Crossing / 2011-2012
A theatre triptych in a church
A theatre project with a large group of young people from Brussels, mainly with a (Romanian) Roma background.
These youngsters received very little education. Often they were recruited on the street by so-called Roma mediators for a school program that was tailor-made for them in order to improve their chances on the labour market.
What started out as a weekly theatre session grew into a layered project that took them far beyond the school walls. ‘Crossing’ also brought them into closer contact with themselves, their special culture and their born talents as performers. They worked intensively on the project for two school years.
During the course of the project, they appeared on television, won a prize and were invited to testify about the creative process and about themselves.
A special plus in this adventure was that the school attendance statistics in the year of the final presentation had never been so high!
Some of the participants were eventually admitted to the regular school system and achieved successes that their supervisors credited to this project.
Crossing was introduced by a prologue and concluded by an epilogue. In this way, the piece formed a triptych. With a group of about forty ‘gadje’ or ‘outsiders’, I created a prologue which I called ‘Clou-story’. Clou-story was a mass enactment of an apocryphal biblical story from Macedonia. Based on the crucifixion of Christ, it gives a primitive and rather xenophobic explanation for the wandering existence of the gypsies. The centrepiece of this three-in-one performance – la pièce de résistance – was the young people’s piece that grew out of improvisations in my weekly ‘lessons in theatre’. In addition to their natural expressive talent, I paid a lot of attention to their roots and the crossing of the border by their fathers and grandfathers after the fall of the Wall in Eastern Europe. Parallel to their journey, I directed a monologue for one of their teachers that I wrote based on conversations about his experiences and motivation as a teacher.
His role formed the epilogue to the play Crossing. He did this monologue tied to a pole. This evoked mirror images with the two other parts of the play: in ‘Clou-story’ in which soldiers forced a young Roma to crawl on that very pole. And with the central part with one of his pupils, a girl with roots in Guinée-Conakry. She was the only non-Roma in the acting group. She was able to recite with verve – in Dutch – the book opener of ‘100 Years of Solitude’ by the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Márquez. In that famous opener, Colonel Aureliano Buendia stands before the firing squad and tells about the history of his mythical village Macondo, where one day the gypsies introduced him to ice. What attracts me to Márquez is that his story tells the history of a continent, embedded in a grand and universal village story. Of course, the link with the Romanian dictator Ceausescu was also obvious.
Crossing was performed in one of the many monumental churches of Brussels, the Beguinage Church.
I had worked in it before in a project with homeless people. Setting up the church to make it playable was a true battle with space and matter (10 second echo!). The advantage of this unique location was that the physical difficulty of mastering this space acoustically and technically while respecting it’s character, offered an opportunity to involve dozens of volunteers. Students in training for stage technique, Moroccan women for catering, students in training in surveillance techniques to secure space and equipment, Roma youth who had not had the opportunity or seized it to be on stage and who, together with their teachers, helped with the construction of the stage and stands. Together with a team of about sixty actors and musicians, we created an unseen human biotope over a period of two weeks. Three hundred people were directly involved in the production. More than 1,000 people witnessed this special energy during the performances.
Poster image after a painting by the Flemish artist Pascal Verreth, who died far too young.
Crossing part 2
Crossing part 3
Crossing part 4
Child in gypsy