KVS theatre piece explores life in the best city ever

Summary

In his new production Mind Your Step, Flemish theatre director Simon De Vos explores life in an ideal city and learns that perfection comes at a price

A new production at KVS explores life in an ideal city. Which of these is closest to your ideal city?

Big city life

What would it take to build the perfect city? Simon De Vos’ answer is simple: sacrifice. And the Flemish theatre maker meets both challenges – building the perfect city and making sacrifices – in his latest work Mind Your Step, which he is directing at the Royal Flemish Theatre (KVS) in Brussels this month.

Based on playwright Paul Pourveur’s Plot Your City and written together with Yves De Pauw, who also stars in the piece, Mind Your Step explores what is gained and what lost as we strive to build an “ideal” world.

The story follows six characters as they experience life in the perfect city. Sharing the stage with these actors is a 20-person choir, celebrating the greatness of urban life with music by Flemish composer Peter Spaepen.

“The starting point was to ask ourselves: ‘what is the ideal city, a city where everything is possible, in which everything functions very well?’” De Vos explains. “It would be an ideal system through which all problems can be solved – the mental problems and the physical problems people deal with. From there, we created an ideal city life.”

This ideal life is filled with material prosperity, comfort and productivity. But perfection comes at a price. As we watch the characters go about their city lives, we soon see that the system is unyielding and leaves no space for creative change.

In fact, De Vos even writes himself, as an artist, out of the perfect city. “Because everything is based on material prosperity, there is no room for an artist,” he says.

This can be seen in the character of the ill-fated architect, who “is also an idealist,” says De Vos. “He is always trying to see if there is something that can be improved upon or something that can be modified in the city”. In the end, he says, without a hint of a spoiler alert, the architect must be sacrificed.

A material world

While the play is set in a fictional world, De Vos and De Pauw’s city is firmly rooted in what they acknowledge are real situations existing in the world today. “When things are going too fast, and when this materialistic world goes on and on, reproducing itself, we can actually end up in a system that is not connected with its inhabitants,” says De Vos.

The main problem of the whole city is a failure of deeper emotions

- Simon De Vos

De Vos gives Dubai as an example. “You can make it snow in the desert. Everything in Dubai is pointed in the direction of more and higher buildings, as symbols of prosperity. But it is disconnected from the needs of citizens.”

Citing the absence of a third Intifada in Palestine and the apparent loss of memory about what happened 25 years ago in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, De Vos creates a city that quells dissatisfaction through material comfort, tightly controlled information and the erasure of collective memory.

“The main problem of the whole city is a failure of deeper emotions,” the artist says. “It’s actually a fake system and an increasingly dictatorial one. This is an exponent of a prosperous city: There is no revolution because everything is so prosperous.”

While he does not see Brussels as a good example of a fake or perfect system, he points out that this culture of prosperity and materialism is something found in our own world. “A lot of people think there is nothing to fight for – because they live in a very prosperous material world.” Instead, he adds, “Mind Your Step is more of a warning to Brussels.”

Amplifying new voices

Mind Your Step kicks off KVS’s programme Wie is er bang voor de grote zaal? (Who’s Afraid of the Big Hall?), which wants to encourage young theatre makers to create pieces for large venues, rather than small-scale or black box theatre. The programme invites new voices to bring their big-stage works to KVS, as De Vos did, while also giving them a hands-on chance to learn some of the basics of large-scale theatre production through workshops, master classes and work sessions.

I have the impression that a story can be more rich on a big stage

- Simon De Vos

If anyone is not afraid of the big stage, it’s De Vos. He has felt drawn by large-scale productions since he was a child, attending theatre with his father, who taught English drama at the University of Ghent. “I have the impression that a story can be more rich on a big stage, that you can tell more than on a small one,” he says.

 

He quickly rattles off a list of his idols who have impressed him on the big stage, including Dutch theatre director Johan Simons, Flemish theatre director Ivo van Hove and Flemish actor and theatre director Luk Perceval. “These are the great directors”, he says, “Their works are so large and rich in language and images; they really speak to me.”

19-21 June at KVS, 146 Lakensestraat, Brussels (in Dutch)

photo by Stef Stessel