April 1, 2023

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“The ultra-conservative believer also has a right to exist.”

“The ultra-conservative believer also has a right to exist.”

In the theatrical installation Queertopia, you step into a machine in which you come out as a weirdo, regardless of your sexual orientation. Theater makers Luit Bakker and Bart van de Woestijne especially hope that audiences will view themselves and the world with a more open mind afterwards.

The model is inspired by gay conversion therapies: controversial curative therapies intended to ‘cure’ homosexuality – often resulting in serious psychological complaints. Van de Woestijne and Bakker reversed the roles in their concept: On the roof of the Verkadefabriek theater in Den Bosch, they built a “heterosexual healing centre,” where four people could be “turned” into gays every hour during the cement festival. Packer: “In this way we hope to slowly recruit an army of open-minded people.”

Part of the experience is that you as a viewer run individually into a small booth, while one of the performers addresses you from outside the booth. Through the reflective glass, your head matches that of the performer, says Van de Woestijne. “The idea is that you try to look at yourself as you look at someone else. It’s a thought experiment: Can you break free from all the assumptions and frameworks you’ve made of yourself, and see your reflection as something new?”

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Bakker and Van de Woestijne wanted to create a personal and serene experience. Packer: “In my experience, the queer movement is often portrayed as a political lobby trying to indoctrinate people. But for me, queerness is about love and being yourself. Hopefully, the spectator will examine himself: Are there parts of me that I’m not displaying?”

From my own experience

Manufacturers rely on their own experience: both of them define themselves as strange. Bakker has delivered a number of impressive and committed solo performances on this on the Likeminds production house. Van de Woestijne is known for his philosophical theatrical installations on location: his performances are often individual experiences in which the spectator reconnects with himself and the environment. Queertopia Bakker’s activity and Van de Woestijne’s meditation unite.

The idea is that identity is not static, but constantly changing: something you can choose. Van de Woestijne: “We all tend to constantly frame and frame ourselves. But the paradox of using the bathroom is that it gives you freedom to belong, but you’re also very excluded.”

In the social conversation about queerness, sexuality and identity are often interconnected, but that can have a constraining effect, says Packer. “The person you sleep with doesn’t necessarily define who you are. These may also be just separate actions for now, without consequences.” Van de Woestijne: “This playfulness in thinking can give you breathing room: If everything you do doesn’t immediately become a defining part of who you are, it creates space to experiment more freely.”

Of course, not everyone has to eventually become an outlier in their own right, the performance is an “expansion” that will hopefully unlock new perspectives. The theatrical show certainly wasn’t made exclusively for a hetero audience. Packer, laughing: “Homosexuals can be treated like the rest. They’re also sometimes less open-minded than they think themselves are, and they’re stuck in limiting patterns of thinking about themselves, just like the rest of us.”

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Van de Woestijne: “A big difference with conversion therapies in which people are converted to ex-gay is that it is based on the idea that you are not allowed to be certain things. We are looking for a way of thinking in which everything is allowed to exist. The ultra-conservative has a right to exist Also, because this too can be a choice. As long as this choice is made freely.”

Cement FestivalFrom 17 to 25 March at various locations in Den Bosch. Inl: festivalcement.nl

Read also: Garden of Heavenly Delights review by Whit Packer