A theatre stage is totally subverted and I am about to start a new experience with Club Gewalt, a very young Dutch theatre company founded by (young) former classmates at Conservatory.
They transformed a theatre in a club (bar and drinks included) and engaged a two and half hour performance where audience – we were at #BiennaleTeatro in Venice – is left free to dance, think, networking and – above all – focus on the unthinkable, the uncomfortable and the weird inner to any of our lives.
Yes, ça va sans dire, we’re enabled also to rethink a lot to social, gender and political inequalities, to climate change, to the brutality toward other beings as animals and…to the power of music as not just estrangement but entanglement – in a word to choose the right place to be in this world.
Club Gewalt is based in Rotterdam since 2013 and is composed by 27-31 years old Musical Theatre lovers and initiators: Gerty van De Perre, Annelinde Bruijs, Suzanne Kipping, Loulou Hameleers, Robbert Klein, Amir Vahidi, Sanna Elon Vrij.
Still when the show was on (you can talk with the performers many times) I asked Amir to know more about them and about him. The morning after we met in a Biennale super sunny garden and we drenched ourselves in the conversation faithfully transcribed for you here. A written podcast, ah!
Your life in a few lines – exactly from where it starts
All of you are really so young?
Yes, the older is our dramatist, Anne (31).
My life is a lucky but a restless one. And “moving” is an important word. Emotionally and physically.
It started from Iran, where I was born, in Teheran.
What’s important about my life is also that – by looking back at it – I discovered that it is cut in blocks of three years. Every three years a chapter ends with an important event that hits me somewhere in my core.
For instance, when I was three my father moved to The Netherlands; when I was six me and my mother joined him. When I was nine my mother and me actually ‘divorced’ my father, when I was 12 she met another man and I got a sister. My mother is a very important part of my life.
You should play on the number 3 forever!
Yes, it’s a funny thing!
Was religion important in your background? For sure talent is so important because in a few countries (Iran and Indonesia are among them, not Italy unfortunately) kids are taught in various discipline as dance, music, singing…
I don’t really know it because I was very young when I was there.
What I really know that I had a bond because my grandfather (from my mother side) was an amateur singer. My mother told that anytime he went to visit us I was singing a lot as soon I heard him singing. That’s where the musical seed has been planted in me. He is a very important person in my life.
My biological father was also very interested in music and we’d always plenty of instruments at home – a guitar, a sitar…There was always the possibility to make noise.
When I was 6, I wanted to play drums but we’re at that time living in a building where it was impossible. What did I plan so? I had a wooden trash bin and a football, instead of going out to play with my friends, I put the ball in the bin and started play within a Peter Gabriel’s tape (Secret World live concert). Playing the drums was always paramount to me…
Sorry to interrupt you, The Netherlands meant always Rotterdam for you?
No, it started in Goes, a really small city in the Southern group of islands. (Zeeland) It was really a lovely place to grow up, I was not speaking the language and at that time there weren’t a lot of foreign people, in my class only two – me and a Moroccan boy. It was quite funny and really helped me to conform myself in a new lifestyle, I was lucky enough not to be in these camps where you have to obtain a registration and so on…
Were you escaping from Iran or simply leaving?
No, my father was also an artist – a traditional Persian painter using different woods to be painted and assorted one with the other, a craft learned by his father – and came to The Netherlands to just work in his field. After a few years as told we joined him. He wanted to expand his practice, he was not forced by political or other reasons.
Which was your first encounter with theatre, also in the traditional sense?
Growing up, I’d never been interested in theatre! I mostly played guitar and was in bands during the high school.
After a while, one of my best friends – playing the bass in my band – was in the Orchestra of the Musical Group in Goes and told me they’re looking for the leader role for a musical – ‘Would you like to audition for it?’
I was initially telling ‘no!’ but then he pushed me, I got the part and I was the only one auditioning for it. At the same moment, the National Musical Company of The Netherland (it’s a very big and commercial one, called Stage Entertainment) started to make a TV show from a very famous musical touring the world. My orchestra pushed me to audit for that role… All at a sudden, I was on a national live show…It’s really strange, I was 18 by then…
Your life changed completely at that point
It changed, even if I did not get the part because I was too young and they’re looking for professionals but it was a lot of fun, including people wanting to take a picture with you and calling for an autograph but I did not want that kind of fame for my life of those years. I got to know a singing coach who was teaching at Rotterdam Conservatory, music theatre class. I told him I did not want to pursue that carrier at the moment thinking to don’t have the qualities. I didn’t want to burn out in two years and don’t use my voice anymore.
Maybe after four or five years I could return on the scene and deliver my performances with the quality they should deserve.
Was your family supportive in that?
Yes of course while the musical company not at all! I have really a strange intuitive sense, if something is not feeling right I’m ready to stop it.
I think that people born in the South of the world are thinking with intuition – and are more provided of it. Eager to accept its impulses, at least.
Club Gewalt is a very young company in terms of years you perform together. Exactly can you tell us more about how and when it started?
