Dear All,

A lot is said and written about what art today should be. The debates that are carried on, with one party thinking they know what art should be and the other being happy not to know, are mostly superficial and thus tiresome. Especially when I examine them in relation to the four following concepts. These ideas have been the basis of the Needcompany credo for more than thirty years.

1st Concept: ‘Survival by collaboration’
Collaboration is perhaps the most important element at Needcompany. Collaboration makes for positive conflicts. In my view, art means creating positive conflicts. At Needcompany, an artist never works alone. More about that later. I was recently a guest at Cinemaximiliaan, the now highly praised but unfortunately insufficiently supported heroes from Molenbeek. They know very well what ‘survival by collaboration’ is. Their idea is as brilliant as it is simple: making films with people who have newly arrived in Belgium. This is because the film medium involves a great many different crafts, experiences and professions. These newcomers include cooks, tailors, mechanics, shoemakers and cameramen, who all come together here to create art. As a result, art becomes ‘beautiful’. And the first series of films made under the guidance of the exceptional Béla Tarr is of very high quality. These newcomers include some extremely talented people. The engaging Michael Roskam is now taking over the reins from Béla Tarr and will be setting to work here too. Exciting times. ‘Survival’ becomes especially real when we are talking about newcomers. At their workplace I met Fatma Osman, a young woman from Somalia, who has just made her first film here, ‘Undocumented Love’. She is the first Somalian woman ever to have made a film. In her country, women are not even allowed to consider such a thing. And look, in Molenbeek it’s all possible.

2nd Concept: ‘Everything is politics, but art isn’t everything’
The performer Chokri Ben Chika carries out an action: he pours petrol over himself and asks the audience to set him alight. He calls himself an activist. Jan Joris Lamers, one of the oldest theatre-makers still alive, stands up and says that he ought not to do this. Then it turns out to be water, not petrol. Howls of derision for Lamers’ naivety.

What actually happened here: Lamers is dear to my heart. As a young artist I learnt a great deal from him. I learned from him what ‘sincere illusion’ is. By means of this sincerity he fundamentally changed Dutch-language theatre. In his view, it is not fitting for a theatre-maker these days to try to mislead the audience with insincere illusions. So he assumed that it was real petrol and the theatre-maker was a real activist. But Chokri was just an old-fashioned ‘libertine’ full of good intentions, who in this way undermined every sincere activist, including Jan Palach and Mohamed Bouazizi. This arises as a result of the persistent illusion that everything has to be political, without the reservation that art isn’t everything. And what about changing petrol into water? Leave that to the gods.

3rd Concept: ‘Specialisation leads to degeneration’
It is a conventional law of biology but a difficult notion in the arts world. It is probably an old school idea. But in the arts world and theatre in particular, to make specialisation a goal is perverse. For the artists and the theorists and also for the management that envelops them. You would then have specialised academics and so on who would come to ‘check’ by their lists whether the work shown meets the conditions. Art is interesting precisely when it does not meet conditions. Though this does not mean that art should not be directly related to the society it is made in. That is self-evident. Art that is not related to society is culturally and politically non-existent. It literally does not exist. Specialisation soon leads to iconoclasm. Iconoclasm is always repugnant. For those who consider that theatres should no longer be permitted to stage Shakespeare, I suggest they try it out in secret and I hope they encounter themselves. I have been working on Monteverdi all summer and I have discovered how radical ‘baroque’ is. I can assure you that it changed my life.

4th Concept: ‘What happens on stage stays on stage’
Having heard about the action taken by several employees against Jan Fabre/Troubleyn, this has become a somewhat unpleasant concept. A number of journalists have asked for my reaction. I can’t say anything about what goes on inside another company because I don’t know. I have come to the odd conclusion that in the course of my career of almost forty years I have never been present at a colleague’s rehearsal or during their working process. I can only speak for myself. At Needcompany we talk very openly about #Metoo. And this fourth concept – ‘What happens on stage stays on stage’ – must therefore be handled very carefully. Since the working relationship between an actor and director or between performers requires an extremely demanding humanity based on honesty, the #Metoo campaign is tremendously important in our world, the world of the living arts. I’ll give you an example: the Needcompany production Begin the Beguine will shortly be coming to Belgium; it is the final script by John Cassavetes. My own daughter Romy Louise plays a prostitute and I am the director. Just imagine: during rehearsals, the director-father asks his daughter to play a sex scene with a fellow actor. Sexually tinged scenes are always delicate. How naked? Where do they touch each other? Romy Louise immediately told me that she wanted to rehearse in her underwear and only wanted to do it naked in the objective presence of the audience. I was proud of this lucid attitude. The objectivity of a rehearsal room and the objectivity of an audience is thus of the greatest importance.

We have to be careful and not lump everything together. It looks as if the unacceptable behaviour is due to the sort of art that Fabre creates. But of course that actually has nothing to do with it. Physical exhaustion? What goes on in contemporary dance and performance pales into insignificance when you compare it to classical ballet training. Just try dancing in pointe shoes. So it’s certainly not the invention of one or other generation from the 1980s. It’s already 25 years since I wrote that the idea of ‘performance’ and such notions as the threshold of pain and exhaustion cannot be combined with my idea of theatre. I made my last ‘physically’ exhausting performance in 1985 and at that point I realised that I had to go in a different direction. Seeking the threshold of pain is something I can only ask of myself, never of the people I work with, because this is soon accompanied by intimidation. I don’t find the use of violence and exhaustion of any interest for my work. Which doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate it in other artists’ work. I have read in several papers that the old generation and old organisations are to blame for everything. But one young theatre-maker, Julie Cafmeyer, has said that she herself saw an actor foaming at the mouth from exhaustion collapse on the floor while she stood at the side shouting. Well, I have to say that this could not happen at Needcompany. We simply wouldn’t allow it. In 1987 I changed the structure of the company because as a young theatre-maker I had started to get too big for my boots. One can genuinely make extreme theatre in a gentle and loving manner. And we should stop talking about generations; it should be about organisations, structures and individuals.

