Press releases | Culture 15.11.2011


Project on Public Speaking with Premieres from Four Countries

Brussels, Belgium, 25/11 – 10/12, 2011
Essen, Germany, 15/12 – 17/12, 2011

The POWERS OF SPEECH project, initiated by the Siemens Stiftung and the Kaaitheater Brussels, puts public speaking center stage in a series of new theatrical works. Text and staged material will be developed in Europe, South Africa and Colombia to be presented at the Kaaitheater in Brussels at the “Spoken World” festival running from 25/11 to 10/12/2011. The following tour will also present productions in Germany.

When Barack Obama 2009 took the White House by storm with his “Yes We Can” speeches he impressively demonstrated the power of speech and received the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year. Great speeches make a difference because they make it possible to perceive social challenges differently to how they were perceived in the past. In every age, country and culture, and in every societal context speeches have been one of the most important driving forces in the political functioning of states and communities.

In POWERS OF SPEECH the Siemens Stiftung, together with the Kaaitheater, will be devoting theatrical research to formal and substantive forces behind speech: forces that can lead a community to war or peace, to ‘good’ or to ‘evil’. In cooperation with cultural institutions in four countries theater-makers from three continents will be creating a performance in which they examine their relationship with the speech given and make a space for it in their own political and cultural context. The productions are to be developed in Johannesburg, Bogotá, Brussels, Sheffield and Zagreb.

The idea behind the POWERS OF SPEECH project stems from an interview with Obama’s speech writer Jon Favreau where he explains how he had to compose two versions of a speech for the presidential elections: one for victory and one for defeat. The second version seldom known about served as a model here for the newly evolved pieces of theater: what events, which may or may not happen in the future, might we have to equip ourselves for in rhetorical terms? Or what course would history have taken if key speeches had been written differently? The project shifts the imaginative potential of theater into the limelight in order to sound out afresh the art of speech in the force field of politics, art and society.

In his work entitled “Rhetorical” South African playwright and director Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom – whose productions about the brutality of everyday life in South Africa are some of the most influential and surprising to come out of this region – looks into his homelands recent past. Together with the author Aubrey Sekhabi he describes the fall of the intellectual president Thabo Mbeki by the inflammatory speeches of a revolutionary young politician: this fictional character is based on real-life firebrand politician and leader of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, whom some have labeled a “reckless populist” and “demagogue”, and is touted by others to be the future President of South Africa. With these fictitious speeches Grootboom enables a young generation of South Africans to comment on their country’s political past.

The Columbian Pablo Emilio Escobar, also known as the ›The Boss‹, is considered alongside his declared role model, Al Capone, as one of the most notorious, ruthless drugs barons of all-time. Although he held his home country and the international community to ransom over years, he was at the same time a much loved benefactor of the poorest neighborhoods of the city of Medellín. America’s declared state enemy number one in the nineties, he was finally shot dead by a special commando while fleeing in 1993.The performance “Discurso de un hombre decente” (Speech of a Decent Man) by Mapa Teatro from Bogotá is based on a fictional speech that is found on Escobar’s person on the day of his death: held on the day of Colombia’s presidential elections in it he describes his vision for a rich and internationally influential Colombia – by the immediate legalization of drugs.

In Europe British writer and theater-maker Tim Etchells creates a great performative speech for the New Zealander performance artist Kate McIntosh made from the ruins and fragments of many other speeches. Material from a range of contemporary and historical political campaigns, party congresses, debates, resignations and revolutionary tracts finds its way into unexpected dialogues and collisions in this work, in which sense itself is strained and stretched, constantly cohering, dissolving and then momentarily re-cohering. “Although We Fell Short” is comical and unsettling, subjecting the familiar rhetorical strategies of political speeches to a test of their linguistic breaking-point.

“If a man were to speak his mind on an island where there were no human beings, would he still be wrong?” This question is the point of departure for a performance by Barbara Matijević & Giuseppe Chico, a young artists’ duo from Zagreb and Paris. Under the working title “SPEECH!” they challenge our understanding of social and political matters, and also everyday occurrences as stories. They approach speech as a mode of discourse that makes no claims on truth and is thus not about anything, but does always address someone. The play is a speech that invites speech, reminding us that we are its originators.

All productions will be presented at the “Spoken World” festival at Brussels’ Kaaitheater and will be accompanied there by a closely knit program revolving around the power of speech. This program will range from resounding names from Afro-American spoken word and speeches without words to speeches written by playwrights and performed live by Belgian ministers. To complement this a new, young committed generation of speech-makers from all areas of Brussels will present their own version of “I Have a Dream”.

Afterwards the productions will be staged as German premieres at the PACT Zollverein in Essen, made possible by the Ministry for Family, Children, Youth, Culture and Sport of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Performance Dates

Brussels, Belgium, Kaaitheater: SPOKEN WORLD 25/11 – 10/12, 2011

November 25 – 26, 2011, 8:30 pm
Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom [ZA] “Rhetorical“

November 26, 8:30 pm and November 27, 2011, 7 pm
Tim Etchells [GB] “Although We Fell Short”

December 7 – 8, 2011, 8:30 pm
Mapa Teatro [CO] “Discurso de un hombre decente“

December 9 – 10, 2011, 9 pm
Barbara Matijević & Giuseppe Chico [HR/FR] “SPEECH!” (working title)

Essen, Germany, PACT Zollverein: POWERS OF SPEECH 15 – 17/12, 2011

December 15, 2011, 7:30 pm

Tim Etchells [GB] “Although We Fell Short“

December 12, 2011, 9 pm
Mapa Teatro [CO] “Discurso de un hombre decente“

December 17, 2011, 7:30 pm
Barbara Matijevic & Giuseppe Chico [HR/FR] “SPEECH!“ (working title)

December 17, 2011, 9 pm
Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom [ZA] “Rhetorical“

National Premieres

South Africa
Johannesburg, November 15 – 20, 2011 Market Theatre
Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom [ZA] “Rhetorical”

Brussels, November 26, 2011 Kaaitheater
Tim Etchells [GB] “Although We Fell Short”

Bogotá, March 27 –28, 2012 Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogotá
Mapa Teatro [CO] “Discurso de un hombre decente”

Zagreb, April 20 – 22, 2012 MSU - Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb
Barbara Matijević & Giuseppe Chico [HR/FR] “SPEECH!” (working title)


The Kaaitheater is a Brussels arts centre with an emphatically international approach. It has been a leader in theatre, dance and performance for over thirty years. Much attention is devoted to setting up its own productions and co-productions with artists and companies from both home and abroad. Social and ecological topics are a prominent element in Kaaitheater’s work. The Kaaitheater presents performances in two superb venues in the canal area in Brussels: the Kaaitheater itself (on Sainctelettesquare) and the Kaaistudio’s (near Dansaertstraat).

The Siemens Stiftung seeks to empower people to actively address social challenges and is dedicated to the values embraced by Werner von Siemens. It is committed to expanding basic services and social entrepreneurship, promoting education, and strengthening culture. The foundation pursues an integrative approach and stands for responsible, effective, and innovative project work.

Those engaged in cultural pursuits help to shape social development. Making room for their views and opening up experimental fields for analysis of the present are the goals of the cultural projects undertaken by the Siemens Stiftung. The impact of art in society is of central importance here, along with reflection on cultural identities and the fostering of different forms of dialogue and aesthetic education. With the help of cooperation partners, the foundation initiates theme-based projects and platforms for international exchange and cultural knowledge transfer.