In workshop no. 6 of the conference "Adult Education in Cities and Regions – a European perspective", Stefan Perceval, director of the theatre-workplace HETGEVOLG in Turnhout/ Belgium, gave the participants’ some practical insights on participatory and emancipatory adult learning at HETGEVOLG.
Stefan started the workshop by giving the workshop participants a lively and personal account of his own story: How he, a boy of a modest background and with rather negative experiences in formal education, came to be an internationally renowned actor, and how he finally helped many more people to discover their talents through the means of art.
In 2014 Stefan Perceval became director of HETGEVOLG, a theater-workplace in the center of Turnhout, a city of about 40.000 in the north of Flemish speaking Belgium. When Stefan started in HETGEVOLG he found out that nobody in the city even knew what happened behind the closed walls of the theatre. That’s why the first thing he did was go out in the streets and talk to the people. “It was then that I realized that one of my first tasks - or even obligation - was to create a bond between HETGEVOLG, the city and the people in its streets”, Stefan said. Before Stefan’s arrival HETGEVOLG had its focus on plays for children and youngsters, but with Stefan this changed.
“In my opinion our theater-workplace has the responsibility to invest in people and their future”, he said.
So he set up a cooperation with the local center for basic education, with the center for people living in poverty, with refugee organizations and with other neighboring organizations.
“Most of them had never set a foot inside our theatre”, Stefan told us. “The first thing I did was to invite them for one of our productions to let them feel the power of theatre.”
But that was only the first step. Stefan also put them on stage, let them tell their story to an audience and in this way let them experience the power inside themselves.
“What is behind the wall?”
This is Stefan's guiding question. His participatory and emancipatory methods help people to express themselves in their own way and to reveal emotions, dreams, and talents that until then have been hidden behind “walls” of silence, fear or grief.
In a short but very emotional performance, the participants of the workshop in Aachen experienced the power of theatre themselves.
The example of HETGEVOLG shows how cultural education can help to empower people in their local community. Now, also the city of Turnhout is aware of the positive vibes HETGEVOLG brings to the city and its habitants. And from all over Belgium organizations ask HETGEVOLG to help them set up similar projects.
On the website of HETGEVOLG, the readers will find some impressions of the “hartenprojecten” (“heart projects”) with young people, migrants and adults with fewer opportunities. But the best way is to experience a HETGEVOLG production by yourself: What is behind the wall?
Find more information on the whole of the conference here
Photos by Stefan Keller.