Stef, Matteo, Thomas, Bart and Marie met while studying at the Artesis Hogeschool, the former Herman Teirlinck Institute. Technical expert Joé Agemans joined the ‘Foute Club’ – Improper Club - as a core member of the artistic team after De rotsebreker, the first production they made together outside the walls of the institute. De rotsebreker was an unusual amalgam of scenes from Claus’ Het leven en de werken van Leopold II and Tom Lanoye’s Fort Europa. Claus’ text was given a grotesque makeover with mistaken musical scenes, an inflated elephant and extras wearing black makeup to look like ‘niggers’ – good chaotic fun which was countered by the occasional sober passage of text from Fort Europa. It was after this first production that FC Bergman felt the need to be a company rather than an ‘Improper Club’. In 2008 some members of the group created an anarchistic adaptation of Harold Pinter’s Homecoming, De thuiskomst. Pinter’s generally very cool and restrained family drama unfolded on top of a mountain of junk, rubbish and food waste. FC Bergman wrecked the ‘set’, drove cars onto the stage and unashamedly deployed a dirty, dialectic pidgin language. This fast and furious De thuiskomst blew the audience away and won the company the Young Theatre Prize at the Theater Aan Zee 2009.
That same year Monty invited the whole company for a year’s residency. During that time FC Bergman put on several smaller shows, but the most significant in terms of its future direction was Voorproef op fragmenten van een nieuwe wereld (Foretaste of fragments of a new world) with stylistic echoes of De rotsebreker. Voorproef was an installation, consisting of a series of theatrical machines. FC Bergman erected them in the space of a week and on the seventh day they were switched on in the presence of the public. That wondrous creation in which sheep fly through the air and stars fall out of the sky initially promised an ideal, makeable world… until the machines failed. The surrealistic nature of Voorproef cried out for further research. In 2009 that research found a masterly outlet in a production with the unwieldy name Wandelen op de Champs-Elysées met een schildpad om de wereld beter te kunnen bekijken, maar het is moeilijk thee drinken op een ijsschots als iedereen dronken is (Walking along the Champs-Elysées with a tortoise so as to have a better look at the world, but it is difficult to drink tea on an ice floe if everyone is drunk). Loosely inspired by Dante’s Divina Commedia, the show had its première in the neo-Gothic Old Stock Exchange on the Meir in Antwerp and stunned the Flemish theatre world with its untamed passion, rough physical directness, baroque poetry and bold scale. The show was selected for the Dutch Theatre Festival.
In 2010 Stany Crets directed the Bergmannen in Het verjaardagsfeest (Birthday Party) which was premièred at Theater Aan Zee in 2010. Pinter’s play was transformed into an idiotic, grotesque farce performed in the canteen of a rowing club in Ostend.
In 2011, in the space of just a few weeks, FC Bergman created 300 el x 50 el x 30 el specially for Toneelhuis and the Antwerpse Kleppers. Bergman built a village on stage, complete with village square and pine forest in the background. The village is gripped by the fear of an imminent flood – the inhabitants act more and more strangely, verging on psychosis. A camera on wheels peers into houses all over the village and the images of what is happening inside them are projected onto a large screen. However absurd the idea, when it came to realizing this impossibility, FC Bergman managed to get the whole of the Bourla’s team on side.
Stijn Dierckx wrote a review of the evening for De Morgen newspaper in which he quotes designer and director Niek Kortekaas: "Bergman has proved a convivial loose cannon on the theatre scene. They understand the art of transferring the deluge of visual stimuli, which characterize today’s society, to the stage. Give this young guard the means to continue their work, to take it further, to tighten up on the story-telling." De Morgen, January 31, 2011.
Meanwhile the show 300 el x 50 el x 30 el continues to be in demand at international festivals. Wherever possible, FC Bergman takes up these invitations and has already staged the play in Berlin at the Berliner Festspiele, in Montpellier and elsewhere. It is on the programme at, for example, the Ruhrtriënnale in Essen and the Boulevard festival in Den Bosch.
In 2012 FC Bergman presented Terminator Trilogie (May 2012) on a barren piece of land in the port of Antwerp. It is a wordless monologue, which FC Bergman describes as “a silent, open-air spectacle at the dawn of the twenty-first century. A century when the options for a happy life were there for the taking.” Terminator Trilogie has been staged in various (spectacular) locations in Belgium and the Netherlands. The headlines in Theaterkrant read: “Extraordinarily expressive”. “The theatre of the young wonder boys from Antwerp, FC Bergman, is magnificent. The plain of Terschellinger beach, which stretches almost interminably into the distance, is crucially important. From the grandstand you look out over the beach and see all sorts of things hundreds of metres away: a bench, a trampoline, a piano, a table football table, chairs and so on (…) The show has no script and very little music. The vastness of the space and the silence contribute to the sheer poetic intensity of the cinematic images.” (Jos Schuring, Theaterkrant.nl, June 2012)
By this time FC Bergman had reached its limits physically and mentally: for the production FC Bergman was now planning - a large-scale music theatre production based on the animal epic Van de Vos Reynaerde -, it was no longer possible to work without a fixed structure. The show 300 el x 50 el x 30 el was the perfect pretext for Toneelhuis and FC Bergman to start talking about a more structured cooperation and in January 2013 the six FC Bergman theatre-makers moved into the Toneelhuis for a four-year period. In December 2013 they created the impressive music theatre production Van den vos with Liesa van der Aa, Muziektheater Transparant and Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop (DE). The show was selected for the Dutch Theatre Festival 2014 and is still on tour. From the jury’s report: “This tour de force shows that these young theatre-makers can write their own new and visually arresting chapter in our theatre history. Van den vos is a milestone in their development and oeuvre because here visual splendour and powerful content find the perfect balance.”
FC Bergman’s early oeuvre is sometimes said to be ‘two track’. But whether the shows are carried by the script (De thuiskomst, Het verjaardagsfeest) or by image (Wandelen op de Champs-Elysees…, 300 el x 50 el x 30 el), what underlies them all is the same tragic existentialism: a world view in which man tilts in vain at the windmills of life. Though his efforts are futile, that naive person continues to try and fight his fate, against his better judgement. The beauty of that attempt (at escape) is something that fascinates the Bergmannen; it is an essential component of their work and a necessary counterpart, for it makes the dark portrayal of mankind bearable.
FC Bergman consistently builds a considerable margin of unpredictability into its work, erects seemingly impossible constructions and flirts with the borders of the imaginable and achievable. This is expressed in the brutal acting style and in the way they work with animals, children and amateurs. The pursuit of danger is perhaps most clearly expressed in their preference for site-specific theatre. Even when the shows are performed in the theatre, they do their best to break out.
FC Bergman’s plays are collage-like in their construction and eclectic in terms of their sources of inspiration – from Camus to Walt Disney, from Lars von Trier to Pina Bausch, from pornography to the Bible and everything in-between. And then FC Bergman itself consists of six different personalities, each of whom pursues the most diverse projects, ranging from films to visual art to theatre and television.
In 2015 FC Bergman made a site-specific show Het land Nod (The Land Of Nod): “In this atmospheric, scriptless production FC Bergman measures up to the greats: the mystical naturalism of Romeo Castellucci, the disconsolate absurdism of Christoph Marthaler, and the dancing dynamics of Pina Bausch. And all that gives Het land Nod visual grandeur” – Wouter Hillaert in De Standaard ***, May 9th 2015. The show has been invited in 2016 to the Festival of Avignon (FR) and the Zürcher Theater Spektakel (CH). 300 el x 50 el x 30 el is being reprised in 2016 in the Bourla Theater.
Thanks to Evelyne Coussens.