Stories from cleaning experts
A documentary performance with traits of narrative theatre, which can also be seen as a stage essay, titled “Clean City” – because authors Anestis Azas and Prodromos Tsinikoris deal with political connotations inside the semantic range of the term cleanliness – was performed on the stage of the National Theatre Sarajevo on the third evening of the 59th MESS.
The authors themselves will say that “Clean City” is realist theatre “where through personal stories from experts in the field of cleanliness – cleaning women in Athens, they are attempting to portray and redefine stereotypes”. This piece of realist theatre, which reflects the lives of the lowest social layer in Greece, was born from a weeks-long research whereby they compiled stories from five women who came to Greece hoping for a better life, and it’s hard to say if the life they had gotten is better or worse than in countries which they came from. Mabel Matshidiso Mosana, Rositsa Pandalieva, Fredalyn Resurreccion Hellrung, Drita Shehl and Valentina Ursache are neither actresses, or just characters in the performance, as they are truly telling their life stories. The illusion created by theatre is only a means of transforming the narration of the five women from the lowest European social class into a universal image of globalisation, economic crisis, homeland and family, but also the dream of Europe as an egalitarian society.
After they warn the audience not to leave their trash behind, Mabel, Rositsa, Fredalyn, Drita and Valentina begin the story about the cleaning woman identity. At first, it’s a socio-economic identity – the cleaning woman has a difficult and bad-paying job – which gradually manifests elements of gender and sexual identity until they become a dominant constructive component in the cleaning woman’s identity. The third segment of this identity is the immigrant woman. The term cleanliness is the glue which holds together this identity construct. Immigrants (in Greek society subject of this performance) becoming cleaning women who take on the work of housewives.
The ironic image of gender emancipation in Greece is provided through several advertisement clips for cleaning supplies. The ideal picture of a middle class woman in these ads is one who adores cleanliness. When women from the middle class no longer have the time (or willpower) to clean is when immigrant women come in and release a complete social layer of Greek women from the work. At the same time, we are finding out from stories of Mabel, Rositsa, Fredalyn, Drita and Valentina, that cleaning women also become the libido-targets of middle-class men.
This identity differentiation starts to occur along the opposing lines of locals-foreigners. For example, Drita was a university professor in Albania. Mabel came to Athens in order to study architecture. The impossibility of getting a citizenship made these immigrant women working low paying jobs which don’t require expert qualifications. Oftentimes working illegally, so ultimately they cannot even have a pension. The discourse of racism is introduced to the narrative, the audience hears stories of violence of the Golden Dawn and failures of Tsipras’ social policy. However, their stories show that the economic crisis in Greece (and the European Union) from this decade is not an incident from the EU zone, but a continuation of a long running process of global economic shifts. Stories from women from the former Eastern bloc (Rositsa is from Bulgaria, Drita from Albania, Valentina from Moldova which has been part of the Soviet Union, becoming an independent republic after the collapse of the USSR), resembling stories of post-Yugoslav republics, are illustrative of this continuation. The end of the familiar (and “comfortable”) world, brought by the Perestroika for some, and transition for others, had reached this new country as well. It doesn’t have to stop there, and this is proven near the end of the performance, when we find that families of these women are displaced all over the world at present.
This piece is characterised by good dramaturgy (Margarita Tsomou), five different stories are compressed into a whole providing a unique image of the times in which we live. There is little stage activity, but it is hard to expect any impressive acting from this type of piece, not only because these women are naturists, but also because narrative statements are an ideal means for testimonials. Possibly, we’ve learned of this from oral history.
“Clean City” is not the best that theatre can offer by any means, but it’s an important piece because it reminds us that the ideal of cleanliness also hides behind the terms “clean race” or “ethnic cleansing”, as well as reminding us that once you achieve the dream of entering an egalitarian society, you will feel yourself how differences in class, race, ethnicity, nationality or any other still do exist. Not only that they exist, but are consequences of social segregation and political domination.
Author: Edin Salčinović