Dries Verhoeven is an experiential theatre pioneer – in his performances, spectators are not mere bystanders, they are the pivot on which his plot turns. This March, the Dutch filmmaker and theatre director will be creating his newest festival production in Sri Lanka with a large group of local actors. It’s an ambitious undertaking in more ways than one – not only will his audience and actors be separated by entire continents, neither will have a script to rely on.
Dries intends to begin with building an internet cafe on a beach in Hikkaduwa and a corresponding booth at a selection of European Festivals in Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany. “A personal chat conversation will literally put the European spectator in contact with a Sri Lankan, who plays/represents the role of someone needing help...together they answer some questions. ‘Imagine that I need your help. What is the best way for me to ask for it? What do I have to do to earn your attention? How do I really get into contact with you?’”
“It questions the degree of honesty that a person needing help can afford, if he is aware of the other’s mindset,” says Dries. As the performance proceeds, intimacy develops between actor and spectator – ultimately the two connect in a conversation about nature and death, about the forces to which we as human beings are subject.
It’s tough to imagine such emotional vulnerability developing spontaneously in an internet café. Dries himself expects the space to be “businesslike and undefined” at the start of a performance. As it progresses, however, he hopes individual spectators with their headsets will be able to share a collective experience as “the light, the smell and the sound of Sri Lanka enters the European internet café...I want to let spectators feel how close strangers can get if you give them the opportunity to do so. “
Assisting Dries is actor, playwright and director Jake Oorloff, of the Floating Space Theatre Company.
The two met when Dries visited Sri Lanka. “This project is an extension of our work in terms of collaborations with artists from other parts of the world and also an experiment in terms of ‘form’,” says Jake, adding that he’s also looking forward to working with ‘non-performers’ or novices to theatre. Both men hope to introduce European spectators to a Sri Lanka they might normally never see.
Auditions, workshops, rehearsals and the actual performance itself will be located in Hikkaduwa, and the project will be held at the arts centre Chandrasevana, which was established by the Scottish charity the Hikkaduwa Area Relief Fund to support the local community as it recovered from the tsunami.
For Life Streaming Chandrasevana will work with Dries to create a 20 strong company of adventurous, committed Sri Lankan actors. Dries is optimistic – “theatre is for me a moment where everything is possible, where you can discuss everything in every possible way.” Still, this project is going to push against the boundaries of what experiential theatre can accomplish – “logistically and artistically it's going to be a big challenge!”
Sign up to perform
A three-day workshop will serve as auditions for aspiring actors. Participants need to be 18 years or older, fluent in English and computer savvy. No previous acting experience is required and actors will be financially compensated for their time. Email firstname.lastname@example.org by February 18 with a brief note about why you would like to be involved in the project.