In a new theatre performance Sanja Mitrovic dives into the wondrous world of rhetorical power. Using historical speeches by the good, the bad and the ugly from world history, she compiles a breathtaking tour of politicians promising a better future. The concept of hope is at the core of the new piece. “Making politics sexy again,” is what she jokingly answered on my question what she is after with this play. I suppose “wishing politics to be sincere again” would be more apt. But than, who wouldn’t?
In a series of performances Mitrovic and actor Geert Vaes deliver the speeches on stage, and in between the audiences may cast their votes on who delivered a better speech. Thereby transforming the process of politics into a contest on popularity – mirroring the way in which spectacle has become the central notion our contemporary society. Politics as a real time Idols show. “Winning votes does not only depend on your oratorical skills. How you respond to the words of your opponent can also captivate the audience. In addition, you do not know in advance how that audience will react. Will they choose the content or let themselves be guided by the form, the recitation. Will they opt for the underdog or more tend to support the winning party. Winning is, however, of great importance to both of us: the ballot might well be a very bitter experience for the loser, because he or she, in an unexpectedly direct way, is touched by his or her self-confidence and honour as a performer.”
Which brings us to the realm of the arts – as the winner in this play will remain on stage, and not become a president or revolutionary leader. The original speeches were all delivered with the intention of becoming real. And speeches of hope, Mitrovic notes, can go in one of two directions: hope as a real possibility of change – Yes, we can – or the rhetoric of betrayal and false promises. In politics broken promises have become the nightmare of the spin doctors behind the politicians. The new president of France thus decided to not promise anything and to just be – a recipe for re-election?
Mitrovic: “The theatre is a fantastic medium in which to deal with reality and imagination. Sometimes things are ‘true’, sometimes they are a true representation of the past although they are not historically accurate, sometimes they are indeed lies. The truth is not automatically given: it is something that you create and mold…. We have created something that in reality had never been possible. A discussion flows from there. That would be impossible for you to achieve through a book or a regular discussion. Theatre creates a new playground. The audience is an integral part of it. It participates in a communication. I must have the feeling that I am addressing myself to someone. For me, the game receives its urgency through the personal character of your presence.”
Speak has its’ Dutch premiere next week at Spring festival in Utrecht.