Nadia Are You Online?

A New Online Theatre Education Tool

by Paulien Geerlings and Martien Langman

The article was published in 2017 within the framework of the NADIA project.

Learn more about the project

Like many young people, both girls in the play Nadia make heavy use of the internet in their search for identity and social recognition. The NADIA online education project uses the internet to foster an exchange and create international encounters between young people from different origins across national borders. Under the guidance of the theatre pedagogues, pupils from all partner countries explore together processes of radicalization and social injustice. They get to know each other, discuss and reflect on mind-sets, backgrounds and prejudices with their peers. The open-source platform provides the young people with multiple additional resources on the topic, presents the results from the international online exchange and the socio-cultural poll among the project participants, and offers a teachers’ manual, as a free download, with all the assignments related to the project.

© Arnold Declair

“What an incredibly fun, great time we had today! All 30 students – and I really mean each and every one of them – thought the project day was brilliant from start to finish. I completely agree. And so do my co workers. The preparatory workshops were totally relevant. They weren’t just add-ons, they really complemented the play. They gave us an excellent and emotionally meaningful entry into a conversation with the children about how they’re brought up. And you really ran it well. You’ve done something that actually matters to my students: you gave them attention and a feeling of being valued and listened to, of being important. I’d share some more warm and fuzzy thoughts, but there’s already a tear in my eye… ;-) Looking forward to next time!” – Rogier Willems, teacher at Hogelant College

Theatre simply isn’t on young people’s radar a lot of the time. In Amsterdam a play by Toneelmakerij is often their first contact with the art form. They become audience members experiencing live theatre in an age when their forums for communication and self-expression are more likely to be mobile phones and social media. And they want to be involved; they want to participate. Toneelmakerij creates plenty of space and opportunities for their own creativity – in the theatre, in the classroom and online.

All our productions are accompanied by active educational programmes using inspiring study material and workshops for schools, enabling children and young people to experiment through a variety of artistic disciplines. Rather than explaining the play itself, these projects place students in a stimulating environment where they can explore its themes in a creative way.

We get young people to express themselves in a variety of ways, be it through poetry, theatre, visual art or film. We offer as many forms as possible so that young people can discover and develop their own specific talents, while always keeping the focus on their reflections about their own lives and the world around them. It’s all about learning through experience, by doing, to create the conditions for growing into people who can think for themselves, who are involved with other people and who aren’t afraid to stand up for that sense of involvement.

We develop strong, personal connections with schools, and we make a real investment in building good relationships. Generally speaking, the main focus in school classrooms is on cognitive development; theatre, on the other hand, is the medium par excellence for engendering associative, anomalous and free thought. Systematising this phenomenon into an educational method is no simple matter, however, and the process demands creativity and close consultation with the teaching staff concerned.

We follow up each performance of a classroom play with a discussion. To prevent it coming across like a test with right or wrong answers, we always find a form for the discussion that chimes with the play itself. NADIA raised a whole range of issues, and there was a noticeable difference in reactions between student groups of predominantly European origin, and those with a higher proportion of young people with a migrant background. Our strategy for staying close to the interests of the students was to ask them at the start of the workshop to write down a question or comment for one of the characters on a post-it note – in silence. These notes formed the basis for the post-performance discussion. Examples of questions the students had for Anna include: Why didn’t you do more to really understand Nadia? How did it feel for you when Nadia changed so quickly? Do you regret posting those photos on your blog? Students’ questions for Nadia included: Why didn’t you discuss your problems with your parents? How come Brahim managed to persuade you so easily? Are you sorry you went away?

Then we started looking for answers in discussions with the students. This led to excellent conversations about religion, feeling at home in the country you live in, discrimination, powerlessness, friendship and radicalisation. In addition to these activities surrounding NADIA as part of the standard school programme, which was organised to accompany the play in all the participating countries, we brought together students from five European countries to try to get to the source of radicalisation.

Radicalisation is a European problem and we wanted to investigate this topic from different angles and from different national perspectives. The five partners from Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and Norway collected ideas for interesting assignments for European students to work with. Students should work on the same subjects as the play’s author and stage directors.

This online community for students examined a variety of causes of extremism and shared individual views on the matter, using all types of art forms to present their research. In this way, the students from five nations became acquainted with each other’s views of society, and were invited to enter into dialogue with one another. The first assignment of the project was an ice breaker: a one-minute movie in which the pupils presented themselves on camera to the pupils in their private Facebook group. In the next assignment they investigated the reasons why people travelled to the Caliphate.

“My best friend, Betty – I want to tell you a story, a story about love, passion and religion. Betty is my best friend, like in the whole world, and she fell in love with Aamir, an Arab boy. This story is the typical one, a story about two guys that met at the beach, like in Grease. Aamir loved and loves Betty with all his heart but he couldn’t be with her until she decided to convert to his religion.” – Students post, Liceo Ulivi, Parma, Italy

They chose one of the persons they researched and posted a photograph and a letter as if they were best friends with this person and explained why they had left. They ended their letter with a kind-hearted advice to the person. This assignment results in an exhibition of a great variety of people who left their countries and explains their reasons for going.

The third assignment was a so-called social experiment. Lots of people who left did so because they experienced Western society as unjust. The pupils explored this feeling. A group of German pupils, for example, walked an hour through Braunschweig with headscarves and filmed their experiences. The assignment made people more open-minded to other groups in society.

The fourth assignment encouraged pupils to build their ideal society. Many young people went to the Caliphate hoping to build a better society there. They expected to feel at home among like-minded people, freely practising their faith, performing heroic deeds, and building what they see as an ideal society. The pupils of the five participating countries shared ideas about their ideal society and took action to really change their environment in their own country. On top of this, all students participated in a survey in which they were asked about their views on the world. The interim results have been printed here.

The international project made students look at the conditions for radicalisation in their own country and compared these with those in other countries. This broadened their knowledge about the subject, made them think and share their opinions with others and resulted in creative works on the subject. The international programme allowed the students to relate actively to the play. It stimulated their interest in the vision of the play’s creator, and in the post-performance discussion they re-examined and refined their position by exchanging views with the theatre practitioners and their fellow students.

A selection of the students’ works is available on the project website

© Picture: Bart Grietens


Paulien Geerlings

House Dramaturge of De Toneelmakerij

Paulien Geerlings is a dramaturge, translator and yogi. After her high school education, she studied Philosophy and Theatre studies at the University of Amsterdam. Since her graduation in 1997 she has been working as a freelance dramaturge with several young theatre directors, including Ola Mafaalani, the South-African Bratt Bailey and Marcus Azzini. In 2004 she graduated at DasArts, an international, multidisciplinary Master of Theatre, based in Amsterdam and founded by Ritsaert ten Cate. Paulien Geerlings is the in house dramaturge of De Toneelmakerij where she also translated several plays. She is taking care of the international collaboration projects of the company. She is board member of the European Theatre Convention and of Assitej NL.


Martien Langman

Theatre Educator of De Toneelmakerij


NADIA was an international theatre collaboration project between five theatres from five different countries focusing on exploring the reasons of radicalisation of young people in western societies, and the attraction to join the Caliphate.

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