Music theatre on the Western migration machine

Simple as ABC #2: Keep calm & Validate

Thomas Bellinck

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How do you get a grip on a complex phenomenon like migration management? How do you delineate a border when it is everywhere? The Belgian dramatist Thomas Bellinck had numerous conversations with border and data managers in control rooms and on the fringes of Europe. With two actors, four musicians from SPECTRA, scenographer Josef Wouters, composer Joris Blanckaert, and ten gigabytes of audio material, he made Simple as ABC #2: Keep Calm & Validate, a documentary music theatre performance about outsourcing our discomfort with social selection.


Background information

Simple as ABC #2: Keep Calm & Validate, is a documentary musical theatre performance about digital migration management and outsourcing our discomfort with social selection. Theatre maker Thomas Bellinck went to Lesbos to prepare the groundwork for the performance.



Thomas Bellinck: I visited Mytilene, the capital of Lesbos, in February 2016. The old port exuded a sort of relieved amazement. It was warm and windless, but not a single boat had been spotted for several days. There was wild speculation on the terraces as to why the influx had stopped. I met with an aid worker who apologised profusely for the lack of activity that day. I replied awkwardly that this was positive. 'The aid worker recalled the shipwrecks and cloudbursts of December 2015. Thousands of bodies lined up in front of the registration tent for hours, and sometimes for days. Until they could be screened and digitalised as readable carriers of quantifiable identities.


Years ago, when Bellinck was a student in Brussels, he got involved in an illegal immigrants' hunger strike. The hunger strike lasted 60 days and made a lasting impression on me – the smell of mould, empty stomachs, instant coffee and electric burners, the hum of the fluorescent lighting, the headaches, constipation, diabetic comas. It was there, in that poorly lighted, underground garage, that I was first directly confronted with the physicality of social selection – and with how the border is often not a matter of geography but of biology.'


The philosopher Grégoire Chamayou describes the contemporary process of relegating migrants to illegality: not because they have committed an offence, but because they are the offence, simply for being on the territory of the nation state.


How we like to honour the image of Fortress Europe: an unrealised pipe dream of the old right, and a nightmare already in full swing for the old left. Fortress Europe with its neatly delineated external border and its iconic electrified fencing. But the border has long since ceased to be at the border. The border is everywhere. It is an illegal hunger striker’s anti-bedsore mattress in Brussels. A glass tower in Warsaw next to a bank, which houses the European border and coast guard Frontex's situation room. In a ski village in the Austrian Alps, where the backups of the European databases for fingerprints, the Schengen Area and visas are stored. In weather satellites orbiting the earth, which not only map global warming but also migration flows. Europe is not a fortress. The border is not a wall. The border is a genetic parasite cultivated by humans that mutates, shifts and infects – and sometimes causes death. When its host body survives, it is passed from generation to generation.'


This is an excerpt from a text Bellink was commissioned to write for the international art festival NEXT in the Eurometropolis Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai.




Thomas Bellinck is a theatre maker and artist. In 2009 he graduated as a theatre director from RITCS in Brussels. That same year he was selected for Het TheatreFestival in 2009 for a political action with hunger-striking migrants, and made a play together with Ewout D'Hoore and inmates of the 



Leuven Auxiliary Prison, entitled Heroes and Villains. In 2010 he founded the theatre company Steigeisen with Jeroen Van der Ven. He created the performances Fobbit, Billy, Sally, Jerry and the .38 gun,Lethal Inc., De Onkreukelbare and Memento Park. Lethal Inc. was selected for Het TheatreFestival in 2011. Bellinck has also taken part in various performances at the Nieuwpoorttheater, Theater Antigone, 't Arsenaal and Muziektheater LOD. In 2013 he built the Domo de Eŭropa Historio en Ekzilo, a futuristic historical museum about life in the former European Union. The museum was selected for the International Film Festival in Rotterdam, the Vienna Festival and Het TheatreFestival 2014. Bellinck was awarded a RITCS Alumni Award for Domo de Eŭropa Historio en Ekzilo. The exhibition travelled to Athens and Wiesbaden in 2016. In 2015 he initiated his project Simple as ABC, a series of performances and installations on the West's 'migration machine'.


Joris Blanckaert (1976) studied jazz accordion with Rony Verbiest and composition with Frank Nuyts at the Royal Conservatory of Ghent. He graduated in 2011 and is now a musician and composer for Bal des boiteux and bOOmfanfare. Blanckaert composes for various ensembles and productions and is also the music collective Fosfor's composer and artistic director. He collaborates with various ensembles, including SPECTRA, Emanon and Arsis4. Since 2009 he has been conducting experimental research into the interaction between soloists, computers and the audience, based on spectral theory. In 2010 his chamber opera L'algerino in Italia, based on Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri, had its premiere at the MAfestival in Bruges. This was followed by an adaptation of excerpts from Benjamin Britten's operas in 2012 and he wrote two new chamber operas in 2013: The Wandering Womb, a monodrama for the soprano Elise Caluwaerts and Elle est moi und Töte mich, for eleven voices and the SPECTRA Ensemble.


SPECTRA was founded in 1993. The ensemble mostly plays new music from Flanders. Filip Rathé is its artistic director and conductor. SPECTRA can be seen at concerts, happenings and musical theatres, and takes part in international collaborations with composers such as Luca Francesconi, Stefano Gervasoni, Philippe Hurel and Nicolaus A. Huber. SPECTRA performs in and outside Europe and at festivals such as Ars Musica, Transit, Festival Musica Nova (Brazil), November Music, Musica Sacra, the Oerol Festival, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, the Traiettorie Festival, the Venice Biennale, the World Music Days 2010 in Sydney and Musica Strasbourg.



text and direction
Thomas Bellinck
Joris Blanckaert
Sébastien Hendrickx, Esther Severi
An Breugelmans
assistent costumes
Lila John
Lucas van Haesbroek
Jozef Wouters
Kristien Borgers, Maarten Wagemans
vocal coach
Laurence Servaes
corrector English
Patrick Lennon
translator French
Juliane Regler
translator Dutch
Lieve Dierckx and Wim Vermeylen
Marjan De Schutter, Jeroen Van der Ven
music performance
Celine van der Poel
production intern
Kristien Borgers
technical lead
Marie VandeCasteele
technique and surtitles
Britt de Jonghe
Yannick Willox
Menno Vandevelde
assistent decor
Karolien Nuittens
image editing
Bert Depuydt and Stijn Maes
Robin vzw & Op.Recht.Mechelen
De Grote Post, Nona, Het Kaaitheater, Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Spectra
with support by
De Vlaamse Overheid, VGC and KASK / School of Arts of the HoGent

This performance was made possible with support by