Becoming a Bird Theatre

From the summer of 2022 onwards, the new Kaaitheater will be under construction and its activities will be partly hosted by other theatres in and around Brussels. This move, which is expected to last at least two years, brings with it many questions: What does it mean for a theatre to not be able to use its normal residence in a city? What will it learn by sharing the working conditions of other places? No longer being a 'centre' (of art) that everyone is gravitating towards but itself having to move, what impact will this have on its programme, the artists, the audiences?

How does this small adjustment fit into the rest of the world, which is also changing? A tiny shift in a continuous stream of migration. A temporary suspension in the middle of a collapsing world. 

Making other stories possible 

Could it be that these changes of walls, this displacement of territory, also offer us opportunities to approach the city in a different way? Would being hosted in other organisations – and in turn inviting artists and audiences – allow us to think about being a host in another way? Would this change in perspective allow us to see things differently? 

For two years now, Kaaitheater has been working with CrossTalks/VUB and numerous artists and theoreticians on a ‘more than human’ approach. Although psychologist and philosopher Vinciane Despret writes that it is unfair to ask animals to solve human problems, we agree with her that "to be interested in how other species handle territory is to open our imagination to other ways of thinking. (...) It is making other stories possible.”

So, because we believe that it is essential today to invent new stories, we are inspired by artistic practices that create new spaces and move us. We broaden our perspectives, we 'pretend', and become 'more than human'. 
Becoming a bird theatre: a (science) fiction 

Imagine that in another possible reality, or in the future, theatres could mutate, hybridize with other species and become, for example, like birds. Bird theatres. 

The bird theatre in our story, Kaaitheater, will have to leave its nest at the end of June. It will soon no longer have its own unique and defined territory. It will have to ask for temporary hospitality from other bird theatres, and share their territory. Vinciane Despret's book, Habiter en Oiseau (Acte sud, 2019), can then help us learn other ways to inhabit, and therefore to make the world.

The bird theatre, just like birds and theatres, has a territory. But this territory does not pre-date the bird theatre. The territory is created by the bird theatre itself, it’s created by its song or programme: a composition of performances. 

The bird theatre sings its territory. Its song makes a territory materialise, it makes a landscape appear. This is why the bird theatre does not sing in the same way everywhere. Its song changes depending on where it is. When the bird theatre changes its territory, its song repertoire also changes.

Living is first and foremost about living together

The territory of the bird theatres is first and foremost a place of rest from which to sing and from which to present a programme and welcome an audience. But it is never just that. 

What is important is that this quiet place is surrounded by activities and neighbours. For, as Vinciane Despret says, there is no way of living that is not first and foremost "living together". Birds, theatres and bird theatres push against each other to create a periphery, to create a boundary to their territory and thus come into contact with others, in short to create a place where things happen.

That is exactly what our bird theatre is doing. The arrival of a new occupant (Kaaitheater) changes the environment that the other bird theatres have inhabited until now and affects their behaviour. You might think, at first sight, that this change is disruptive. 

However, what we learn from Vinciane Despret is that while sometimes a bird theatre in search of new territories is turned away and denied the right to appear in someone else's territory, sometimes – and more often than we think – the outcome is quite the opposite.The territory that was thought to be indivisible, which could not be divided, opens up and creates space for the newcomer. 

Creating a shared score

What happens then is that, by making a common territory, the bird theatres modify their programme song. They learn the structure of the song and the sound spectrum of the other. Together they share the sound space, they form a choir. They create a new score

Because for birds and theatres just as for bird theatres, making a territory means dealing with existing powers, and paying them tribute. 

From September 2022, and for at least two years, Kaaitheater will develop its own programme in the Kaaistudio's and the Kriekelaar, but it will also become a bird theatre that will nestle in other bird theatres’ territories. With this change, we will learn to pay attention to how others pay attention, to how they sing the landscape around them, which will also momentarily become ours. 

We will learn their songs and maybe they can learn ours and together we will try to create a common score. We will try to create new territories from which to sing our programme in chorus. 

At the end of the story, what we hope is that our theatre on the move is not the only one that can hybridize, become somewhat birdlike and find refuge elsewhere. What we hope is that in the city, in the world, wherever there are walls that are made of skin and breathe, territories can open up to welcome people (or institutions) in transit and that from their intertwined songs new landscapes can emerge. 

Kaaitheater wishes to thank all its partners in and around Brussels who over the coming years will be opening their doors and present a joint programme together with us: De Kriekelaar, Atelier 210, Rosas Performance Space, AB, BRONKS, Gare Maritime (Tour & Taxis), KVS, CC De Factorij, CC Strombeek, Westrand, Théâtre National, Les Halles de Schaerbeek, La Raffinerie / Charleroi Danse & Théâtre Varia.


* The parts in italics are more or less literal transcriptions and translation of Vinciane Despret's book, Habiter en Oiseau, Actes Sud editions, Mondes Sauvages collection, 2019.
** (...) around the theatre is the city and around the city, as far as one can see, is the rest of the world and even the sky with its stars. The walls that connect these circles are made of skin, they have pores, they breathe. This is sometimes forgotten." Marianne Van Kerkhoven, dramaturge Kaaitheater. State of the Union 1994: The theatre is in the city and the city is in the world and the walls are skin.  - Etcetera jg. 12 no. 46 - Oct 1994 - p. 7-9