Op 18 november 2022 organiseerde What You See Festival een online workshop over Theatre and Consent. Vera Bonder schreef er een artikel over. Hier te downloaden of hieronder te lezen.

A conversation on how to inform, communicate with and take care of your audience
22.11.2022 | by Vera Bonder


On the eighteenth of November, the opening day of What You See Festival 2022, the WYS festival  gathered theatre companies and other interested parties and/or individuals in the online workshop called ‘Content Warning.’ People joining the workshop are here to learn and talk about Theatre and Consent. The host is theatre professional and researcher Jenny Wilson (she/her), who lectures and facilitates a conversation. Performance artist Paul(a) Chaves Bonilla (she/they) shares their research on the topic. The underlying idea of this workshop, is that consent is a responsibility of everyone: of the programmer, the artist, the audience. Giving consent is built on a relation of trust. From here a conversation can start on how to inform, communicate with and take care of your audience.

Nowadays, different conversations on consent have arrived in the Dutch context. Art is also mingling in this discussion, Wilson argues: “Art is countering the status quo.” This is not an easy task. It takes time for social justice to be achieved. Throughout the workshop, the importance of context is drawn. To learn how a presenter of art is able to take their responsibility, multiple aspects need to be taken into account.

As a start of the workshop, Wilson explains her dislike towards the word trigger. “People can be triggered by the most random kind of things,” she explains. Therefore, she prefers the word content. In addition, Wilson also suggests reconsidering the word warning, because it almost provokes an expectation of a problem. She prefers the word note. Content note, arises out of this. Wilson considers this “a note that something is present,” something that you – the artist, the festival or the organisation responsible for the audience – think people “might benefit from knowing on beforehand.” But what do we need to know before we use these content notes? How do we rightfully use them? Multiple times it is stressed, that content notes are developed out of the assumptions of people. You, the presenter or artist, assumes what might be traumatic, triggering or difficult for your audience. We all do tend to have socially accepted ideas of what is okay and what is not okay. Consequently, you come with your own experience and your own context: “You have your own bias,” Wilson emphasizes. You need to be aware of your own accountability and your limitation. The audience has other relations to these topics. We tend to know who our audiences are, but do we really? And how do we genuinely get to know them?

Wilson created a tool for navigating consent: the consent compass. The consent compass entails five core ideas: Aware, Responsive, Informed, Specific, and Engaged: combined emerging the word: ARISE. The first element, Aware, considers how all human beings have some degree of agency. We need to be aware that some have more power than others. This is present on different levels. First, this links to the binary world we live in and concerns issues of gender, race, ethnicity, class, and ableism. Second, this concerns hierarchy issues: as the person programming or distributing the show, you have some power the audience do not have (this does not mean the audience has no power at all. The audience have the power to walk out, for example). The second element, Responsive, entails the idea that consent is always responsive to the situation: there is a possibility to change your mind. Consent is an ongoing question: if you said yes five minutes ago, it could be a no right now. As a spectator it is therefore good to know that you’re always allowed to leave a performance. Informed, considers that what we do and do not know. “You don’t know what you don’t know, until you realise you don’t know it,” Wilson explains. A question that arises in the workshop is for example: how much information is too much information? This element addresses the information you give your audience in advance, like the classification labels in film, but could also take shape in combination with an after talk or another form of after care. Specific, the fourth element, stands for being very specific about the what, where, when, how and whom. It concerns the boundaries of the consent you are navigating. This could entail content notes such as: “this performance entails homophobic encounters in the first part of the performance. They will be questioned towards the end of the performance. In the after talk there will be some time reserved for the sharing of your thoughts.”  The last element, Engaged, is the reoccurring check-in if your audience is still here, if they are still present. How this is achieved is still a bit unanswered after the workshop.

