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A continuous theatrical investigation into the future of democracy: Episode 1/3

Jan van Tienen & Kees Lesuis


©Jasper Van den Berg - ©Jasper Van den Berg

For the IN SITU pilot project In Search of Democracy 3.0, Lucas de Man and his team of Stichting Nieuwe Helden work together with IN SITU partners to make an investigation of current democracy and its challenges for the future.

An introduction to the project 

by Jan Van Tienen

Democracy in Europe is under pressure. Citizens are not happy with the way things are going and distrust national governments and the European Union. Authoritarian leaders, right-wing populist governments and other popular thinkers are playing into the hands of the people, and the less fortunate, who traditionally distance themselves from power, are excluded from power structures. How can the tide be turned? How can citizens return to feeling comfortable and involved in democracy? The In Search of Democracy 3.0 project by Stichting Nieuwe Helden led by Lucas de Man focuses on just such questions.

Democracy is about enabling the vulnerable to flourish and protecting them.

The project consists of a theatre performance, a series of short documentaries, a major pan-European research component and an associated online platform. Through cooperation with IN SITU partners, the project will also grow during its execution and be enriched by public participation and continuous research. In Search of Democracy 3.0 will premiere this summer 2019 at the Oerol Festival and then tour festivals throughout Europe that are members of the IN SITU network.In a serie of articles, several people involved in the project explain how it came about. They speak as creators and artistic directors about expectations for the project, and the ideas, people and stories they encountered along the way. They also speak as citizens, about their own fear of certain worrisome developments in democratic Europe, but happily also about their hopes for the future.In this first episode, we’ll hear from Kees Lesuis, artistic director of Oerol who has supported the project since its inception.

The genesis of the project

by Kees Lesuis

A few years ago, I saw a performance Lucas de Man had developed, In Search of Europe. It was also partly a lecture/performance, with a strong form. Lucas de Man travelled through Europe with his team and met creatives, who all provided unexpected short takes and insights and together sketched an interesting image of Europe. When I saw it, two and a half years ago, I thought: Lucas de Man has to join IN SITU – he creates large projects on major issues in Europe where art can speak with a different voice.

Lucas De Man - In Search of Europe (2016) ©Phile Deprez 

The first time we met, another question came up: what is democracy? It was already being suppressed in countries like Hungary and Turkey, and anti-democratic forces were also at work elsewhere. I thought: yes, you wouldn’t want to make a sequel, but rather do it in cooperation with the entire European IN SITU network, so that the project can connect with local issues and initiatives in different places in Europe.

For me, the hope is that a European narrative will emerge, which by its very nature can grow through the input of local partners. The idea is that Lucas de Man would create a basic structure to which organisations could join in on the spot, and where you could also shape the collaboration with local creators during the presentation of In Search of Democracy 3.0.

The aim of the project is really to focus on public space and at the same time to see how we can involve the public in a broader way. The idea of using the web, putting videos on a site and putting a European story on the Internet was a good starting point. Also, to check locally if you can do things differently in other places. To see whether you can create a place for democracy at your festival.

I’m glad that we are programming it for two years in a row at the Oerol Festival. This year is the premiere, then it goes to different places in Europe. Through cooperation with IN SITU partners, the project will also grow during its execution and be enriched by public participation and continuous research. The input of the co-producers will be added, and hopefully the number of documentaries will also grow. In the 2020 edition, the theme of democracy will be given an important place in the Oerol programme, in consultation with other theatre makers and artists.


©Jasper van den Berg


A lot has happened which has increased the relevance of this project. Brexit, the Yellow Vests movement, they’re related. They all touch on this project. It’s getting more, not less relevant. Even the Dutch VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) is now moving in a more populist direction. I find these developments interesting, but also worrying. Sometimes I’m almost afraid that it’s too late, that we’ve passed the point where these kinds of creative perspectives still make sense. On the other hand, Lucas de Man isn’t sitting still – he looks, listens, learns and shares with the audience, who in turn will hopefully also become a catalyst for change.

Democratic reform is, of course, a huge subject to address, but my great hope is that small initiatives in particular will have a very inspiring effect. I hope that In Search of Democracy 3.0 will create coherence between individual European projects and become a database of inspiration.

Follow the creation process of the project on:
Stay tuned for the next episodes, soon to be published on this blog!

Jan Van Tienen is a Dutch writer and columnist.
Kees Lesuis is the artistic director of Oerol Festival, located on Terschelling Island (The Netherlands) and IN SITU member since 2006.