To tie in with the play, Toneelhuis with the support of the European Union mounted an audience development project on the theme of exclusion and the use of language. Toneelhuis produced a long-read in several languages entitled Test of Civilisation, and worked with the Journalism Department at AP-Hogeschool in Antwerp on an intensive, participative external relations project called Invisible Cities. Herewith an interim report on related activities in the various cities.
The multilingual long-read Test of Civilisation was compiled from news items in 2015-16 relating to the flood of refugees and Europe’s powerlessness to deal with this phenomenon politically and by the media. These events are linked to an overview of Europe in the run-up to the First World War and the period between the wars. It is left to the readers to spot any similarities in a bid to make them more aware of the way in which politicians and journalists carefully choose their words with the clear intention of influencing a group of people. Test of Civilisation will be used as educational material in schools in the European performance venues.
Several European partners, or theatres in the performance venues, in cooperation with a local journalism or communication course, are also producing new, local portraits of people who are excluded and adding these to the Invisible Cities digital platform. The European partners taking part are Le Phénix (Valenciennes, FR), MC Amiens (FR), Istanbul Theatre Festival (TR), Temporada Alta (Girona, ES) and RomaEuropa (Rome, IT).
The following is a report by Hugo Dewasmes, head of communications for Le Phénix, on the activities relating to the long-read in Valenciennes:
In Valenciennes, 135 students worked on Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones). The long-read served as a springboard for further reflection and deeper understanding. It is essential that we interest younger generations in history because oblivion and indifference are the greatest threat, particularly in the light of the extreme movements emerging in Europe.
Elie Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, spoke of the dangers of ignoring history. ‘To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.’
Having placed the book in its context, students went to see the performance. A journalist from reported La Voix du Nord reported their impressions.
The students had all known about the Holocaust from history lessons and a few television reports, but what really concerned them was the realization that the narrator of The Kindly Ones is an executioner, a fact rendered all the more shocking because you don’t expect it. Very few of the students had ever thought about what went on in the minds of those who carried out the atrocities; the stories had always been about the suffering of the victims.
Finally – and the students stressed this point too – one of the roles of art is to investigate people’s concerns. Having direct contact with the stage and with the actors in Les Bienveillantes undoubtedly reinforced the already considerable impact of Jonathan Littell’s words. ‘That’s also what theatre is for’, was the students’ main conclusion about their experience. The performance was an opportunity for the students to question not only how they relate to history, but also how they relate to art, and to theatre in particular.”
Handan Uzal, Operation Coordinator of the Istanbul Theatre Festival, described the external relations project in Istanbul (TR):“In Istanbul four students worked on the Invisible Cities project, creating online portraits of people living there who they considered to be in some way ‘invisible’ in the city. The students working on the project reported feeling empowered by the fact that their input was published on the digital platform. At the same time, they felt they had the opportunity to empower those they interviewed. The students’ sense of empowerment also stemmed from the fact that their interviews gave those ‘invisible’ people a kind of ‘visibility.’ The questions asked by the students made them aware of how those ‘invisible’ people feel when others look at them and label them without really knowing their stories and histories. At the same time, the long-read enabled them to draw comparisons with history and to remember that discrimination and prejudice were also rife in the past, paving the way for extreme movements and terrible atrocities. Through their involvement in the project, the students realized that words that sound innocent enough on the surface may contain the seeds of prejudice and trigger the mechanisms of discrimination.”
In Girona the launch of the Catalan portraits is currently being prepared in cooperation with the local newspaper El Pont/Avui. Portraits of people who are excluded here in Flanders have appeared in the Gazet van Antwerpen and in Het Belang van Limburg. In Girona thirty Cultural Communication students from the University of Girona (udG) and four Creative Photography students from the ERAM university worked on their contribution to Invisible Cities.
An interview with Guy Cassiers has been published in the newspaper El Pais.