The world doesn’t invite much joy and enthusiasm. And that’s putting it mildly. Our radical response to so much gloom is our artistic polyphony. Not naïve optimism but a deep-rooted belief that a multifaceted story can make a difference. That’s why we choose posters with bright colours, varying fonts and loud or poetic, provocative or funny slogans – just so many signifiers of an open, broad and varied view of the world.
A lot has happened this past season. We made Toneelhuis a collectively-run organization. The permanent members of the company share its artistic direction and are responsible for all aspects of artistic policy. This form of directing a big theatre is unique. With its intergenerational, diverse and collective directorate, Toneelhuis also aims to play a pioneering role internationally.
The idiosyncratic artistic trajectories of the various theatre makers in our house are its driving force. Irrespective of their differences, our makers share a passion for the grand gesture and the big story. They fully embrace the use of all artistic languages and disciplines. Working in a hybrid, interdisciplinary manner is in their artistic DNA.
Toneelhuis also creates space for work by other artists that complements and challenges our own productions. This happens in festivals and in studios, in co-production with other theatre partners. Toneelhuis sees generosity towards other companies and sharing our theatre spaces – the Bourla and the Kambala – as an essential part of our artistic activities.
The 2023-2024 season is all about such generosity and open-mindedness. There are many things that make life worth living. We just have to see them and appreciate them. Like a hot-fudge sundae. Or Kung Fu films. Or staying up late and being allowed to watch TV. To name just a few. You could make a long list. In any case, that’s what the seven-year-old boy in Alle schone dingen (Every Brilliant Thing, by Duncan Macmillan) does to help his suicidal mother rise above her depression. The solace of beauty in the small and commonplace. A show by Tom Dewispelaere (Olympique Dramatique). A perfect way to open the season.
But the infinitely large also holds unexpected and overwhelming beauty. In Shelly Shonk Fiffit, Benjamin Abel Meirhaeghe expresses his fascination with nothing less than the cosmos, a theme as unfathomable as the title of the show. Fascinated by the James Webb telescope, the largest and most sophisticated space telescope ever built, and the infinity of the human imagination, a diverse group of performers create an ecstatic trip through our inner world while exploring the far reaches of the cosmos. With mind-blowing electronic music by Caterina Barbieri. A musical ode to the imagination that makes us literally and figuratively rise far above ourselves.
For their part, Thomas Verstraeten and Bart Van Nuffelen keep it closer to home. Their cosmos is the street. They marvel at the city and its complexity, its diversity and resilience. At the start of the season, Thomas Verstraeten's Seefhoek Series is a loving ode to an ultra-diverse neighbourhood in northern Antwerp, where he himself lives. Commonplace scenes and events – street football, food stalls, picking up trash, an African preacher – inspire him to create performances, videos and installations. At the end of the season, in Honderd, Bart Van Nuffelen invites one hundred residents of Deurne Noord onto the Bourla stage. Both performances are part of the UNLOCK THE CITY! project, a collaboration between different European cities, between different disciplines and between academics, urbanists and artists.
The city is the place par excellence where people from all over the world meet, interact and rub up against each other. In FRICTION, however, choreographer and theatre maker Sophia Rodriguez wonders whether authentic friction between people might not be disappearing in a capitalist society increasingly focused on 'smoothness'. She explores whether deliberately provoking friction between people is a way to help rid them of psychological and cultural differences, which often get in the way of connecting with others. Here, friction becomes a consciously chosen act of rubbing against each other and eventually perhaps rubbing away fixed projections, belief systems and identities, as if they were pieces of dry wood.
But playing with imaginary identities can also be liberating. When Marchioness Arconati-Visconti inherited Gaasbeek Castle near Brussels at the end of the 19th century, she spared no expense or effort to transform it into a Renaissance fairy tale castle from the 15th century. It became a theatrical setting for her eccentric staging of herself. FC Bergman was inspired by her boundless imagination to create Ne Mobliez Mie (revue van verloren vignettes), for which they filmed on location at Gaasbeek Castle.
The great repertoire pieces of the past also continue to haunt us. What can still be done with that seemingly fossilized beauty? In Klytaimnḗstra, STAN & Olympique Dramatique radically bring it up to date. They blend Aeschylus’s original Greek tragedy Agamemnon with two adaptations, by Ted Hughes and Gustav Ernst respectively. The result is a polyphonic, poetic and razor-sharp dissection of violence, craving for power and misogyny, in four languages.
In addition to these seven premieres, with our Ateliers we offer space, guidance and support to a few theatre makers and/or theatre collectives each season in the creation of their shows. We do this in collaboration with other theatre partners. These are shows for the large stage that are later programmed at Toneelhuis. This season, Rosie Sommers and Micha Goldberg are working on GERMAN STAATSTHEATER and Mario Barrantes Espinoza is working on Flesh can't can't not 'tis flesh h... Furthermore, we are continuing two traditions: the Love at first Sight festival and the Antwerpse Kleppers. We also hope to welcome large numbers of you to our lectures, talks and debates on repertoire, generations, artistic processes and the place of art in society.
But first of all, we wish you a warm and relaxing summer in bright colours.
Benjamin Abel Meirhaeghe
and the entire team of Toneelhuis