On loneliness, the greatest disease of the 21st century

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'Thanks for Being Here', the upcoming production by Ontroerend Goed, premiering in May at NTGent Schouwburg , serves as a thank-you note to the audience. The note might not come with flowers, but with a gentle invitation to embrace the diversity of perspectives that surround us: see the strangers sitting beside us and listen to their thoughts and concerns. The performance is a celebration of togetherness, whether within the confines of a theatre or out on the streets. We had the pleasure of meeting up with Patricia Kargbo & Leonore Spee, two of the actors involved in the play helmed by Alexander Devriendt.

Leonore & Patricia, you’re both working on the new Ontroerend Goed piece called Thanks for Being Here. Can you introduce yourself? 

Leonore: I am Leonore Spee, 29 years old. I live in Antwerp and I graduated with a Master in Drama at the Royal Conservatorium, department Kleinkunst. Right after my training I joined Ontroerend Goed, and since this year I have been part of their artistic team, so I am involved in creating performances and reflecting on the artistic vision of the company. I’m also part of Teletext, a music-theatre collective. We are currently working on a new publication of the Antwerp songbook, the oldest book of songs in the Low Countries, in collaboration with 40 authors. I am also part of a feminist writers' collective called Hyster-x.

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Patricia: I am Patricia Kargbo and I am 26 years old. In 2020, I graduated from RICTS in Brussels as an actress. I'm still very much experimenting with whichever I want to do, so I'm happy to be able to take on a broad range of projects, from the play Genesis by Abattoir Fermée to television work. I also teach at the Conservatory in Antwerp. I would like to describe myself as a performer who enjoys thinking conceptually and who carries a great curiosity.

Ontroerend Goed is known for its conceptual approach to theatre. Can you explain the concept of Thanks for Being Here?

L: The title Thanks for Being Here is itself an ode to the audience. It's all about thanking the audience for being here and acknowledging how special it is for people to come together in a theatre, a celebration of a kind! We want to acknowledge our audience.

Especially in times of extreme polarisation, we need to continue opening ourselves up to new or other perspectives

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P: It's also about raising awareness of the boundaries of our personal perspective and how that affects our perception of the world. We are often trapped in our own perspective, co-created by where we live, where we were born and who we associate with, and it's important to be aware of that. Especially in times of extreme polarisation, we need to continue opening ourselves up to new or other perspectives.

The act of watching is pivotal

Leonore: The act of watching is pivotal. We're also really going to people-watch. Watching is such a big part of our everyday lives as well as of theatre. Walking on the street or sitting in the theatre, if you look around you, you'll see so many people living different lives, thinking different thoughts. That's another thing we'd like to celebrate.

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The cast is an all-female one, you’re joined by Charlotte De Bruyne and Karolien De Bleser. How has that been?

P: I find it fascinating how being on stage with four women is still a political statement. It is a nice setting to work in, in some ways you understand each other very well, but we are also four very different women with our own perspectives and sometimes a different way of communicating. We both have our own perspectives and our own way of relating to certain things, however, a shared experience of the world does help us deal with each other more gently.

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Interesting timing to call for a softening perspective, so close to elections. What’s your take on that? 

L: The performance calls for more understanding, you do not need to agree with people. That's another issue. But there are just so many things that affect what you see, how you see those things. It can happen that you've had a lousy day, go watch a show and find it a bit boring. Afterwards, you come into a foyer and chat with someone who thought it was fantastic. Then you can also ask: ‘Ah, how did you experience it then?’. Misunderstanding each other or making no attempt to understand each other creates loneliness, which is the greatest disease of the 21st century. Since we started making this performance, I am very conscious of what my gaze is claiming, what I am projecting onto people.

There is a limit to curiosity, to empathy, to lend an ear, but where is it?

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P: The emphasis is also on trying. There are sometimes situations where you can't afford to try to understand the other person. If people make racist statements, I am hurt as a person, and I don't want to try to 'understand'. But should we be less quick to pigeonhole people or think we know everything about them? It's a difficult question, where is the limit? There is a limit to curiosity, to empathy, to lend an ear, but where is it?

You’re talking about seeing it as a concept. Can you spoil something we will see when we go watch Thanks For Being Here?

L: You can expect quite a technical show, as we work a lot with cameras, the eye of this age. Today we had a camera workshop by Maxime Lahousse, the idea is that we will enter the stage as four trained DOP’s [laughs].

P: We’re also very curious to see how it will play out, as the audience is such a big part of our concept, but we rarely rehearse with an audience, let alone a fully packed venue. So we’re excited to make it happen with the audience present. 

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<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> @ontroerend_goed / @patriciakargbo / @speeleonore / @ntgent </div></div>

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