We are very upset about this affair; it must lead to something positive. The enquiry and self-examination must be carried out thoroughly. The open letter from the twenty ex-Troubleyn performers will have a healing effect.

I would like to invite everyone to come and visit us at the MILL. Spend some time watching one of our rehearsals and you will see how delicate, agreeable and interesting it is. And I sincerely believe that this is also the case in most other companies, of both the ‘old’ generation and the new.

Jan Lauwers


Lisaboa Houbrechts & Kuiperskaai are putting the real Lauwers-Barkey family on stage in order to portray the canonical Hamlet family. In doing so, they are attempting to penetrate the essence of this primal tragedy.

For this Hamlet, Lisaboa Houbrechts asked the actress Grace Ellen Barkey to play the part of the combative Gertrude. She will make her first appearance in a Kuiperskaai production together with her son Victor Lauwers as Prince Hamlet and her daughter Romy Louise Lauwers as Ophelia. Needcompany is the co-producer.

Hamlet is being produced as part of the P.U.L.S. initiative set up by Toneelhuis to enable talented young theatre-makers to develop towards the larger stage at their own tempo. Several internationally renowned theatre-makers are keeping their eye on their work as associates and discussion partners, including Jan Lauwers.

The premiere is at Toneelhuis on 22 September. It will then tour Belgium, the Netherlands and France. You will find more info, tickets and a complete list of performances at and Facebook.


In 2017, Needcompany moved to the former Gosset tobacco factory in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek. This house of many rooms was given the name MILL and it signals the start of a new phase in our thirty-year existence.

On 25 and 26 October 2018, MILL will be open to all during EXPLO I, an exclusive two-day event packed with performances, exhibitions and films. The programme includes an insight into the work of Emma van der Put, Maarten Seghers, Oscar van der Put, Simon Lenski, Nicolas Rombouts, Lot Lemm, Nicolas Field, Rombout Willems, Maarten Vanden Abeele, Jan Lauwers, Maarten van der Put, Grace Ellen Barkey, Fritz Welch, Benoît Gob, Lisaboa Houbrechts, Victor Lauwers, Romy Louise Lauwers, Lobke Leirens, Seppe Decubber and Maxime Rouquart.

Complete programme and how to register:

At the same time as EXPLO I, an exhibition of Jan Lauwers’ visual work entitled WATERCOLOURS FROM MILL’S CREEK will open at the Kusseneers Gallery.

Concert by a Band Facing the Wrong Way

"is so potent that shy laughter is heard at the most humorous moments, like when, at the end of a performance, you don’t know whether you should stand up to applaud or not, and look around to see what the others are doing. At such moments the performance works perfectly. It exposes the attitude of the audience – which is used to references and needs them so as to know what to hold on to. Not only does the artist want to please, but the audience also wants to be pleased and guided. Fascinating." — Juan Carlos Romero (NAU NUA ARTS MAGAZINE) 

Concert by a Band Facing the Wrong Way, the new Needcompany production by and with Maarten Seghers, Nicolas Field and Rombout Willems, is a portrait of a bunch of Western artists who run inexhaustibly straight ahead; it’s unclear whether they are fleeing all the misery of the world or are actually dashing towards it.

Following its success in Poznan and Barcelona, the production can still be seen at the Festival Actoral in Marseille on 11 and 12 October and during EXPLO I in Brussels on 25 and 26 October.

L'incoronazione di Poppea

In August, Monteverdi’s L'incoronazione di Poppea premiered in Salzburg. The musical director was William Christie, and Jan Lauwers directed and choreographed the production, as well as designing the set.

In this work, Lauwers transfers to opera his unique approach to the theatre genre, in which he gives an independent role to text, movement, visual art and music. The reactions have been extremely positive.

Read some of the press reviews here:
L'incoronazione di Poppea as a Gesamtkunstwerk (Salzburger Nachrichten)
Opera for all (Suddeutsche Zeitung)
Ego-Tripping and Murder set to Baroque Music (De Standaard)

Op tournee

Following an international tour to Spain, France and Germany, War and Turpentine is returning to Belgium. In November and December, this successful production will be on in Roeselare, Bruges, Strombeek, Bergen, Ghent, Aalst, Turnhout, Kortrijk, Heist-op-den-Berg and Sint-Niklaas. Needcompany is also developing an educational project together with the provincial authorities of West Flanders. 120 pupils and newly-arrived non-Dutch-speaking adolescents from six secondary schools will take part in a special ‘meeting day around art and trauma' at our rehearsal studio in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek before watching the play in their own town.

After almost 10 years of absence, Needcompany will at last be returning to the UK, with the acclaimed work The Blind Poet. It will be on in the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre on 2 October.

Isabella’s Room has been touring since its premiere in 2004. The latest performances will be on in Namur and Nantes this month. On Saturday 6 October it will be the opening performance at the Temporada Alta in Girona.

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