spring 2012. I am sitting on a terrace with Berhane.
We rehearse for Street, a performance that I make together with homeless men from Utrecht, for Parallel Cities by Rimini Protokol. I ask Berhane, a man from Ethiopia who has been living on the streets in Utrecht for some time, what he thinks about me being inspired by his story, in a certain sense lax with his pain. Berhane understands what I ask. He has no clear answer. We speak for a long time. It is a special conversation. A dear conversation, of which I hardly remember any words. We derive strength from each other. That’s what he said. Something like that. We share our pain, we make it divisible. We need each other.
More and more theater makers choose to work with experts of all kinds, non-professionals, or, as we sometimes say by accident, real people. Where does that need come from? Are we not real enough? Do we need the pain, the inner life, of others, to get to know ourselves again?
Berhane and I are in Hoog Catherijne, the largest shopping center in the Netherlands. We scan the proportions. Who is he? Who am I? Why do I feel attracted to his story? I am ashamed to start talking about myself, but I feel it is important to also dare to speak about my own position.
It is not just about Berhane, a homeless man from Ethiopia in the Netherlands. It is also and especially about the people who walk past him. It’s also about me. Only when I start to speak about my own uncertainties does our conversation become a real conversation. “I recognize myself in you. Our lives differ incredibly much from each other, and yet, I think I know your grief.”
Berhane now asks the questions. I am looking for words.The sense of my own insignificance, my own small self, frightens me. And I long for it. We can not only focus the spotlight on the other person, the refugee, the cleaning lady, and pretend to be in charge. We can not only be a good translator of the stories of others. From false modesty not to start about yourself and to focus on the moving humanity of the alltag expert is not an option.
Everyone is an alltag-expert. Also the theater maker. Also the spectator.
We must dare to face our own clumsiness, our own weaknesses, in terms of words. Only together, in dialogue, can we try to expose the complexity of the relationships. We need each other to get to know ourselves.