When I went to the Conservatory, the class I was in was of 21 students and anyone from Club Gewalt was there. After one year some people stopped the study, after two years even more people stopped the study. Eventually the class ended up with 11 people. Sanna was one year above us but we had a good connection and she got on various projects with our class. After four years of study, directors and other people started to suggest we should work together because there was a good energy among us. In 2013 all the subsidies and funding was cut off in the country all of a sudden! That was a starting point for us. We cannot just graduate, sit at home and wait for some work to come. We had just to make room for it because we don’t have anything better to do to make money, at least let’s make art!
We therefore invented a very small performance for a funny/cool Utrecht festival called ‘Cafè Theatre Festival’.
Utrecht is another fantastic and energetic city. I’ve been in your country for work during many years and I felt it so badly changed now (not only for rightwing politics). There is a different aptitude now, not nice and cool as before
Yes, you’re right. The air is changed and still changing.
Returning back to us, that’s how we started. There was a prize within that festival, we got it and the Fringe Festival in Amsterdam would give you an opportunity to play there. So we played at Fringe and then the artistic director, Anneke Jansen, gave us a golden opportunity to take over the ‘club nights’ (the deal meany that you have two consecutive week-ends to present your work over 3 years!). We grabbed it with both the ends!
Was then still the year 2013?
It was 2014. We made also another performance, Man on Wire, on the same year. After that year we got the Club Nights in Amsterdam. And there was where we created our ‘club club gewalt’ idea to transform a theatre in a club and therefore host performances as Punk 5.0 you were in.
CLUB CLUB GEWALT is the format in which we work. Punk for example is the 5th version of a one of those CLUB nights.
Before the Fringe Festival we did already 2 ‘club club gewalt’ performances.
That was such an amazing experience to play almost six time in two weeks! It was cool and educative!
Your are a very small company which produces a lot. Do you work and create horizontally or do you have always a dramatist who is always beside or behind you? Of course a theatre made of music is different from the one made only with words but I was really wondering about your work method…
By the way, your theatre is fully rich in words and meanings, in very hight concepts which made a hole in the mind of people who were astonished at the end!
We try to be as collective as possible. Sometimes, for instance with YURI, A Workout Opera, we had someone who during the whole process joined us before and after a rehearsal period of a week in order to see our progresses. Then we made plans for the next week and so on…You can see that the procedure is purely performative. But sometimes we work also in a different way. Making real music theatre is very complicated because the music has to be written, the words have to be written and put on the music.
Which kind of form has this to be shaped in?
Which kind of story you want to tell and beforehand how do you like the music sounds for it?
So, when these ideas are a little bit crystallized, you can start to put words and more on the music. When I or other write the music, then the words go through the head and we put them on the score. Then we will present the idea to the others, who will have to rehearse, to sing in order to see if it is a good idea.
This is a process taking at least 3 or 4 days but how do you make it possible when you have a shorter time to prepare a performance?
How do you start to choose for a specific kind of ideas without knowing if it is really working?
This is really what we fight with our operas. With the club nights is a bit different, it’s more sketchy and also more schizophrenic.
Is the space where you perform very important? With your peculiar form of theatre you do, it seems everything to me…And you’re also customizing very much your ‘club club Gewalt’ idea, also the Punk Nights…
Yes, for the operas that we did until now the most suitable are mostly indoor theaters. It doesn’t have to be only indoor but until here it has been performed only in this frame.
The Club Club Gewalt nights don’t work in theaters even if we tried to customize them we have to fight the theatrical feeling which doesn’t match with our performance. The audience comes in with a different kind of expectation and is not the good one. For instance for our first CCG night they catered their own chair, we of course told them where to be placed, but it gave a different feeling from the pure theatrical one. Now we’re developing a bit further our concept, as you saw the CCG 5.0 PUNK is divided in chapters. The first is a concert which is all standing, the second is a stand-up comedy where people can sit in specific places if they want and so on…The third part is a game and they’ve to be sitting gathered according to their teams. The fourth is a Game of Thrones box and they can sit all around. All this makes a difference and changes the mindset.
Do you customize also some textual parts according to the political agenda of the place in which the show tours? I seemed to get some parts dealing with the local racism…apart Donald Trump and the US situation
We never want to be really political, but of course there might be some political feels or points or so, but we like to be more ‘societive’ because we think society is more important and politics is just oe of the parts of the society. When it becomes the other way around I think there is an unbalance. We wanted so to reflect more on society rather than to be political. We want to mirror on society and not just point fingers on what is going wrong in society but also we have the urge to propose something. When we do stuff like the sketch about US economical situation or the Italian one, we would never do it in a super serious way (even if we mean it!), we do it also in Game of Thrones costumes in order to let feel this ‘shift’.
Do you like so to empower people and not just shout your ‘j’accuse’?
Which kind of music do you like?
