LEGAL*ILLEGAL

Directed by John Malpede

Residency:  January – March 2007
Performances:
March 21, 22, 23, 24 & 28, 29, 30, 31

Every night at 8.08 PM
in the former Tax Building ‘DE POEL’
Poel 14, Gent, Belgium

About the Project

GalegalLAPD’s theater work is gaining attention in Europe due to the social challenges there now: pressures to dismantle the social safety net, demands of war on terror, war on drugs, all American exports. Theater artists there, where work has been pretty aestheticized for many years –are now discovering engaged theater as a means of understanding and resisting current pressures.
January through March LAPD worked with Nieuwpoort Theater and a community cast in Gent and Unie der Zorgelozen in Kortrijk, Belgium, to develop and present  Legal*Illegal, which specifically looks at the ways in which US policy impinges on Belgian sovereignty, including secret CIA flights, SWIFT and immigration policy.

John Malpede: “ The project is about what is happening in the margins of our well regulated legal system.  We like to think that we live secure under the warm blanket of the rule of law.  But, law and justice do not manage to cover the whole map and the margins are manipulated to achieve desired political effects.”

The CIA did not fly above Belgium – they say. They don’t torture in Abu Ghraib – they say.  Iraq is hiding nuclear weapons and Guantanamo Bay is just a regular prison. Since the beginning of the ‘war on terror’ a part of the international politics and the security policies are in a legal limbo zone.
Actions that do not conform with human rights conventions are committed in the name of your safety, that is if you live in Fortress Europe. Who is outside cannot get inside, and those inside are not able to meaningfully engage in shaping the laws made “in their interest”. The matter at hand is complex, and often we are facing our own incapability to deal with it.  In the meantime the debate is getting foggy and targeted action becomes impossible. America – Europe, citizen – immigrant, social – artistic, fiction – facts. LEGAL * ILLEGAL is a legal performance at the edge.

Building the Project

GentJGNieuwpoorttheater in Gent, Belgium is housed in an old warehouse, and opened it’s doors in 1984. Over the last 20 years the theater has developed into one of the liveliest culture nests in the city of Gent. It fundamentally researches the relationship between art, environment, cultural identity, popular art, power and the social context. The art center functions as a catalyst for a large movement of artists who make and show art with a social responsibility without loosing their artistic identity. Their work starts from a creative, social and political necessity and develops through dialog and a creative community of  the ‘certified’ and ‘uncertified’ that gather around the work. http://nieuwpoorttheater.org

GHeiderCommunity meetings at Nieuwpoort theater to start the research and conversation about Legal * Illegal:

Jan. 10: First hand expertise; people from the neighborhood of Nieuwpoorttheater, Union Suspect and Unie der Zorgelozen.

GGeertJan. 11: Meeting with experts: lawyers, activists, social workers, teachers and community people.

Jan. 15: Meeting with Dirk Adriaensens from BRussels Tribunal.

ImageJan. 16: All the people from the other meetings meet with lawyer Geertrui Daem; Progress Lawyers Network, and Hazim Kamaledin; Iraqi refugee and theatre maker.

Jan. 22: ImageROMA WITHOUT A ROOF, GENT WITHOUT A HEART!
Torch-demonstration for the ROMA’s from St. Pieters station to City Hall.
A group of 60 ROMA people (gypsies from Slovenia) has been squatting empty buildings in Gent since October in their attempt to find some stability for their families. These people have lived in Gent legally for more then 10 years now, but have been unable to find stable housing or work. New EU legislation allows them to only work as independent contractors in so called “knelpunt’ professions: low wage jobs like paper deliverer, gas station employee, gardener, etc. These jobs pay 500 or 600 euro a month; not enough to pay the high rent of houses in Gent. Because the people have no longer a permanent address, they are now in danger of losing their permission to stay and disappear in illegality.
ImageThe city of Gent has not offered permanent housing for the ROMA families because it doesn’t want to provide a precedent for other ROMA families in Eastern Europe who are living in inhumane circumstances. Gent has offered to house the homeless ROMA for a month in a ‘tent encampment’ on an army basis outside of the city. Many ROMA families have refused to go there because the camp does not provide privacy for the families and prevents the children from going to school etc.
ImageMayor Termont of Gent addressed questions about the ROMA issue by the Green party during the city counsel and came outside to speak with the crowd of protesters on Monday evening. He acknowledged the housing problem in Gent and the inhumane situation the Roma families are in. He repeated his offer of the tent encampment and said that the city government does not have enough means to come up with a definite solution and that a letter has been send to ministers in other countries and members of the Euro Parliament to find a humane solution.
Ondersteuningsgroep Gentse Roma gentseroma@hotmail.com

GSerdiigroupJan. 29: Cast and project participants meet for the first time at de POEL- the old tax building in the Center of town, where the performance will be made.
From the discussions and presentations we generated a core group of 16 actors and about 15 more people who  stayed involved and advised us during the building of the performance.

ImageScreening of: “Battle of Algiers” by Gillo Pontecorvo.
In 2003 the movie was shown to Pentagon personel.
The flyer said: “How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. … Children shoot soldiers at point blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sounds familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.”  It was the first political film during the 60ties. The first part shows the 1956 campaign of the FLN (Front Libération Nationale) against French colonialism, focusing on revolutionary Ali La Pointe and his terrorist career.  The second part deals with the reaction of the French army led by Colonel Mathieu using torture and murder. The film has always been very controversial. When it was finally released in France many of the cinemas where bombed.