Consent is operating on a range of levels, Wilson argues: self, inter-personal, social/group, systemic/cultural. She developed a tool for navigating consent, because consent is more difficult than the simple transactional ‘Yes – No’. The Self involves the following: the information that we give is based on the permission and consent we give ourselves. Inter-personal entails how we interact in one on one, or small inter-personal interactions. How do you make sure “everyone is consenting,” Wilson questions. The Social/Group incorporates the dynamics of a group. You need to be very mindful of the kind of peer pressure or social pressure that is possibly present. Do you dare to leave, to question was is presented? Chaves adds that is important to actively remind audiences of their agency; the codes of the theatre are very strong. The Systemic/Cultural covers socio-cultural norms, most who are not consensual in the first place, Wilson explains: “like patriarchy, capitalism or white supremacy.” This last level explains the necessity of the need of content notes: it shows the urgency of talking about difficult topics, otherwise we would stay in the status quo. I will come back to this point further in the article.

But how do you do this? There is no ‘one-fits-all’ strategy. Multiple examples are shared. Around her performance, Wilson opts for handing out leaflets with references to other information or help lines and organises support services around the performance. Before the performance starts she always stresses that it is okay to leave during the performance, but she invites the audience to stay in the room, and to trust her that she will not dwell in a certain triggering subject very long. After the performance there can be a space for people to leave their impressions behind, via notes, or someone dedicated to aftercare. Other suggestions consist of drop-down notes on websites (so people can choose to read them or not) and interactive content notes like organising after talks, Q&A’s or to propose informal conversations. Chaves very often includes content information in the performance itself as an artistic layer and proposes informal meetings, like a party, to be able to ventilate tension differently. On the so-called more individual side of offering content notes, ideas are suggested like providing handouts and putting up posters in toilets (where people are on their own, and are able to digest what is happening in their own time). We are facing the question on how to and what kind of context and space does a performance need to make room for consent and possible effects of a performance.

These ideas raise multiple questions: what about spoilers? How do we deal with resistance from directors and theatre makers who fear to lose their artistic freedom? Wilson responses she thinks you eventually gain what you think you lose. She asks directors: “Do you want to take care of your audience, or do you want them to feel bad?” Wilson argues there is a need for a significant cultural shift: “You need to put a new standard.” We also face the challenge of the safe space: what if we are so careful to not offend anyone, we are simply not engaging with difficult questions anymore? And what if we make mistakes, how do you deal with that? Like aforementioned in ‘Levels of consent,’ it is important to keep fighting the status quo and therefore keep engaging with difficult questions. If we want to change the world, fight capitalism, crush white supremacy and knock down the patriarchy, we need to face these difficult questions and topics. But, at the same time, it is important to stay aware of how others relate to this. Wilson explains that you will make mistakes. However, don’t try to shift the fault to someone else. Thank the person for sharing their discomfort and ask: “how can we do better? How can we help you now? What do you need?”. In the end, it’s all about accountability and taking responsibility for the context you’ve created. All these ideas are considering having a ‘before’ and ‘after’: the performance does not exist in a vacuum. 

The workshop serves as an opening to a discussion that has not yet finished. The proposition to use content note instead of trigger warning, the tool to navigate consent, and the different levels of consent act as a way to think about this topic. They activate us, make us stay aware of our own limitations when thinking about consent. The ideas and the occurred questions need to be ongoing. Let us keep asking these questions and maintain this conversation. To add contexts and experiences, what leads to a better way of understanding the audience. And in that sense, to take better care of your audience.  

Vera Bonder (they/them) is a nonbinary theatre researcher, theatre maker and teacher. They are currently following the Master’s programme Contemporary Theatre, Dance and Dramaturgy at the University of Utrecht. Fields of interest: Queer Theory & Performance, Community art and other Feminist issues concerning Performance art.



De Nieuwe Opdrachtgevers is een internationale beweging waar burgers opdracht geven aan een kunstenaar om hun lokale context te verbeteren. Op 25 mei organiseerde What You See Festival een workshop met Alexander Koch om hier alle ins en outs over te weten te komen. Vera Bonder was erbij en schreef dit artikel. (ook beschikbaar in pdf).


