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Interview Dries Verhoeven


Can you introduce yourself?

I create work on the cutting edge between visual art and theatre. My aim is to stage situations that will allow audiences to examine themselves. My work can be seen as a laboratory: I reduce things that happen in real life to a more or less structured confrontation between the viewer and the viewed. The viewer experiences his or her own auto-response which he/she can then dissect in every detail.

What drives you to be creative?

Uncertainty, softness, insecurity. Instances when I myself am at a loss how to respond are of great value to me. I hope to recreate those instances for an audience and to take people along in my uncertainty.

Over the last few years your work has become political in a very outspoken manner. What has prompted this shift?

It’s a growing awareness of the impact of the political on the personal. Whether I want it to or not, the way I relate to my Turkish neighbours is influenced by the daily newsfeed I consume. When Mark Rutte writes a letter to what he calls ‘all Dutch people’, it has an impact, one that is immediately tangible in the way we eye each other on the tram. I hope to keep a critical view of the way the people in power speak out; what message they formulate and which words they pick to do so. And I hope to address our receptiveness to this newsfeed, how vulnerable we are willing to be to the barrage of messages aimed at us.

You have published a book titled Scratching Where It Hurts. Where are you scratching with Phobiarama?

I’m scratching our anxiety receptors. Drawing on some of the tactics used by terrorists, politicians and fearmongers who stand to benefit from our feeling insecure and alert, I have thematised this scratching; what happens to our human relationships when we are made to feel afraid of an enemy – be it a real enemy or a fictional one?

You avoid traditional theatre spaces. What kind of situations do you try to create for audiences?

My hope is always to create a space for encounter, a domain in which a visitor is challenged, by a performer, to study his/her own gaze, the subconscious thoughts that are hidden behind what we think we are witnessing. In Phobiarama I address our instinctive response to danger. I think the theatre as a performance space fails to make us really experience this instinct because the theatre exists by the grace of some distance. I hope to create spaces that place people smack in the middle of the action.

Phobiarama deals with populism and fear. What are the possibilities of an artist to react to this?

We can’t just brush aside the PVV-voters’ gut feelings as being irrational; we have to make more of an effort. What I prefer to do instead is to stage the nightmare scenario projected by Geert Wilders and take my audience on a trip through it. We are all mortal creatures. I think it makes sense to recognise the part of ourselves that is susceptible to populism and the rhetoric of fear, or that would be if the circumstances were different.

If you hadn’t become an artist, what would your profession be? And why?

I’d be a pastry chef, which is a dream I had until I was 18. I will still happily bake a gooseberry pie whenever I can.

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