I like any sort of music: for me I listen to a lot of pop music and Bon Iver is my favorite artist. Out of classical music I love Monteverdi, I listen to Handel a lot but I also come from a very rocky background so I listened to a lot of punk music in my teenage – Nirvana, Metallica, Iron Maiden…My tastes are really broad, I also listen to rap and hip-hop music (Kendrik Lamar, JonWayne, Frank Ocean…)
I started to release my own music and this gives a lot of confidence to me! It’s so scary to make music. I wrote the music for a Dutch podcast (and the credit song) called De Brand in het Landhuis, it was the best podcast on iTunes for 5 months. It won also the Dutch Podcast Award. Lots of people wanted the song but it was not sold anywhere. I put it on Spotify and reactions were so good! I thought that maybe I could try to throw some stuff out. Now I’m releasing some music and accepting requests to make music for others because I can base my approach (and theirs also) on something released.
Just type Amir Vahidi on Spotify and you will find my music. I’m only going digital, I actually love vinyls, but its just too expensive 😉
I like the idea to put my music on the web and see what happens!
Let’s come to rivalry between A’dam and Rotterdam. I worked (ages ago) a lot in your country in both the cities and felt it so massive…It’s like to be in two worlds apart sometimes…
This is a good question! I find difficult to talk about these kind of things, I can give it a try from my personal and professional experience. The biggest difference between the two cities is the attitude in which theatre is allowed to exist. Rotterdam as a city is really rough around the edges. I’ve lived in Rotterdam for 10 years now. A city influences a person in a way that you don’t necessarily notice. But I think that Rotterdam in a way helped/helps me to be bolder then I would dare in the first place.
Amsterdam, because of its more historical feel, feels like a victim of its own status. A bit more traditional and less experimental. I’m not saying that traditional performance is bad. In a lot of ways it can be beautiful, but I also sometimes feel that because of a certain attitude there is less openness for new tremors.
I sometimes have the idea that in Amsterdam is important that you ARE inspired and in Rotterdam its important to GET inspired.
What do you feel to give to Rotterdam and what do you get back
I hope I can lighten Rotterdam up a bit sometimes. It can be very gray and cranky.
The city also keeps you on the ground. I love that either of the city and of the people. It doesn’t matter who you are or who you might THINK you are, Rotterdam will never be REALLY impressed by you.
Club Gewalt declares on its website to be fan of Harmony Korine, do you mean the Korine of Spring Breakers, the screen writer or the author of musical video (or even the visual artist)?
We mean especially his last one (Beach Bum, 2019) but also Spring Breakers. He made such a weird documental movie like his last one: it is such an amazing piece! Nothing really happened but is such a good reflection of bored Western society…
The books with you now?
I’m trying to go through Being Ecological by Timothy Morton. He is a very young philosopher.
We’re reading this book with the whole Club Gewalt for a new performance that we’re making for this next fall and will be presumably in The Netherlands even if we have still to start to sell it or doing anything international.
It’s gonna be a lifestyle opera. Of course it is talking of climate change, of the way the world is now but it is also (it’s a quite difficult book!) talking it in a way as if we are plunged in a sort of post-traumatic disorder…Forgive if what I say is not complete, as I told is a very complicated text!
Are you always – as a company – working with books before setting a play?
Not always. Since we have a dramatist like Anne, she is a very big source and comes with a list of books, articles and dramas or movie to experience.
Club Gewalt is also welcoming a lot of different kind of formations. A few of our members are also in the German feminist punk band called HERR HAMSCHTERFLEISCH, for instance I play the drums and Anne plays the bass in the band.
You make lots of parts with an uncommon stand-up comedy often mocking poetry. Are you writing also the poems you perform?
Which is the talent you feel you don’t have – given that you seem to me gifted with many ones?
This question is hard to reply…I have lots of talents I don’t have. Sometimes I really admire people who are really secure about themselves, they can just choose something they really believe and going very easily in a direction not ever leaving somebody’s else opinion to infect or affect that. That is a talent I really like to have.
Can I tell you my favorite talents too? To take care of people, my friends and also the planet, a talent for nature. I have a lot of plants and they seem very happy with me.
But you’ll be not so creative if you’ll be being so secure…
It’s a blessing to be having instability but it would be so much easier…
Given your biography and all the work done until now, our usual question – where do you see yourself in ten years from now – is quite useless, you’ll be doing still what you do now….
Yes, I hope to be still so curious by doing the things I do now but I also have the wish to act more or to write more music, to compose more stuff. These kinds of things take time, then you have to know the right people…
I hope in ten years I’ll have a more solid base and can trust in my abilities.
In ten years you’ll be still very young…
I’ll be almost 40 then! It feels I’ll gonna be very old in ten years!
At least one thing you have learned so far given you have had so multifaceted experience and now with the company and its form you’re all also self-entrepreneurs
I also drafted an answer for this question but did not want to appear so ‘bla bla bla’…!
So I came with a list for our conversation in this sunny garden!
- – You find time in the strangest places.
- – To “cling onto” something is to stop
- – To “hold onto” leads to decay
- – To “let go” is to trust
- – Forgiving is impossible without relation and its the hardest thing to give to someone.