One of the main goals of the What You See Festival, an international and multidisciplinary festival on gender and identity, is to inflict connection, to come together and, in a way, to unite. What You See Festival holds the desire and wish to connect with citizens within (and beyond) their local community. At certain levels, this is already accomplished, but the will to explore and find new ways to connect is present. One possible way to do this is through the New Patrons strategy. In collaboration with ORLANDO, an international queer festival from Bergamo that features cinema, dance and theatre, What You See has started an exploration, researching the aforementioned New Patrons strategy. A small group of people from different organizations (Schweigman&, SPRING Utrecht, Theaterfestival Boulevard and Stadsschouwburg Utrecht, to name a few) have gathered in an online meeting, initiated by What You See, to learn and talk about this strategy. The online meeting is led by Alexander Koch, co-initiator and current chairman of the New Patrons program in Germany.

The New Patrons strategy is based upon a protocol written in 1990 by the Belgian artist and photographer François Hers. In brief, the idea of New Patrons is to assist, encourage and sustain people to make a positive change within their context. Citizens (who are called commissioners after initiating a project) come to a New Patrons organisation with an urgent question or topic concerning their city, town or village. Subsequently, with support from mediators, they define what they want from art and initiate a project that articulates what matters for them. After this, the mediator links the commissioners to an artist of any kind (architect, sculptor, director, choreographer, painter, landscape artist, etc.) who will design an idea for an artwork that contributes to a solution for their topic. The core of this idea, already being a huge success in for example France and Germany, is to make people feel that what is happening, what is being created, is because of and for them. That it is part of their world,” states Alexander. An example of a New Patrons project took place in Tours, a city in the North of France, where shop owners and local residents started a petition to recover the old market square which was replaced by a parking lot in the seventies. After being ignored by the city council they addressed the mediator who linked them to Xavier Veilhan, a French artist whose work includes sculpture, film, installation art and photography. Veilhan came up with the idea of building a monster referring to the medieval demons of the cathedral of the city center. The commissioners loved the idea, but making the proposal public started the largest public debate in town since the end of World War II. After negotiating for three years with many different parties the artwork finally became realised. Meanwhile the artwork has become the symbol for the town and has stimulated many activities taking place at the square.

The first time Alexander heard about the New Patrons, he considered it a “cultural revolution”. Ideally, the people will come to you with an idea or a question: just like this example in France. ” The citizens are the beginning of everything”, Alexander states. It is exactly this sentence that raises the most questions by the participants of the workshop. How do you accomplish that? How do citizens know they can become commissioners? How do you share (or actually transfer) ownership? How do you deal with the complexity of having the wish for democratization and the sharing of ownership, but simultaneously having a strong philosophy ingrained in your organisation (like What You See Festival)? When is the project considered a success? Questions seem to be divided into three parts: the start of a project, the process and the outcome.

First of all: how to start. Before finding you, people need to know that you are there. If we take What You See Festival as an example, the festival could announce that they are offering the possibility that people can commission an artist to deal with a topic that is urgently relevant for them. As long as there is transparency about what is possible, this is one way to do it. But how do you reach different groups then? And what about the complexity of sharing ownership, but at the same time having these strong intentions regarding what aims you have to better the world? It is an idea to get in touch with communities that you as an organisation want to support and see if there are potential commissioners there. To go out into the world to talk. In doing so you can choose which communities you’ll go to, but you leave the ideas up to the other.

The process seems like an even bigger question mark. After the commissioners commission an idea, which is the start of many conversations with the mediator to get their wish clear, the mediator introduces this idea to an artist. The artist develops a proposal, which goes back to the commissioners. Although it is possible to adjust and negotiate about the proposal, the autonomy of the artist is extremely important, and their proposal stays pretty much like it is. Because of this, it is really important to invest time in getting the main topics clear and to be accurate in the matchmaking between commissioners and artists. The process asks for a commitment from all parties: there needs to be a will to make this work. At all times the idea has to stay with the commissioners. The task of the mediator is to confront the commissioners with the reality of the project and “[…] not take responsibility away from them.”

