On October 29th, ‘Theatre Babel plays: Romeo’s and Julia’s’ will premiere. The extraordinary adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic shows how relevant the play still is. In our society it is becoming increasingly clear that others determine how you should live and that does not exclusively apply to people with disabilities. Abrasive themes such as identity and sexuality are questioned and challenged by asking: are you allowed to love who you want to love?
“What if your different? What if you come from a different culture than the country that you currently live in? What if you have to hide yourself because you are not allowed to love someone from a different religion?”
An interview with director Paul Röttger by Joran van der Kraan
How did the idea to adapt Romeo an Juliet come to fruition?
In the 8 years that Theater Babel has existed, we have made many dance, movement or music theater performances. I really like those forms of theatre and I always had the idea that it is very suitable for inclusive work. Erik-Ward Geerlings, the writer and dramatist with whom I have worked for a long time, once said: “Gosh Paul, I think you should also try to work with a classical text at Babel”, but we didn’t get to it. As a result of corona we came up with a project in 2020 that I could make while no audience was allowed to visit: ‘I Trough the Other’. Suddenly I was in the middle of a text-based play and I found out that a lot of colleagues managed that very well. With that, my fear of the use of text within inclusive theatre disappeared, which inspired me to pick up one of my favorite writers: Shakespeare.
What makes Romeo and Juliet still so relevant in our present time?
If you ask anyone anywhere in the world today if they know who Romeo and Juliet are, they almost certainly have heard of the story. But if you ask what it’s about, they will say: Romeo and Juliet weren’t allowed to be together, but they loved each other so much that they killed themselves. That is the version of the story that usually sticks, but the story goes a lot further than that. I think Romeo and Julia is a harrowing story. It makes it very clear that others determine how you need to live your life. I think that society is becoming so tough on each other and I thin that the differences between people are increasing, which means that the opportunities of life are distributed less and less fairly. Many of my colleagues have to deal with the fact that others often decide what they can and cannot do, where they can and cannot live, because many of our players are people with disabilities. In addition, sexuality and identity are still a big taboo for many people in the healthcare world.
“Identity, sexuality and eroticism is a big taboo for many people. That is something that still saddens me and I also see that my colleagues hurt from it and even suffer from it.”
Why did you choose to not use one but four different pairs of actors who portray the parts of Romeo and Juliet?
One pair is the “ideal pair”. In addition, we have a pair with two men, a pair with two women, and a pair with a Romeo without and a Juliet with a disability. A lot of people have to think hard when you ask them, what would you think if your child without a disability introduced you to their partner who happens to have a disability? How do you deal with that? The healthcare world has its own views on this. Imagine living in an assisted living facility and you want to experience your sexuality with your partner. Identity, sexuality and eroticism is a taboo for many people. That is something that still saddens me and I also see that my colleagues hurt from it and even suffer from it.
The theatre plays of Theater Babel never avoid abrasive themes. Why is this so important to you?
I like art that not only confronts me in a transcendently with what lies behind reality. I also want to experience it. I like art that confuses me, confronts me with things that I find difficult or not pleasant to see or hear. It is not interesting to me when art is only recognizable, when it only realistically represents what I can see on the street. As an artist, I want to introduce people to things they don’t know or topics they find difficult to face. As a human being I also have to deal with taboos, but taboos are mainly there to be broken, which starts with talking about it. In my work at Babel, the inclusive work, I discovered completely different taboos than I knew before. I want to identify and break through those taboos and confront the public with them. And those taboos don’t just apply to people with disabilities. I think identity and sexuality are a taboo for many people. What if your different? What if you come from a different culture than the country that you currently live in? What if you have to hide yourself because you are not allowed to love someone from a different religion? These are all themes which are relevant to this day and I want to confront people with them.