Sara Ahmed previously wrote on the Killjoy. Was her book the original inspiration to make the show?
I’ve worked on several projects which reflect on the construction of language, about how language is shaping our perspective on the world or enabling violence. I came across the term ‘Killjoy’ very coincidentally in an amusement park. Later on, someone recommended the book by Sara Ahmed to me. When I read her manifesto, and subsequently dived into her body of work, I understood how the feminist discourse could prevent violence by educating people on the language of violence. The idea of ‘Killjoy’ became a tool. It’s difficult to confront someone who’s employing violent language, for example when making a racist, sexist, or misogynist joke. Ahmed speaks of the joke as a type of excuse to be violent. The person who wants to call them out needs to be armed with the language of resistance and needs to understand how you need to be trained to call out the violator and say 'this is not okay'. That’s what the quiz needed to offer: training. I wanted to train myself and others to form a group of women embodying the energy needed to resist the verbal acts of violence we’re all confronted with.
I wanted to train myself and other women
Why did it have to be a quiz? It’s a very specific format.
I like the idea of mainstreaming progressive left-wing ideology. Also, I’m an educator so, in my heart, there is the idea that educational strategies are the only way to escape the paradigms of violence, racism, misogyny, etc. A quiz-like format also is meant to simplify complex messages, but not in the same way as populism. Our way is ironic, within an artistic context. We’re able to play with contradictions, chew on them, and digest them with a lot of humour. If you take a complex topic such as climate change and the seriousness of your individual responsibility and you simplify your options to a set of a/b/c/d answers, you’re also uncovering narrative techniques. I believe this way we can easily access people’s potential to think critically.
Our way is ironic, within an artistic context
Is theatre-making inherently educational?
I want people to say to themselves once or twice during a show: ah, I really felt something – I was touched somehow. This connection can be intellectual as well as emotional or educational. I am an educator but I don’t do theatre to educate. Education is a different type of activism. However, theatre is also about sharing knowledge. I believe in sharing knowledge through art. I want people to reach an aesthetic experience that evokes critical thinking. It goes both ways: evoking critical thinking also makes it an aesthetic experience. Theatre is not the space to impose on you what you should or should not think. In school, you can express your opinion as a teacher, a person, or a citizen and then ask for the student’s take on the subject. But in the theatre, you provoke aesthetics. This is where humour plays an important role for me. When people laugh when confronted with a difficult reality, there is a 'double capture: you are in the theatre, but you are also producing the theatre. You bring in your own background by responding in that way. That’s what art does. It’s different from both education and activism. I admire activists but I don’t consider myself one in the sense that I don’t jump the barricades or cooperate with the government and make policy, which I consider to be very important work. I think educational theatre would be boring and we should all respect our field and its specific potential.
You bring in your own background by responding. That’s what art does
To kill joy is to kill the happy object, according to Ahmed. How do you treat this paradoxical element within the quiz?
There are two ways of laughing. The first one is laughing at a joke which isn’t funny at all because it’s racist. This joy in killing the joy of others is the joy that reinforces violence and which is blindly reproducing oppressive paradigms. That’s the type of joy we have to kill. But when we gather as feminists and we laugh about our struggles, then we turn pain into joy. Just like in drag culture, when someone dresses up to go on stage and make someone laugh at things that are, in fact, painful. This healing quality of humor interests me. Everyone thinks feminists don’t laugh but we laugh all the time at the absurdity of the system. When my daughter suddenly makes a feminist statement, I laugh. I laugh because we’re growing.