“The first time that I experienced real confrontation in theatre was in high school. We were taken to the theatre to watch Angels in America. At that time, I had no access to arts. I was not reading yet. My family rejected books because they felt rejected by books. They grew up in a milieu were nobody would go to school or university. A book for my mother or father was like the symbol of the life they didn’t have, the life of people who went to school, who studied, and therefore, had a more privileged and easier life. So as a result, they did not like books. Culture rejected us, so we rejected culture. But then with school, we went to watch this theatre play, a play about homosexuality. Suddenly I saw men kissing, having sex and in a very explicit way. It was everything that I knew about myself, of my desire for other men, but that I was trying to hide from others the whole time because I was ashamed, of me, of these desires. And suddenly those were exactly the things I saw on stage. I actually walked out of the theatre, stood up and said: “I don’t want to see that gay stuff.” But it was too late. Something inside me was broken and open. I had seen these men touching each other and couldn’t escape the fact that it was all that my body was asking from me.
What is important in this anecdote is not me, my person, but this: theatre can be so powerful in forcing people to see, what they usually avoid, what they have built exit strategies for or against, to not watch, or not listen. Even if they know these things they avoid do exist, and are there, around us, not only as desires but also as violence, racism, poverty and hate. Everybody knows these things exist but often people try to avoid being confronted with reality. Confrontation is what interests me about theatre. A room filled up with people, who have to stay and listen. Of course they can walk out, but there is still, a kind of physical power of theatre. A book you can just put aside or away, theatre you cannot. You have to keep watching and be confronted with what you see. This is the potential radical power that theatre has, the suspension of freedom for a brief moment.
Theatre should never forget this unique power, because along with the power goes the responsibility of the choice of what you are talking about. And that’s why theatre should always be made with a certain feel- ing of shame, confronting the public, the actors, the makers. To what and whom will we listen and what and whom will be silenced? Of course you can stage The Hypochondriac by Molière, I love Molière, and when I read it I am moved to the core, but at the same time migrants are dying, the Amazon forest is disappearing, women are being sexually assaulted and not being believed as victims. I think it was Ta-Nehisi Coates, referring to Baldwin, who said: when I walk down the street, I see these beautiful little streets, with beautiful little trees, and a beautiful little bench, it makes me angry because I know it’s a lie. The world is not like this. This aesthetic that I am seeing is not representing the reality, what is currently happening in this world. And that’s the same for me: I go to the theatre and I see The Hypochondriac, and I think this is a lie, this is not what is going on around us, this is not what we live in. Reality is actually a delicate issue. It’s what builds us, it’s everywhere around us, but it is the most difficult thing to see, to touch, to represent. Isn’t that strange?