The State of Theatre



Colleagues, fellow professionals, fans of theatre,
Sisters, friends and allies,

Your silence will not protect you… me, or us.

This is why I am picking up the mic. 
Today I am opening the Dutch Theatre Festival with the State of the Theatre.
And I would like to talk about a sector that needs to move.
Let me invite you to this dance. Together we will find the right balance.
This dance will not be without friction or discomfort. However, it is essential if we want to achieve growth.

First let me tell you something about my theatre tradition. Hiphop: the core value of my working practice. My sources come from hiphop. My dance and theatre language come from that tradition and my leadership style has been shaped by it. Hiphop – where everyone is welcome who moves from a sense of urgency. Hiphop – where colours, disciplines and generations meet and strengthen each other. 

I am trained in Cypher – the circle, the heart of a community, the heart of hiphop. This is the circle that invites everyone to communicate in the way that suits you best, you are encouraged by the energy of the group, the uplifting music by drummers or DJs, turning Cypher into a creative meeting of bodies and minds.

Cypher is a place where new styles are being developed, techniques are finetuned and tributes are paid to pillars of the culture.

You don’t have to qualify to cypher, you just do it. 
The circle is a place for everyone, from beginners to high-level dancers.
You just enter the cypher and dance.

I work with a crew mentality – this is another pillar of hiphop. Crew, team, family.
In a crew you sometimes take a step forward and you sometimes take a step back to support the group as a whole and work towards the shared goal. Collaborating on an equal footing with different generations and cultures: that’s what makes a crew, makes a crew dope. This is the strength of multiperspectivity. In a crew you take care of each other, and you can learn from each other. Each one teach one!

Thanks to hiphop, one of the most influential art movements of the last 40 years, I am part of an ancient tradition. The tradition of the African diaspora. I take the values of Cypher and the crew with me – everywhere I go. And I pass them on, wherever I go and to everyone I work with.

Let me invite you to this dance. Together we will find the right balance.

Let me start with a shout-out to my sisters!
My story is similar to the story of many of you. I am a ‘child of migration’, as part of the African diaspora. Our paths go from Africa, Brazil, the West Indies and Surinam to Lisbon, Barcelona, Paris, Brussels, Bergen op Zoom, Utrecht and Groningen. Various paths come together in me – as far as I know – from along the coast of Barbados to the interior of Surinam to Klaaskreek where the enslaved people who liberated themselves settled down. This path continues to the cities of Nickerie and Paramaribo to Amsterdam, to Rotterdam. I feel proud to tell you how far back my roots go, and how deep my roots are.

Sisters, our position will never be self-evident.
Our story is a story of despite, but also thanks to. From ‘It was all a dream’ to ‘The sky is the limit’. Our sector is moving, and a new balance of power is on the horizon. Let me give you 3 tips if I may be so forthright: mandate, mandate, mandate. And the bonus tip is: passion.

Even though the struggle is not over yet: let’s celebrate this moment!
Let’s celebrate where we are. What we do. Who carry us. 
Let’s celebrate the stories in which we have already been playing main parts and were happy to play the small parts too. Stories in which both our magic as well as our everydayness are key. Let’s celebrate that from the past to the present we are still moving together.

Let me invite you to this dance. Together we will find the right balance.

Sisters, they say: “Never beg for a seat, when you can build your own table.” 
I never wanted to be dependent on a system that was created for others and in which we merely play the role to keep the status quo in place. This is why I built my own house with my tools. I built a hiphop house. And another one. I created a dance company. And oh boy how I enjoyed my food at my own table: food for the soul and food for thought. 

But I chose to exchange my self-built house and to live in an art temple. Not because I see the position of being a director of an established institute as the only definition of success, but because this is how I want to contribute to change. 
I have chosen to work on the system from within.
And I take my chairs with me – because I want to invite new guests to the table. 

As the director of Theater Rotterdam, I know that a house is not automatically a home for everyone. I have the habit of always keeping the door ajar. To be on my guard for smooth talk and good intentions. 
I invest in people who have taken a different route and who thought that this would never be a place for them. And I also facilitate conflict at my table. Because only by meeting others, having a conversation or a debate can we create polyphony. 

