When I was a teenager in Adelaide I performed in pantomimes and bad school plays. In Belgium’s city of Ghent young performers are given an enviable creative freedom and respect that is taking their performances all over the world.
Ontroerend Goed’s Once And For All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up And Listen is immediately similar to Victoria’s That Night Follows Day (MIAF 2005, directed by Forced Entertainment’s Tim Etchells). Both open with a line of chairs across the stage, are performed by children and teenagers and were created by Ghent-based companies.
Victoria and Etchells confront adults by exposing what children think about adult control and love, while Ontroerend Goed present teenagers without questioning the adult relationship with them.
A young man looks at the audience and says, “By looking at us you have to start feeling old”, but even if we are distanced from the cast by age, it’s comforting to see that teenagers are the same as we were and we can giggle about their fear of turning into adults like us! It’s also comforting to know that we are unlikey to live through such an angsty, hormonal and angry time again.
Director Alexander Devriendt says he “wanted to create something for the teenager inside everyone”. It’s not just their love of swearing and wearing shiny leggings that remind us of our own teenage years, but their the fearlessness and destructive power, which they don’t really understand.
Devriendt spent two months meeting weekly with his cast before any performance took shape. By creating a space where they were free to do whatever they liked, the cast of 14- to 18-year-olds created the content and Devriendt designed a repetitive structure that gives them the freedom and safety to show us their world without judgement.
The desire to shock is inherent in being a teen (and possibly in being a performer) so there is a degree of sexuality, violence and drug taking on the stage that actively tries to confront the audience, but I suspect they are showing us what we fear they are, rather than what they really are. As we know their fear about all adulthood being ‘boring’ and ‘the same’ isn’t true for everyone; adult fears that teens are behaving without thought of consequence also isn’t universally true.
The cast of 13 relish the freedom the stage gives them to experiment and be what they dream of and they present performance maturity, stage knowledge and a freshness that is irresistible to watch. Just don’t let the attention-seeking teenagers know that we see them not seeking attention, sharing a space and letting adults understand what they are thinking and saying.