Maaike Bergstra

Karlijn Kistemaker

Maaike Bergstra (°1982) first trained as a drama teacher at ArtEZ University of the Arts, to subsequently complete the Writing for Performance programme at the HKU Utrecht University of the Arts. During her study and afterwards, she wrote several theatre texts for young people as well as monologues for the theatre collective Het Vijfde Bedrijf. Her one-act piece Isa was chosen as one of the ten most notable pieces of 2007 by the platform for independent theatre actors (Platform Onafhankelijke Theaterauteurs). Isa tells the story of two lovers in search of a missing girl. The detective charged with finding her questions both the man and woman, but they each tell a rather different story. The first lover remembers the girl in a very different way than the second. Both attempt to describe who she was, but the two pictures never quite match. The interrogation by the detective is alternated with the story told by Isa herself, who is holed up in a hotel room in some kind of no-man’s land.

 

my shoes are tucked under the bed
they have turned this room into my room
the walls are bare
no one left any traces here
all that is left behind in this room is removed by the cleaner
what happens here is not remembered
and there is nothing here to remind me of something else

 

In this one-act piece, Maaike Bergstra centres on a theme that recurs throughout her work in different guises. Her pieces are generally populated by people who are uprooted, who feel like they don’t belong and who have trouble settling down. They have the feeling that they need to live up to the picture that other people have created of them. We see their struggle as they attempt to escape the judgemental gaze of others and to discover who they truly are. This struggle regularly returns in the pieces that Bergstra wrote after Isa. These pieces are more often placed in contemporary social contexts as well. In 2015 she worked with director Raymi Sambo at Theatergroup ZEP to create the piece Onontdekt (‘Undiscovered’), which is about the hopeless situation of undocumented refugees. Bergstra wrote the text, and as part of the process she talked to the inhabitants of the Vluchtgarage, which is a parking garage in Amsterdam-Zuidoost that was squatted by dozens of rejected asylum seekers. Onontdekt portrays the dreams and desires of these people who are forced to live an invisible life, while they would like to be seen and recognised just like any other person.

Two years later she wrote the text for the performance F*ck the police, which was again directed by Raymi Sambo. This piece critically addresses urgent societal issues as well: six Dutch nationals of various backgrounds describe their life in the city and the role that the police have in their life. Why is the one person detained by the police, and not the other? Bergstra again conducted in-depth research, speaking to police officers to create a theatre text that paints the different sides of the story. On the one hand, there are the young people who are confronted by prejudice, and on the other there are the dilemmas faced by the police officers. Bergstra personalises these two sides by having the story revolve around two brothers: Darryl, who is a police officer, and Dante who is the leader of the activists. As the situation spirals out of control following the arrival of a far-right politician, the brothers are forced into a direct confrontation, with a fatal outcome for Dante.

In the performance Uit diep blauw (‘From the deep blue’), written by Bergstra and directed by Daria Bukvić, the theme is again identity and how this is influenced by the gaze of the other. The performance portrays characters attempting to escape from that gaze, but as a result are forced to redefine themselves. Eva is young designer who lives a life of luxury, with her older boyfriend Robbert. Eva loves the wealth, buying clothes and drinking champagne. Then, after many years of absence, Sharif suddenly pops up in her life: her foster brother and first boyfriend. He reminds her of the time when they were both idealists committed to changing the world, she as Robin and he as Hood: an inseparable couple. For Sharif, Eva was the one who allowed him to just be who he was, unlike all the professional welfare workers who continually wanted him to adapt. Sharif’s visit and his recollection of how Eva used to be forces her to take stock of her life. It also causes her to take a fresh look at her boyfriend Robbert.

 

You take all the room you can get. And you get that room because you take it. Who can compete with that? You don’t even feel bad about it. It fits with the picture you have of yourself. And that I have of you. And that others adapt to you, also fits in that picture. But it really is just a picture, a way of thinking. I found it a comfortable picture, perhaps. But things are rotting inside, and fermenting.

 

The confrontation with her personal past forces Eva to figure out who she really is: the idealistic Eva of her youth, or the opportunistic Eva of today? As in her previous pieces, Uit Diep Blauw shows how people, in their quest for identity, long to escape from how others have framed them. Yet at the same time there is a longing to unite with other people and to commit to a shared cause. Once upon a time Sharif was convinced that he and Eva would save the world together, that they were serving a higher cause. “Isn’t that what we believe in: that people do not live just for themselves?” he says to her.

