The Millennial Immigrant
The Millennial Immigrant is a theatre monologue written and performed by Basak Layic and made in collaboration with director and co-writer Mara van Nes. The online presentation on 6 May 2021 was the opening of the fifth edition of Rrreuring, a festival for emerging artists whose name translates into English as ‘buzz’. Rrreuring’s programme at Podium Mozaiek has been extended to nearly three months, because for many of its makers, this is a first, vital encounter with audiences and the professional field.
In The Millennial Immigrant Basak Layic plays a young woman who grew up in Turkey and is now living in Amsterdam. With the patriarchy under attack from a next wave of feminism, the solo is marked by the role of the mother who – just like in Lale Gül’s novel Ik ga leven – smothers her daughter. Fleeing this oppressive woman, who became a devout Muslim after the death of her husband, an alcoholic, the young protagonist finds herself studying in Amsterdam.
The monologue sets off from an episode in Turkish history we all know: the protests in Istanbul’s Gezipark in 2013, initially organized to protest a building project but evolving into an uproar that was covered by the international press following an outpouring on social media. By situating her character amid a scene that has become etched into the global collective memory, Layic cleverly feeds thoughts about how we perceive one another when it comes to intercultural encounters.
During the one-hour online show, experiences from the main character’s youth and home country clash with the millennial generation in Amsterdam who want to change the world. A series of short anecdotes form the tissue from which the main character’s emotional register springs, switching between anger and enacted imperturbability, often underlining her surprise. Everyday exchanges seem unimportant at first sight, but feed the misinterpretations from both sides. The landlady, for instance, won’t allow the thermostat to be set higher than 17 degrees Celsius, threatening the young woman that if she does so, she will alert the authorities about her assumed illegal status, while in reality her stay in the Netherlands is completely legal. The young woman herself is reluctant to reciprocate an attempt at friendship by one of her fellow members in an international performance collective. In the end, her bravery dissolves, which makes The Millennial Immigrant as much a tale about finding connection and courage as it is about the inevitability of facing personal demons.
The fact that The Millennial Immigrant is presented online, as a film, has been woven into the edit. With no audience present, the empty theatre forms the stage for this monologue filmed with multiple cameras. From time to time we even see a camerawoman. The setup encapsulates all stages of a show: from performing, receiving flowers and drinking champagne to cleaning the floor in preparation for tomorrow’s show. The movement through the space adds life to the piece, and provides a structure for the opening scene to become a play within a play. This interplay of different media may have been done to tempt the audience to reflect on the medium itself besides the storyline, but it isn’t realized to its full potential.
The piece does raise some interesting questions. What are the stories we want to hear? And when do we really listen to someone? At what point do we leave our assumptions and prejudices and do we open ourselves up to the voices of others? Basak Layic plays with these notions in The Millennial Immigrant, not sparing her protagonist along the way.