It shows how everyone is needed in this, in all our diversity. Inclusive theatre is more than wheelchair accessibility and hearing support. But it’s not self-evident in the (inclusive) theatre or art world. Actors with disabilities are often not accepted in theatre schools. How can we organize a movement in the theatre and art world so that inclusion and diversity get stimulated? How can we convince cities, The Hague, but also ourselves as a society? We can accomplish so many good things with it, not just for ourselves but especially for the other. But it is so vulnerable and definitely not a given.
Vision 2030, a new movement
At Pameijer, I work on inclusion every day. Theater Babel, with whom we work together intensively, has showed me the power of inclusion even stronger in the past weeks. Mid-2019, I became part of the board of directors of the VGN. The VGN works on a society in which all people, with and without disabilities, live together. We, the VGN, are setting up a movement for this. In the end, in 2030, we want to realize a full-fedged place for people with a disability. Our society is entitled to this. The inclusive theatre is an example in this.
That’s why I pose this question to a following member of the board: on which terrain do you see possibilities (or do you make use of your energy) to make society more inclusive?
We can achieve so much with it.
Arend Vreugdenhil is a member of the board of directors of Pameijer and the VGN.
Managing director Paul Röttger about Theater Babel Rotterdam: ‘At Babel, all kinds of people work together: young and old people, people with down syndrome, people with a migration background, people from the lhbtq+ community, healthy people, people with chronic conditions like hiv, people with eating disorders, people with different religious backgrounds, people with a mental disability, rich people, people with a psychiatric condition, people with addictions, people who are different than you and sometimes they are you.’