Sisters, It is important to me to rhyme my radicality with a world in which we can all develop ourselves. This world is a work in progress. I am a person who builds, so I keep on building.

As a crew we need various kinds of warriors – each with their own style. 
A shout-out to all of you!
We are doing this together.
Bring your joy, 
Bring your disappointment, because we are here. 
Bring your laughter, 
Bring your brilliant brain, 
Bring your aesthetics, 
Bring your resources, 
This sector needs you. In every way and in every nook and cranny. Even though it really may not seem like it does. Even if you come across others who do not understand and who have phobias. We are here. 

Our goal is bigger than to fight ignorance.

We feel the necessity to create. We feel the necessity to tell our story. 
We are building – each in our own way – a sector in which radical equality is the only way. Not at your own cost, never at your own cost. 
You will notice that we are in the minority today. Not all my sisters are present here today. A number of sisters chose not to stand next to me, behind me and not to be in the audience. This is because our sector devours us. This sector can hurt you, this sector can cause injuries. It does something to me when I see that my sisters are getting hurt. This sector is not a safe place. This is why there are sisters who no longer want to recognize this stage, this system and this sector. That’s why they are not here today – and some of them have even left the sector.

So never fight at your own cost. 
Selfcare first, fix your own support system through your sisterhood and alliance.
I need you, and we need you to chip in. In your own time, in your own way… and get paid!

Sisters, We are standing on the shoulders of giants – those who went before us, smoothing out the path and inspiring others. 
We enjoy the support of a young generation of theater makers of colour who are hungry for knowledge from those who went before them. Their activism gives me hope. So does their creativity, their laughter, their critical look and dedication. 

One of us equals many of us.
One of us equals many of us.


The intermezzo of standing still offered time for reflection. Reflection now urges us to move.

Covid has severely shaken up our sector. A part of the audience is still looking for its way back to the theaters. Another part is now finally recognised as valuable. Makers and employees are in vulnerable positions. Resilience has limits. Many of our problems have existed for a long time, but the pandemic has revealed them very clearly.

The inequality within the sector has become extremely clear now. Differences have been magnified. Differences between large theater companies and small ensembles, between employees and freelancers. Between freelancers who have a network in our sector and those who don’t. 

We must conclude that the trickle-down effect of means and resources has not always resulted in fertile ground everywhere.

It is time to plough the earth. 

During the lockdowns we explored new ways of presenting, and for a short while it looked as if we started to reach a different audience. However, now we seem to be back to square one. So many people do not feel welcome again in our sector. 

It is time to start moving.

‘Don’t forget about me’, shouts a maker. ‘Don’t forget about me’, shouts the sector. And the urge to produce is back again. Programmes that are filled to the brim and overflowing. All of us are in survival mode. Technicians, producers, marketeers.

It is time to choose.

Our workplaces are unsafe. #metoo. #metoo.

It is time to listen.

It is time to take your head out of the sand and to listen. Just listen. 
There is less happiness in the workplace, there is an exodus, a decline, we are losing talented people. 
Some people collapsed and they have not been put back on their feet. 
The debate is flagging, about us, about inclusion, about inappropriate behaviour, because of the reflex to “get a grip on the situation first”.
A bit more time, a bit more time and then… then what? Back to what?
It was not good enough. We can do better, and we should know better. 

It is time to change – especially now.

We need to start moving. 

Keeping everything as it is, well, there is something to be said for that. However, not because “this is simply the way we do things around here.” 

Reproducing the status quo slows us down and excludes people. I ask questions when the norm is not being questioned. Tectonic plates are crashing into each other, the pillars and foundations are shifting. The canon is being questioned. Assumptions must also be questioned: what is quality, what is professionalism, who is heard and what stories do we give priority to?

It is time to put the untold stories and processes in the foreground so we can catch up and make up for lost time and to start bridging the gap.

We must look critically at the urge to produce so much and which data we use to measure success – this is keeping our sector in its grip. We need to start programming differently. We need to commit ourselves more to local organisations and needs. 

