text: Renske Hoedemaker

One evening after performing her first full-length theatrical solo, Dewi Kasmo talked to a family from the audience. While the adults were discussing her show about her family’s history in Java, Surinam and The Netherlands, the boy of around 12 years old interrupted and said: “So this means I could do something like this, right mom?” Seeing Dewi, a Dutch person of Javanese-Surinamese descent like himself, perform on stage had made him excited to do the same. For a white person it can be easy to take for granted that they see people like themselves everywhere, all the time. But for some, like people of color in Western Europe, these moments of representation can be quite rare.

This is why Compagnie couRage is an invaluable addition to the theater community in The Netherlands and Flanders. Alain Pringels founded couRage based on the notion that the theater, both the actors on stage and the people in the audience, should properly represent the population of urban Europe. Over the course of his career, the seasoned director and dramaturg became aware of the lack of diversity in the theater. In addition, he noticed that young interns of diverse cultural backgrounds seemed to continue in theater careers less often than their white counterparts. The Dutch Raad voor Cultuur comes to a similar conclusion in their recent ‘Advies Culturele Basis Infrastructuur 2017-2020’ and notes that established theater institutions are not taking enough initiative to attract and retain more diverse artists, crew members and other personnel.

With Compagnie couRage, Pringels has brought together a group of talented young actors from France, Belgium and The Netherlands with roots from all over the globe. Amer Shanati, musician from Syria and founder of Amer Music for Peace, will accompany the actors live on his ud, a Middle-Eastern string instrument.

CouRage’s first production is Trojan Women, for which Pringels has written a new script based on his own translations of the classic texts by Euripides and Seneca. Euripides originally wrote Trojan Women as an anti-war piece, to protest an imminent war instigated by Athens. After the war has destroyed their cities, women and children await an uncertain fate at the mercy of the enemy. CouRage’s Trojan Women explores the inner worlds of four women as they grapple with what has happened to them. It is a story about loss and the horrors of war, but also about resilience. How do you find hope and strength when your whole life has been wiped away? Can anything survive the devastation of war?

To underscore the universality of this story, and because employing a diverse company of actors provides unique artistic opportunities, couRage’s Trojan Women is a multilingual performance. The actors blend Dutch, English, French, Turkish and Arabic, and other languages as well as dance and song in search for a more universal form of communication.

This fall, couRage will perform Trojan Women in Flanders and The Netherlands, but their ambition is to stage their productions throughout all the big cities of Europe. They also plan to expand their repertoire beyond the western cannon to include classic stories from other parts of the world. CouRage’s mission is to create high-quality dramatic productions and to provide a platform for young talent. By doing so, they help to make sure that more people, regardless of their nationality or ethnic background, can see a play and know: that could be me. And so that we can all learn to see the potential artists in all the faces around us.

Trojan Women is supported by the City of Ghent, the Province of Oost-Vlaanderen and Stiching Vrienden van Toneelgroep de Appel.
Co-production with Stichting LUSU (Rotterdam).
An earlier version of this text was published by The Hague Online.