Introduction: theatre will always be connected to development

November 2007 -

As an active theatre maker in a post-colonial environment, you really have no choice in what kind of theatre you make. You will always want to bring people together with your work, want to stimulate exchange and cohesion between people and their cultures. Naturally, your immediate environment will determine your work to a significant degree, but what all theatre makers who do not work in the West have in common is the fact that they are usually not working for the elite. Whether you are working in India, Uganda, Suriname or Ecuador, theatre is in the middle of society. That is also what gives it a lot of its expressive power.

Personally, the artistic urge has always been my primary drive. But what I hope to achieve with my theatre also applies to those who use theatre as a means to achieve other objectives. We all want to communicate, to touch others, to get people thinking. That will always be the most important function of the theatre. Sadly, all of us former colonies carry an annoying history with us. The fact that others determined how and who we were for us – we have not been liberated from that yet. It will play a large part for a long time.

In the search for identity, theatre has an import function. The Theatre of the Oppressed that emerged from Augusto Boal's forum theatre has been of eminent importance in that respect. It turned into an enormous movement that manifests itself with increasing strength throughout the world. Although it places less emphasis on theatre than on artistic expression, its importance is uncontested. That can never be overestimated.

I prefer to opt for artistic premises, but that is personal. Even then, highly tangible results can be achieved. Thanks to the years of effort by theatre makers at the Carifesta, the Caribbean cultural festival that started in 1972, free traffic is now possible for artists in the countries in the Caribbean trade organisation Caricom. Theatre in Suriname influences the language. Thanks to theatre, certain degrading words are no longer used in Suriname. No one will use the word 'coolie' anymore, for example.

Theatre will always be involved in development. Whether it is used to spread information about Aids or to make people socially aware, or you simply want to express yourself artistically: the message that you want to give the audience is always the most important premise for every serious theatre maker.

Henk Tjon

Henk Tjon is Surinam's best-known theatre director and played an active role in the cultural policy of the Caribbean region. Tjon makes critical total theatre by incorporating all of Suriname's cultural elements in his performances. In the Netherlands, Henk Tjon established the DNA – De Nieuw Amsterdam – in the 1980s together with director Rufus Collins. The influence of this company is still tangible in the Netherlands today.

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