And sometimes we need to make room, because…

We need to start moving.
Fully committed.
There will be friction and pain. For me too. And it has been hurting for a long time. For some of us it will be less enjoyable for a while. But we can bring the fun back again.

If we listen to the rhythm and dance together.

Let me invite you to this dance. Together we will find the right balance.

To all women, including the sisters from another mister, let me talk to you. Everyone of us, some more than others, knows what it is like to move in a system that has not necessarily been created for us. Who else – rather than us – can bring about change?

Every one of us, some more than others, know what it is like to be reduced to an object by the male gaze. Who else – rather than us – will make a breakthrough in this?

Every one of us, some more than others, know what it is like not to be allowed to join in with the boys, the men, the good old boys’ network.

Being excluded, no seat at the table, no certainty, no recognition, no respect. Not being seen, not being heard, not for you, not so angry, not so loud, not so sour, not for you, only for me, not understood, not proven, not self-evident, not… not… not… you are not not not, not not not… one of us.
Who else – rather than us – will have to work on… a new we?

Who else – rather than us – needs to open their mouth when boundaries are crossed? 

And who – once we have reached the top, can open the door for the next… woman?

This is why I give this shout-out to all my sisters from another mister.

This is a call to action to all the women in our sector:

Our crew needs warriors to fight with us: so please be loyal and build with us!


Us them, us them, us them – I can’t believe we are still talking about this! But there is still so much we need to achieve a ‘we’.

My question is: what are we going to do? 
Because I want to address this. I want to question traditions and break them open, making clear choices and turning them into policies rather than continuing to find weak compromises. We need courage, but also action.

We need to invest in us as a sector, in new values, in addressing inequality, in restructuring power balances. Power should no longer be focused on dominance, but on offering opportunities and letting people grow. 

We need polyphony for this. More forcefulness. 
Polyphony in stories and diversity of forms. I embrace polyphony, without recognizing its complexity. Some of us, who are in positions where they are seldomly questioned, confuse the deep unease that comes with polyphony with unsafety. But we will have to practice with holding the space, even when it becomes difficult and uncomfortable. 

Getting used to this sense of unease at the table. To create a new We in that conversation. 

Dear and highly valued colleagues, let me ask you a question: in which positions in your organisations would it hurt if someone with a different type of knowledge was allowed to have full mandate? Allowed to do, allowed to give, allowed to push, allowed to learn, allowed to trip up, allowed to have doubts?
And who will be there to support them with a learning, curious attitude? Where do you stand? Could you be an ally?

Do you have the courage to allow linguistic confusion?
Do you have the courage to embrace the implications of that conversation?
Do you have the courage to move at “this is simply how we do things around here” and to listen to a different proposal?
Do you have the courage to address the inappropriate behaviour of the cynical gossips and to encourage them to do their homework?

Would you…

Do you have the courage to…
Can you become an ally?

Do you want to work on a We in the making? 

Now and for the future.

Because ask yourself this question: Are we good ancestors of our future colleagues? Are we the giants on whose shoulders they stand?

I am hopeful and ready to fight. We can do this, we will do this, because it is time. Sometimes it will hurt and that’s OK. There is a movement going on that can’t be stopped. 

On a positive note, I see many other organisations and makers everywhere that are also bringing about change and questioning traditions. I see colleagues who are communicating differently with their audience, colleagues who embrace new work processes, who start thinking out-of-the-box with an open mind. They are letting the boundaries between the various disciplines become blurred, and they are working hard to really make the theater more inclusive.

For example, I see a young generation of black theater makers, united in the The Need for Legacy. They are making an effort to make stories from the Dutch history of theatre visible before they disappear from our collective memories.

A new We, a new We in the making. We need each other to achieve that. Side by side, shoulder to shoulder.

Processes will be uncomfortable, will be new. They will be different from what we are used to. This comes with the new culture that we are jointly looking for and creating, the We that we still need to become. Doing things together requires a joint effort. 

And staying with the trouble. Staying with the trouble!
There is no other way.
Your silence will not protect you, me or us!