PeerGrouP – Site Specific Theatre

PeerGrouP is based in the North of the Netherlands, in a rural area. Their work is usually site specific and site generic. A field, a big coaster or a whole village can be their performance site; they hardly ever perform in theatre buildings. They have built an enormous castle out of straw bales. Over two years, The Straw Castle became their performance space and ‘laboratory’.

PeerGrouP consists of people working in different art disciplines. Actors, architects, dancers, sculptors and musicians work with a director towards a theatrical presentation. Often the work is a mix between theatre (in the broadest sense), an exhibition and a (social) event. The audience eats, drinks and sits together with the performers.

The work of PeerGrouP can be described as site-specific in a socially engaged manner. Every site and every location has a history and specific features. The first focus lays on the people who ‘own’ the environment. These people are the key to the specific stories, the conflicts, the celebrations and ceremonies.
With every new project, PeerGrouP starts off as an outsider. They are strangers, with strange intentions: “Theatre, art… that doesn’t belong here, does it?”

Over the years, PeerGrouP has developed a special approach to bridge this gap: Integrate and infiltrate. In this approach they are working on a site and trying to find a (temporary) place in the community. By making use of the local artistic skills and fascinations, curiosity awakens. This is a starting point: from curiosity grows complicity and from complicity a desire to cooperate might emerge.

For example: in a village without a bakery, PeerGrouP started by building a bread oven and created a temporary bakery where the villagers were invited to trade their stories for bread. The final performance was as much a PeerGrouP performance as a performance of the villagers.
PeerGrouPs’ fascinations are often not ‘theatrical’ in an obvious way. Agriculture, landscape, food… Topics like these require a different kind of research for finding the stories which have a ‘theatrical’ quality. Therefore, PeerGrouP does research on people with a variety of professions. Sometimes they even learn the specific skills of those professions. For example: foresters, scientists, farmers or cooks. Local people and their skills also get involved in the performance. Working in this manner, the members of PeerGrouP continuously keep confronting themselves with the reality of their subjects, trying to find the ‘true’ stories. And they also keep developing new site- specific (artistic) methods and approaches to work with.

Instead of starting with a concept for a performance, the research starts with a fascination. During the research phase the results will be presented regularly to the people connected to the site. PeerGroup searches for artistic ways to do this; they create something tangible to share with the inhabitants. With the reactions to these provisional presentations, their search query can be specified and refined. To do this properly, they have to delay the development of ideas towards the final shape of the performance. Living and working on a site, being in contact with the inhabitants (who can also become the future performers/audience), PeerGrouP uncovers the specific content and shape of the performance. The final performance will be constructed out of the elements which come up during the research and prove consistent.
For example: during research in a village an archaeologist found an old road one of the villagers had told him about. The archaeological site became one of the performance spaces in a theatrical walk through the village.

When working towards the final performance, PeerGrouP selects the stories and materials allowing to create an event which is specific and universal at the same time. The performance becomes an event where an audience without knowledge of the specific site can enjoy watching.