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This Hope Student Is Reinventing 'Journalism' As We Know It

Marlies Haitsma student masters performance

THIS Liverpool Hope University student is helping to pioneer a new form of journalism - which she hopes will bring audiences closer to the story than ever before.  

Rather than relying on the written word or broadcast video, Marlies Haitsma is taking current affairs narratives and turning them into performance theatre pieces. 

Marlies, originally from Rotterdam, Netherlands, hopes her approach means interview subjects are more willing to open-up and talk to her than they might be a traditional news reporter - granting her a unique form of personal access. 

And the 22-year-old claims her unusual take on the news agenda also creates a much more intimate relationship with audiences, too. 

Marlies - who is studying for a Masters in Performance at Hope and also holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Christian University of Applied Sciences, based in Ede, central Netherlands - explains: “I wanted to combine my passion for audio-visuality and theatre with journalism, as an attempt to engage with audiences differently. 

“And I discovered that journalistic theatre represented this new and exciting way of addressing current affairs. 

“It’s not a form of theatre that existed previously, and sits on the intersection between journalism and performing arts. 

“For me, it’s about working creatively to bring journalism to different audiences while also stretching the boundaries of what’s considered ‘news’.”

Last year Marlies joined forces with ‘de Gelderlander’ newspaper to produce a piece of journalistic theatre, entitled ‘Nobody is Immune’, which focused on a food bank struggling to sustain itself financially - as well as the individuals whose lives would be impacted should the food bank close its doors. 

Covering such a ‘fragile’ topic, Marlies was nervous about how she’d be welcomed as a journalist - so instead informed the interview subjects their stories would be used on the stage, not in a newspaper. 

And that, Marlies says, lifted certain barriers that might exist for traditional journalists. 

She reveals: “At that point, I got to talk to a lot of people who are actually surviving by getting their meals from the food banks. I was invited into their houses. 

“And because their anonymity was guaranteed, they were much more willing to open up to me, talking about their lives. 

“It was a really interesting change in attitude.”

That piece ended up being performed in the food bank itself, as Marlies looked to maximise the emotional impact. 

And in more recent weeks her thoughts have turned to the current Coronavirus pandemic. 

Just ahead of the lock-down, Marlies - who has a background in dance - analysed articles about Covid-19 and focused in particular on what it meant for the Asian community in Liverpool. 

The piece was performed in Hope’s Cornerstone Theatre in March, and Marlies says: “Everyone who entered the performance space was greeted by me wearing a mask, and all audience members had to line up and be subjected to a series of questions - where have you travelled from? Do you have a fever? May I measure your temperature? 

“Once these checks were complete they were allowed to enter, and I then explored some of the earliest reports of Covid-19 from China. 

“The feedback I got from audience members were that they found the piece particularly affecting - and it also made them question what ‘journalism’ really means.”

Marlies, based at Hope’s Creative Campus, is also urging other young news reporters not to be constrained by traditional journalistic practices. 

She adds: “This is still a new and innovative form of journalism. But I think audiences are interested in it because of the existing news overload. 

“Everywhere we look, there’s a 24 hour news cycle of breaking stories. It’s exhausting.

“And I feel that journalistic theatre goes beyond this news, exploring what it really means and how it really affects people. 

“Having a live, face-to-face, emotional engagement with the news is something that’s really important, from both an audience’s and a journalist’s perspective.

“I also really want other journalism students to discover what they think is the best way to bring a story to life. 

“Take a chance. Go beyond the traditional. And explore ways that we can interact and collaborate with traditional news media.”

Find out more about studying Performance at Hope, go here

Published on 07/05/2020