The desire to truly understand another person is also thematised in the project Droom (‘Dream’). In this musical site-specific performance, the audience is seated on a mobile gallery that travels through a neighbourhood in Amsterdam Nieuw-West, visiting the dreams and longings of neighbourhood residents, many of whom have a migrant background. Bergstra explored the neighbourhood and documented the residents’ stories, and discovered that people do long for different things, but that they also have a dream in common. As she said in an interview in the Parool newspaper: “Everyone wants to be in touch with others. Everyone dreams of making the world a better place.”

In virtually all her texts, Bergstra ties the issue of identity to the reality of today’s multicultural society, thereby contributing to the contemporary debate regarding identity and colour. This is expressed most forcefully in her piece True Colors, about which the playwright Tjeerd Posthuma commented: “Maaike Bergstra has created a text about white privilege and how despicable a person can be, as long as it serves a good cause. The past and present continually intermingle in hallucinating scenes, to show how history always lives on and how former role patterns have never really died.” Bergstra based True Colors on the story of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman from Montana who modified her appearance to spend many years living as an African-American. She eventually becomes the spokesperson of the local division of the civil rights movement NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). When a journalist investigates her life story he discovers that she was born as a white woman, and Dolezal is accused of appropriating other people’s culture. True Colors begins with lead character Anneke, as she darkens her hands and face and curls her hair. Her friend Bertus sees her as a dark-skinned person, and doesn’t realise initially that she is actually white.  Anneke is however recognised by her dark-skinned foster brother Johan when she is interviewed on television, and he comes knocking on her door to confront her. All the misunderstandings and complicated issues that dominate the public debate on colour and identity are laid bare in this piece. It shows that the issue is actually even more complicated than may seem at first glance. While Anneke thinks that she is serving a good cause with her company True Colors, her foster brother points out that they are and always will be different. He wants her to acknowledge the difference, rather than try to overcome it.

 

JOHAN If you are so responsible, then acknowledge the role you have

ANNEKE I do not see myself in the role you assign to me

JOHAN At least Dad understood that we lived in two different streets

ANNEKE Which is exactly what hurt me so much

JOHAN You have your history, and I have mine

 

Bergstra explores the issues from different angles, resulting in a multi-layered text that avoids any form of moralistic preaching. The text demonstrates above all that the past cannot ever simply be ignored.

 

JOHAN Sankofa

BERTUS I should give this to Anneke?

JOHAN It is a bird that flies forward while always looking back

BERTUS That’s a great way to collide with a window
It happens practically every week around here

JOHAN The bird is carrying a precious egg
To build a strong future, you need to understand the past
That’s what the Sankofa signifies

 

Contact: maaikebergstra@gmail.com

Written by Manon Wittebol

Translated by Jan Warndorff


BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Chillen (2004)
  • Klik (2004)
  • Een kort verhaal over de liefde dat steeds langer en ingewikkelder wordt (2005)
  • Maslow (2005) – in collaboration with Joram Torny and Rick Steggerda
  • Wat gebeurd is is gebeurd (2006)
  • Als ik jou niet had (2006)
  • Man aan de bar (2006)
  • De engel, de straat en het geluk (2006)
  • Even a stopped clock reads the time twice a day (2007) – in collaboration with Joram Torny and Rick Steggerda
  • Isa (2007)
  • Beste mensen (2007)
  • Geen ID (2007)
  • Woestijn (2007)
  • Anderlandje (2007) – in collaboration with Jiske Gunkel
  • Video (2008)
  • In gesprek (2008)
  • De warmste nacht van het jaar (2008)
  • Keten (2009)
  • Hemel/Hel (2010) – in collaboration with Maarten Bakker, Melissa Prins, Rick Steggerda and Rob de Graaf
  • HUID! (2010) – adaptation of ‘Famía’ by Anita de Rover
  • Ik kan alles en meer (2010)
  • o.a. Cassandra (2010)
  • Dancing in the dark (2013)
  • Toast op de verachtelijke vrouw (2013)
  • Toast op de verachtelijke man (2013)
  • Onontdekt (2015)
  • Uit diep blauw(2015)
  • Droom (2016)
  • Twee kamers en een keukentje (2016)
  • F*ck the Police(2017)
  • Een stel mannenpinguins (2017)
  • True Colors(2017)
  • Zoek (2019)