Act in order to survive

How theatre makes us better people

‘SYRIA. The country of fattoush, Arak, where Bashar al-Assad, the mother of Jerry Seinfeld and Majd Mardo were born. A country presently so torn up, you don’t know who’s fighting who. YUGOSLAVIA. Nowadays known as Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The country where it didn’t matter what religion you worshipped or hairstyle you had, until of course the war. The country of börek and landmines. There where Goran Višnjić, Nicola Tesla, Daria Bukvić and Vanja Rukavina were born. But most importantly, a country that doesn’t exist anymore. IRAN. The country of oil, caviar and sand. The threshold of civilisation and birthplace of the handshake, whereas nowadays people are executed publicly for committing minor crimes. Also the country where Asghar Farhadi, Kader Abdolah and Saman Amini were born. To cut things short: three nations ravished by poverty, corruption and war, from where four different children fled their home and travelled miles and miles to reach the Netherlands. The country of peace, prosperity and playgrounds.’

It’s the start of the trailer of Nobody Home, a performance directed by Daria Bukvić that hit theatres throughout the Netherlands last year. Together with actors Vanja Rukavina, Majd Mardo, Saman Amini and their families, she went on a search for their roots in the Netherlands. A country where the immigration policy has changed dramatically over the last twenty years and the dynamics between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is constantly influenced by fads. Just like Vanja, Majd and Saman, Daria is born in 1989. In the next eleven years, all of them had to leave their home country and fled to the Netherlands, in search of a safe home. In 2009, they met at The Maastricht Theatre Academy. Five years later, they tell the stories of their lives in Nobody Home: from the country of origin to the refugee centre (AZC), from the theatre to the stage. From the absurd life in the AZC and the Dutch bureaucracy to the hilarious cultural clichés like drama queening Syrian moms and B-boys in white socks and slippers, it’s a touching, humorous and critical portrait of a young generation of theatre makers who fled into the theatre trying to find their home. Daria left Bosnia with her mom when she was only three years old, her dad stayed behind. In the AZC she realised that she wasn’t going back anytime soon. The current refugee movement brings back memories, but she does not shy away from her own discomfort or pain. ‘To live is to sufer. To survive is to find some meaning in the sufering’, Nietzsche once said. ‘I want to make my mother’s decision at that time worthwhile’, Daria recently told in an interview on Dutch television. ‘In Bosnia she had everything, but had to leave all that behind.



Her flourishing career, her life, she lost everything. My whole life I’m trying to make up for that. Besides changing the public perception, this performance is a tribute to our mothers.’ The influx of refugees in the Netherlands is nothing new. During the First World War, one million Belgians sought refuge in our politically neutral country. As from the beginning of the nineties, due to the war in Yugoslavia, the flow of refugees and the number of applications for asylum faced rapid growth. The situation in Kosovo and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan led to another peak. At the turn of the century, the Netherlands tightened up its policy and the amount of applications for asylum dropped. Until the last few years, among others due to the war in Syria.


Especially now, with all the stories, debates and measures filling up our newsfeeds and timelines, people like Daria can add a human perspective to the discourse surrounding refugees. This issue concerns all social groups and strata of our society now and it is complicated. And the more we read about it, the more questions we have. ‘With Nobody Home, we wanted to appeal on empathy. And empathy will only become more necessary. We hope to address people who live where perhaps a refugee centre will be opened soon.’ And isn’t that the true power of art? To spur a conversation we might not otherwise have? To keep questioning ourselves? To sneak past our intellect and directly speak to our hearts?


The next performance Daria is working on, is the Dutch version of Djihad, le spectacle, a humoristic play about a rather serious subject by Belgium theatre maker Ismaël Said. It tells the story of three boys who decide, partly out of frustration with their roles in Western society and partly out of boredom, to travel to Syria to take part in the Jihad alongside their Islamic brothers. It’s a total deception, nothing like Call of Duty at all. Who are they actually fighting for, and why? The play was such a success, that Belgian minister Fadila Laanan introduced the concept of pièces de utilité publique – theatre for the public utility – and wanted the play to be staged in schools in Brussels. Rehearsals for Jihad, a coproduction of Senf and theatre De Meervaart and rewritten by Daan Windhorst, are well underway. You can see Jihad, in which Majd and Saman also take part, play in De Meervaart in Amsterdam on January 25 and February 15 until 18.


Director Daria Bukvić, daughter of a Bosnian Muslim woman and a Catholic Croat, was born in the Bosnian town of Tuzla. At the outbreak of the Yugoslav Civil War, Daria and her mom fled to the Netherlands in 1992. They spent two years in a refugee centre before getting a permanent resident status. At 17, she joined the directing programme of The Maastricht Theatre Academy and graduated in 2011. Since then, Daria directed performances for Frascati Producties, De Parade, Hofplein Rotterdam and Toneelschuur Producties. Nobody Home was the first performance of her own foundation. Last year, she was granted the Van Praag Award by theatre maker Adelheid Roossen with the words: ‘You’re someone who spits with beauty’. As from 2017, Daria will be directing at the National Theatre in The Hague as part of a four-year talent development programme.

This publication was written by Dymphie Braun and originally appeared in New Amsterdam Magazine #8. You can access the original publication here.

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