Companies and organisations often struggle to get or keep the conversation about diversity and inclusion (D&I) going. They quickly find it becomes too complicated and personal. Can theatre be used then? ADI spoke with Arie Snel, theatre maker and initiator of Buitengesloten, an interactive theatre performance about inclusion at work.

What do you want to tell about yourself?

Originally, I am a director and writer. I have been using my people skills to tackle strategic issues in the workplace for over 25 years and run an organisational consultancy: de Bouwmeester. For example, I helped improve industrial relations at the Amsterdam municipality. I have also done the same at ArTEZ, FNV, CNV, the Hortus, de Goede Zaak, the AHK, Stichting Zaam and Médecins Sans Frontières. The goal was usually the same: to improve the working atmosphere. In all this time, one thing has become clear to me: discrimination at work is a big issue that is talked about a lot, but little is done against. Almost everyone has their own view of what is wrong and often people try to fight things out by taking it out on the person. This can have unpleasant consequences, destroys people or further sours the atmosphere in the workplace (see also Inclusive Work Culture: Prevention is better than cure).

I think this can be done differently.

How did you use this insight for a theatre performance?

Together with Liesbeth Osse, I developed a ‘customized’ performance on workplace discrimination resulting in Buitengesloten. This is an interactive theatre piece where the employees of the company attending the performance influence what will happen in the play. This is done through a short workshop, after which the result of the workshops is integrated into the play. As a result, the visitor becomes both viewer and creator. In the performance, thoughts and experiences about discrimination and inclusion are exchanged and participants talk to each other about these themes without it having to be directly about themselves. In early 2020, we played a first draft of Buitengesloten for the Directorate of Housing of the municipality of Amsterdam, and in 2021 we developed the performance further. Through this link, everyone can watch our rehearsals and get a taste of the performance!

Are you a diverse theatre company yourselves?

Buitengesloten is written and created by people who differ in ethnicity, age, gender and sexual orientation. We can easily adapt the content of the performance and workshops based on our own experiences. Thus, Buitengesloten is a tailor-made performance and is adapted to each work situation and culture and to what is going on at the company. We prefer to do this with the company’s employees, so that they become co-owners. It keeps us busy every day: how do we reach employers and employees, how do we improve sick working conditions and how do we give companies the key to insight and change? Thanks to Buitengesloten, I have returned to my original profession, making theatre. Theatre is perfect for exposing themes such as inclusion and exclusion. By telling a story, we can give real insight into lingering issues, develop topics in different scenarios, use changing characters and plots. Making theatre is a craft and an art form that lends itself well to looking through complex issues.

How do companies get in touch with you?

Companies and organisations can take a look at the Bouwmeester’s website and get in touch via that route.

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