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An Unguarded Moment

Many may see it as junk, but for Gérard Schiphorst and Marije van der Sande of TAMTAM objektentheater, their mostly found objects are actors, each with their own talent. They travel all over the world with shows in a universal visual language, but during the festival Deventer op Stelten they can be seen in their home town Deventer. And that will happen even more often this anniversary year.

Lying on the black table it is just what it is: a piece of old rope. But when Marije van der Sande takes it in hand, the rope transforms into a seductive figure that moves gracefully across the table with swishing hair and long limbs.

It is one of the countless objects that Van der Sande and Schiphorst have collected over the years. From toy cars and tools to old remote controls and cardboard packaging. The workshop of TAMTAM objektentheater is full of cupboards filled with objects. “I sometimes see people watching when we pick up junk on the street again,” says Marije. “But then we really see something in it.” There is a term for it, Gérard knows. “Pareidolia, that you see something living in arbitrary shapes. For example, a face in the headlights and bumper of a car. We have that a lot.”

Talent, that’s what they notice in the objects. This does not mean that every object that is found also has a direct role in the next performance. “It is possible that something here has been in the closet for three years, explains Van der Sande. “We hold auditions for every new performance. Then we sit for a whole afternoon, we put on some music, and we see what movements there are in the object, what certain incidences of light do and whether there is charm in it. Then it can participate. Sometimes we spend the whole afternoon messing around with a rope.” “A sort of Hollands’ Next Top Object”, adds Schiphorst.

They inspire the objects, but at the same time the theatre makers are also inspired by the objects they work with. Van der Sande: “It is an interaction. Each object has its own talent, which can ensure that the performance turns out differently than first thought. But that also applies to the setting: the theatre, the festival, and the audience. It’s different every time, so every performance is just that little bit different. We play in pairs, which makes us an incalculable factor for each other. But that’s good. If it’s the same every time, it becomes a trick, and then it is no longer interesting for us.” That is why they are constantly updating, even during the performance, says Schiphorst. “That is standard, afterwards we always talk together about what could or should be done differently.”

With a theatre form based on found objects, Van der Sande and Schiphorst also send out a signal: you don’t have to throw everything away. “That is an immediate parallel that you can draw to people,” says Van der Sande. “You shouldn’t write it off either, everyone can do something.”

Tree stumps play the leading role in the performance ‘An unguarded moment’, which was recently shown in Germany for the first time and which will have its Dutch premiere during Deventer op Stelten. “old limetrees, that stood in the garden of our old house. Already a hundred years old, I think”, says Schiphorst. “Nothing had ever happened to them, so at some point they had to be pruned. I already saw the gardener walking towards his trailer with these pieces of tree, but I said: no, that’s not going to happen. Leave it here.”

In collaboration with their fellow performers, including pincers, rope, bone, a non-slip shoe sole and mango seeds, the trees transform one or more times during the performance. Walking on the ground they turn into winged animals, the bottom suddenly turns into a top and a gnarled tree creature grows legs. “That often happens to us anyway, but in this case it also has to do with the fact that ‘An unguarded moment’ is a tribute to puppeteer Henk Boerwinkel in whose work metamorphoses play a major role,” says Schiphorst. “Last year we were asked by the Puppet International Festival in Meppel if we could make a present for his eightieth birthday. During dinner we played a five minute show. Looking back, we thought: That looks pretty good. Now we have expanded it to 35 minutes.”


Boerwinkel is special for TAMTAM, says Van der Sande. “As aspiring theatre makers, with an interest in puppetry, we went to see one of his performances. Then I thought: if this is possible, then we want this too. That spell, the magic of bringing something essentially dead to life. Because that is in fact what we do, even if we do not do it with dolls but with objects. Recently, after a performance, a girl walked out without a coat, and I asked if it wasn’t too cold. ‘Where Noortje lives, it gets cold there,’ she replied. While we don’t say anything about that, of course, we don’t speak. But that cold had she really felt. That is what we try: to stimulate all the senses, to tell a story without words.”

It is exactly 40 years ago that Schiphorst and Van der Sande take their first steps as theatre makers. They now perform their performances all over the world. “This is where we have pretty much all been,” says Schiphorst with a countless number of access passes hanging on the wall. From large  festivals such as Glastonbury, Lowlands and Oerol to performances in Taiwan and Johannesburg.

That is precisely why they have now, in their jubilee year, conceived the plan to go on a trip through their own Deventer. “With different expressions: exhibition, film and theatre, and then in as many places in the city as possible,” says Schiphorst. “We travel all over the world, but in Deventer they have actually seen very little of TAMTAM in recent years,” adds Van der Sande.

This weekend Deventer residents get their first chance, during Deventer op Stelten. Schiphorst: “And the theatre in the new library on the Stromarkt is such a beautiful place for us. Very intimate. Ideal for us, it makes us very happy.”

De Stentor