The Place Where We Belong
Eavesdropping on the streets
‘A daring jump on to the street.’ (de Volkskrant, May 2005)
The Place Where We Belong tackles issues such as immigration, integration and changing national identity. It does so by telling the love story of a female immigrant and her native husband.
The immigrant has lived in the Netherlands for some time and is well integrated: she has learned both the Dutch language and the social codes of her new homeland.
Following the birth of their child, which they are raising bilingually, the couple begins to experience difficulties. The immigrant, despite her integration, is increasingly aware of the importance of her cultural background - for example the importance of her mother tongue – and she begins to encounter ever greater friction with the outside world. As a result of the changing political climate, and because of the issues she confronts in her own personal life, she ends up facing a crisis.
Who belongs here and why? How far is it possible and necessary to integrate?
Can we live together without denying our roots?
The husband tries to understand what is happening to his wife, but he perceives the issues with an objectivity that she simply doesn’t have. But, because he is afraid of losing his wife, he can’t afford to ignore her difficulties and has to become involved.
‘In Budapest I feel like a tourist who, in a strange way, knows all the streets. That’s how I feel now in Holland, says Petra Ardai, who calls herself a well integrated immigrant in The Place Where We Belong.
To the accidental passers-by she poses the question that she never had to ask before: Should I stay or should I go back? In a refined and finally hopeful performance, Space allows reality to enter the stage. This is no journalism and no moralism, this is pure theatre. With a giant moral dilemma.’ (Vrij Nederland, Sept. 2005)
Together with her native husband, the immigrant undertakes a public attempt to define the conditions under which they are both able to feel at home.
Voyeurs from a distance, the audience and the husband are physically situated in a different space, looking down through a window on to the street below.
Using headphones they are able to eavesdrop on the immigrant’s conversations on the street, while the immigrant herself is wearing a wireless microphone and a camera.
The immigrant tells passers-by about her situation: that she wants to feel at home here, that she has a child who was born here, and that she belongs to this culture. But – just like the natives – she also experiences how difficult it is to leave one’s own culture behind. She confronts passers-by with her dilemma: should she stay, or should she go back to the country where she came from? This question is of course a very difficult one to answer, but it provides her with an opportunity to have a personal rather than an ‘academic’ conversation. The street interviews provide the observers with an indication of what individuals think about issues such as integration, shifting national identity and the new Europe on a personal level.
As the audience looks down through the window and sees the performance taking place on the street, they also see close-up video images of the people the immigrant is talking to - images transmitted by the wireless camera attached to her body. This enables the audience to simultaneously observe the same moment from two different points of view.
Throughout the performance both husband and wife maintain a dialogue about what is happening. The husband helps his wife by suggesting ways in which people can best be approached, but the informal and intimate dialogue also reveals their subtle cultural differences.
Both the couple’s conversations and the street interviews are rooted in - and interrupted by - a pre-recorded soundtrack of the wife’s diary. This diary records the events of the past year and describes how it was that she got into the state of mind in which she now finds herself. It paints an interior monologue pasted on to an urban landscape. By listening to the diary, the audience can look into the wife’s head and follow her thoughts, which at times are contradicted or re-enforced by the events taking place on the street.
The performance ends with an informal discussion between the makers/performers and the audience.
‘The Place Where We Belong mixes reality with fiction, politics with poetry.
It operates the issues of the ‘New Europe’ with humour and in its complexity. In The Place Where We Belong Space scales this issue down, back to human proportions.
The combination of film and radio play, documentary and theatre, rough and polished material, makes The Place Where We Belong daring, intimate and vulnerable and a unique slice of reality.’ (de Volkskrant, May 2005)
Concept, direction, and performance: Space
Actors: Petra Ardai (well integrated immigrant) and Luc van Loo (native Dutchman)
Text: Petra Ardai.
Dramaturgical advice: Edit Kaldor.
Sound: Luc van Loo and Guy Amitai.
Video: Petra Ardai and Marloeke van der Vlugt.
Further advice: Chris Keulemans, Don Duyns, Liet Lenshoek.