in the Category: art

We thematize the power of the system, we use its strategies

With their premier on the 12th of November, the youngsters of Lara Staal and  NTGent’s new piece, Dissident, take over the Arca theatre in Ghent. The play, directed by  Lara Staal and performed by five kids labelled as ‘troubled teens’ questions our current educational system and tackles all our prejudices about school misfits. Combining performance, music by Serdi Faki Alici and documentary film, Dissident unravels the dream for a new form of education. We met up with cast members and passionate rebels with a cause Eliaz Bello Medrano and Isaac Van Weyenberg to talk about school, life and working on the piece.

Interview by Maria Magdalena de Cort
Photos shot by Valerie De Backer 

What is Dissident about?  

Eliaz: Dissident is a play about children that don’t fit in our educational system. Although we can acknowledge that our system does work for a lot of people, we shed light on the kids that the system failed. I think all students suffer from a lot of stress and many struggles to meet the impossible set of standards put on every individual student.  The play gives voice to those struggles.  

Isaac: We’re with five of us, five misfits. Essentially, I think we’re advocating for more mental health awareness and better learning environments for both students and teachers. The play is a lecture as well as a cry for help. The school system is crumbling.

What would you change about the school system?  

Eliaz: The power dynamics between teacher and student. I look at a teacher merely as a  teacher, someone who has some sort of power over me between school hours. I don’t see them as actual people with passions and interests. I wish that would change.

I want to know my teacher, I want to know their political views, I want to know how their cats are named

Isaac: For example, if a teacher could focus less on achieving the attainment levels at the end of the year, there’d be more time for them to connect with their passion for teaching, to talk with their students, to help students who might be struggling. Teaching would be a more rewarding job. I want to know my teacher, I want to know their political views, I want to know their cat’s name [laughs]. Maybe there should be a rule for teachers that they can’t start the class by letting us open our books, that they have to start it by asking how we are feeling. I had a teacher who always started their class with seven and a half minutes of conversation. Just talking. And if someone wanted to say something after that, he would just ask them to meet him after class, to talk. Imagine if more teachers did that.

How is this frustration translated into theatre?

Eliaz: The notion of power dynamics is very present in the play. In everyday life, we are the small unheard group of troubled teens subjected to these authority figures. In theatre,  we can switch parts. The public has to listen and shut up while we finally say what we have to say. We thematize the power of the system, we use its strategies. We are the teachers. Theatre is a nice medium in that way.

Isaac: At the beginning of the rehearsals, we just talked and talked for hours. Our dramaturg Eline and the director Lara recorded all these conversations and poured them into the script. It was a very organic way of making content.

The term ‘troubled kids’ is used in the description. What are your thoughts on that?  

Isaac: I think it fits very well. The understanding of that term just has to be expanded.  After the play, everyone has the chance to engage in conversation with us. One of the comments we’ve gotten quite a lot is that people expected more ‘trouble’ from us.  Vandalism, theft, whatever. I like that we can debunk that bias.  

Eliaz: I’m not looking for trouble. I’m just critical. I question our curriculum, I question our school. And that’s inconvenient. But inconvenience is not the same as trouble. In the play,  we show a more versatile portrait of these troubled kids.


What’s a sentence that grown-ups have told you too much?  

Eliaz: ‘You’re not old enough to understand.’ Way too much. 

Isaac: ‘Just do your best’ Even if I tried my best, our system is so blind for people like me, I would still fail. I was so tired. It’s also a bullshit theory that doing your best would be enough, or that if you work hard enough, you will get somewhere. The world isn’t that fluffy and fair.

You’re all still very young. How was it to work in a professional theatre play?    

Eliaz: absolutely amazing. I suddenly had a space where I could express my frustrations. I  am heard here, my thoughts are important here. That’s so refreshing.  

Isaac: Exactly. I’m so thankful to our director Lara, the way that she was able to translate our frustrations to the theatre, so insane. The whole crew supports us so well. I’m so thankful to all of them. They gave me the chance to finally say what I’ve been meaning to say for ages. 

Eliaz: Lara really helped us vocalize our anger and frustrations. It’s all our words and thoughts, just made more clear. People who’ve seen the try-outs tell us that the language is too far from our comfort zone. But that’s not true. It’s their prejudice that makes them think I don’t know hard words. We are using their preppy language against them. [laughs]

I am heard here, my thoughts are important here

Our generation is a fiery one. What are the things you wish to fight for? 

Eliaz: I want to fight for more empathy. We have to listen to people. 

Isaac: and the government especially has to listen. Listen to the teachers, they are crying for help. People often think we are fighting against teachers, but no, we are fighting for them.

12 till 18 Nov - Arca (NTGent), Gent