Maybe we are all ready for art with low stimulus

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4 million Dutch people have a brain disease. The Netherlands Brain Foundation uses that number in a campaign to make people more aware of the consequences of brain damage. This damage often leads to extreme sensitivity to stimuli. Then loud noise, bright light or sharp smell suddenly becomes a big problem. Therefore, there is more and more attention in places with low stimulus to go out. On Thursday, June 23, I was at the Delamartheater in Amsterdam, to experience it, for a low-stimulus performance.

One degree less

Anyone who gets all sorts of weird pictures in a theater that has a little stimulation is partly right. You go to the theater, or to a concert or film to be stimulated. Irritable-poor seems to be an inner contradiction. An original version was performed, Metamoorphosis, specially designed for people with hypersensitive ears. Nowhere in the hall did it have to sound louder than 65 decobels, and along with a beautifully singing chamber choir, it came quite close to an intense theatrical experience, only slightly disturbed by a text that was too sacred. But it can still be adjusted.

Thanks to this afternoon, therefore, I began to think differently about art with low stimulus. Sometimes there are simply too many stimuli in the art and it is best to lower it a bit, even for people without a diagnosis.

One of the guests this afternoon, organized by the Unlimited Enjoyment Foundation, was Margot Ros. The famous actress (Toren C) got a set piece on her head a few years ago, which resulted in serious brain damage. She could not stand more stimulation. She is feeling better now, but during the concluding panel debate, the reflection from a theater lamp on the table was still too much for her.

Foyer with low stimulus

The problem of glare can be solved by simply moving somewhere else. This makes it clear once again that the removal of incentives does not always have to lead to a complete adaptation of the theater or performance. Sometimes you can do something about the overstimulation yourself.

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But sometimes adjustment is also necessary. A representative of HNTunlimited spoke about the measures that the Het Nationale Theater is taking to remove the barriers for those who are sensitive to stimuli. Sometimes these are physical measures. Low-stimulus versions of each production are also made, and the stimulus-sensitive audience receives special guidance, their own boxes and their own foyer, where there are no glass tiles and loud talk. The performances themselves have less light effects, less volume in the sound.

Rolls on the river

During the afternoon, the organization once again made it palpable what the difference might be. Singer and Sister Act star Carolina Dijkhuizen unexpectedly took the stage to sing a piece from Tina Turner’s Rolling on the River at full volume. Extreme lighting effects made it a pretty difficult experience for everyone in the small stimulus-filled hall to survive. Later, she came back with a low-stimulus version that kept the light dim and the orchestra band’s volume turned down so she could easily get over it without amplification. Reinforcements were chosen, which was actually a shame.

What struck me most was how much more comfortable Tina Turner was with a little stimulation. It reminded me of performances by Discordia or Guy Cassiers: theater that can be enjoyed softly and often acoustically for everyone, whether they are sensitive to stimuli with a diagnosis or not.

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Heroes on an empty stage

I still remember the first time I discovered it at a stadium concert. It was 1983, and the Kuip was packed for the Bowies Serious Moonlight concert. A fantastic up tempo show with lots of decor, dancers and lights. Beautiful and overwhelming, but what has stayed with me is a very sober version of Bowie’s megahit Heroes, with the star lonely on an empty stage, without too much hassle. Tom can be beautiful, drunk is not always better.

It also raises the question of whether we sometimes overwhelm ourselves with the technical feats of modern theater. Why does everything have to be controlled and reinforced? What’s wrong with buildings designed to make the human voice heard and understood from all angles?

Panic fantasies

Last week, there was a stimulating story in The Guardian about how stress can make you more sensitive to stimuli and panic fantasies. The author created a connection with society where an economic crisis, a pandemic and the threat of war together increase the level of our stress hormone. The cure, according to psychiatrists: fewer incentives. So maybe we’re all ready for an evening of low-stimulus theater.

It is possible that much has been proven.

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