Any organisation could implement a New Patrons strategy: there is no centralised organization. The answer to our question why this has not (as far as we know) happened in the Netherlands yet, is’ simply because ‘no-one did it’. Unquestionable for every project there needs to be funding. For the first part, the proposal, there needs to be money available for the mediator, so they can invest time and energy into the arrangements, and for the artist to develop a proposal. The New Patrons usually offer artists a fixed fee of € 5.000,- for this first proposal, regardless of their fame. Based on this proposal new funds can be requested. Alexander considers this a political project: “I get money through lobbying, not through writing applications.” What New Patrons Germany is trying to do is to always get some substantial funding for the first part (the proposal), by presenting it as political education, which can be complemented by expendable funding by funds or sponsors for the second part (the production). This second part of funding can take up a lot of time: to implement a New Patrons project you’d rather think years than months.

Al these different projects result in an outcome that is always different and new. The New Patrons strategy calls a project a success when the commissioners feel it is a success. Even if the mediator does not like the artwork. Alexander states it is considered a success: “[…] if it does it’s job.” It is a different way of thinking, we need to get away from the capitalistic mindset, the idea that it has to have an affect on something bigger than the initiator. It asks for a different conversation with the audience, with the artists, with funds investing money in these kind of projects. It sometimes even asks for a different conversation with other citizens or municipalities, when a project takes place in public space.

The start, the process, the outcome. Questions raised around these three topics could actually be considered covering one and the same aspect: the art of letting go. Letting go of ownership, letting go of the idea of success, letting go of responsibility. Placing a seed of an unknown plant not to plant it, but to let someone else take that seed, tell you what kind it is and to provide a place to sow it and to let it grow. This takes time and probably a lot of trial and error. Searching for a way to make it sustainable. After Alexander’s lecture, he leaves it up to us to translate the New Patrons strategy into our own words. I wonder if in the case of What You See Festival the art of letting go could be considered a queer strategy. If we could adjust this New Patrons strategy in a queer way.

So that is the quest we are now facing: to create our own path, hoping people will want to walk with us. To take us by the hand, after we already, in a way, reached out to them. Consider this an opening of a conversation. Or multiple conversations. Because there are still several questions left unanswered. Maybe they can only be answered by doing, by taking a first step. But moreover, even though the whole process is not yet completely clear, by taking time. Because everything needs time to grow before it can flourish.

Vera Bonder is a nonbinary theatre researcher, theatre maker and teacher. They are currently following the Master’s programme Contemporary Theatre, Dance and Dramaturgy at the University of Utrecht. Fields of interest: Queer Theory & Performance, Community art and other Feminist issues concerning Performance art.



Steeds meer voorstellingen over gender en identiteit vinden hun weg naar de theaters. Daar geven we graag extra aandacht aan! Theater Kikker en Stadsschouwburg Utrecht tonen ook dit jaar weer een aantal prachtparels in hun theaters. Wij tippen ze graag én verzorgen voor sommigen van hen een contextprogramma. Dit laatste is nog in ontwikkeling, dus stay tuned!

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inclusief nagesprek geleid door What You See directeur Vincent Wijlhuizen
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image: Sofie Knijff | graphic design: Esther Noyons



In 2021 coproduceerden we de etalage-performance Hairy van Eva Arends en Senna Pauli. In 2022 gaat deze harige performance de provincie in! De eerste stop was Zeist: op 16 september en 17 september om 11:00 en 15:00 was Hairy te bewonderen in de etalage van Theater De Klinker. Daarna reisde het werk terug naar Utrecht om daar het vijftig jaar bestaan van Theater Kikker mee te vieren. Op donderdag 8 en vrijdag 9 december is Hairy van 16:30 – 17:30 en van 19:00 – 20:00 nogmaals te beleven in de etalage van Bibliotheek Eemland in Amersfoort. Loop dus vooral even langs! Meer info. 



Het team van What You See Festival groeit en per 1 juni hebben we Rick Busscher als zakelijk producent mogen verwelkomen. Met hart voor verandering, een nieuwsgierige en kritische blik helpt hen What You See Festival zowel intern als extern te ontwikkelen. En niet onbelangerijk: hen houdt van koken!