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Los Angeles Poverty Department always uses the performances to start a conversation with her audience. An expert in the field is asked to start the dialog. During the rehearsal-period in Gent we also plan several meetings. These meetings are free.

ImageFeb. 2:  19.00 – de POEL 
Reading of Culture philosopher Jan De Pauw about “safety”.

February 22, 20.08 – De Poel: “WITNESSES”
John Malpede (LAPD) meets Tim Etchells (Forced Entertainment)
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Malpede meets Tim Etchells, director and writer of the famed British company Forced Entertainment. Both theatre makers talk about their work and how they engage us, the audience, as witnesses in it each in their own way.  Check www.forcedentertainment.com

ImageMarch 6, 20:08 – De Poel
Rudi Vranckx, Lieven De Cauter en Patrick De Boosere.

Historian Rudi Vranckx has for many years been reporting about the Middle East for the VRT on Belgian Television. He was present at almost all the big changes that happened recently in the area. Lieven De Cauter en Patrick De Boosere are active in the BRussels Tribunal, a hearing committee consisting of academics, intellectuals and artists in the tradition of the Russell-tribunal that was founded in 1967 to investigate war-crimes during the Vietnam war. The BRussels Tribunal focuses on the war in Iraq and the imperial war-policy of the Bush government.
With our guests we will look for the face of the ‘war on terror’ and what is really going on in Iraq. Check www.brusselstribunal.org

ImageMarch 10, 16.00 – DE CENTRALEI.K.V. Alternative book fair / in cooperation with the anarchistic center Tony Bunyan. Tony Bunyan is the driving force behind Statewatch. This is a group of lawyers, academics, journalists, investigators and activists who follow the developments of the European political-legal network very closely. By sharing her critical analysis Statewatch wants to keep feeding the democratic debate. In his reading Bunyan gives an account of the state of affairs in democratic Europe during the post 9/11 era.   Check www.statewatch.org

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Party with D’ONDERHOND after the last performance.

The Performance

We ended up making a 1:30 hour-long performance, in three languages, that traveled through the building with live music by the squatters band D’ONDERHOND that was sold out every night for two weeks. 

The performance started with a funeral march in which a coffin in the shape of an airplane was wheeled-in.  The coffin opened and Bush stepped out, beat boxing the National Anthem and unrolling a banner “Mission Accomplished”.

The audience sat in orange school desks and when Bush exits they where treated to a class in coersive and non-coersive interrogation methods by the CIA and the Jay Bybee memo.

Then the audience was directed to go upstairs and split up in small groups to witness ‘special cases’ in 7 little rooms where they saw 3, 7-minute-performances. Amongst others; two Roma children reading their eviction notice from ‘the POEL’ which they had squatted a month earlier, a young Iraqi and a Turkish man sharing their stories about Islam and Belgium culture, the interrogation of an Algerian man seeking asylum in Belgium, the testimony of a child soldier from Angola about the future of children and a movement piece about ‘breaking the cycle of violence’.

The first 7 minute performances ended abruptly when other cast members  burst into the little rooms (with an image of Bush hanging around their neck) while proclaiming parts of Bush’s “The U.S. does not torture” speech.   In the hall, while the groups changed rooms, a Polish coffee lady handed out coffee and flyers for a vacation to the secret U.S. torture prisons near Stare Kiejkuty airport in Poland, and a woman in a Medieval dress proclaimed the ‘Habeas Corpus Act’ in old Flemish.

While singing the Spanish freedom fighters song ‘a las barricadas’ everyone came downstairs again for the last part of the performance. A social worker, who worked with the Gent police told his experience of the eviction of the Roma from Gent and the Algerian man responded to the movie ‘The Battle of Algiers’. Followed by a duet between LAPDer Rickey Mantley and Henk Bourgeois from Unie der Zorgelozen about their experience with solitary confinement in psychiatric wards of jail and hospital: “Habeas Corpus; where is the body?!” Chaos and madness when the whole cast gets up and joins D’ONDERHOND’s version of Pink Floyd’s ‘Brick in the Wall’. And then, at the very end, the coffee lady’s sister shows up; Mariola Przewlocka. She points to the coffin/airplane and describes the secrecy that was demanded from her, director of Szymany airport, while the special planes where landing. “…I think they wanted as few witnesses  as possible……………………………………………………”

Cast and Production

LI_2007_npt9Performers: Boulanoir Belgerais, Geert Six, Haider Al Timi, Henk Bourgeois, Henriëtte Brouwers, Jean-Pierre Steenkiste, Mani Chitiuquila, Mizane Millecam, Pascale Ghyssaert, Philippe Masselus, Pieter Vaneyghen, Pjotr, Rein Decoodt, Rickey Mantley, Serdialici, Tony Parker.
Music: D’ONDERHOND with Jona, Koen, Marieke, Pjotr, Rein en Simon, Haider Al Timi, Henriëtte Brouwers, Pieter Vaneyghen, Serdi Alici, Tony Parker.
Production: Hendrik de Smedt, Siska de Groote.
Dramaturgy and Translation: Bart Capelle, Geert Opsomer.
Research: Chris Bens, Dennis Deblaere, Frank Delft, Hans Lammerant, Geer Six, Hilder Verschaeve, Klaas Ysebaert, Pjotr.
Direction Assistence: Hendrik de Smedt, Henriëtte Brouwers.
Location, Set and tech.: Bart Huybrechts, Kim Langer, Karel Clemminck, Maarten Gruwez.

Funders

Nieuwpoort Theater.