It’s a fancy scene: men and women dressed up to the nines, eating a good meal, drinking fine wines and taking selfies. These ‘dinners in white’ are an elegant tradition where people pay to eat outside, dressed all in white, and it exists in over 70 countries all over the world. In Haiti, one of the poorest countries on the American continent, a theatre group mocked the idea by having their own dinner in white – on a rubbish heap.
On social media, the performers wrote: “This ‘dinner in white’ was created to show the decadence of society. In a country where three quarters of the population can’t even afford to put a meal on the table, this show paints a realistic picture of our slavery through hunger.”
The Haiti Theatrical Intervention Brigade, a street-theatre company, performed in the city centre of Port-au-Prince on November 8. Eight actors had a ‘dinner in white’ on a street corner, with fancy food and red wine served on white tablecloths.
But it was what was under their foot, not on the table, that mattered: they set up their dinner on a public rubbish heap that’s well-known in the Haitian capital, which was devastated during the 2010 earthquake that also killed more than 300,000 people.
"We wanted to expose the terrible societal inequality that exists in Haiti"
The actor Eliezer Guérismé performed in and directed the play.
We mostly do street theatre, and our aim is to make people think about important topics that lie between truth and fiction.
We had the idea for this performance after we saw a Tunisian pianist give a concert on a landfill site in Bizerte. But most of all, we wanted to shine a light on the terrible societal inequality there is in Haiti.
Haiti is the third most unequal country in the world, according to World Bank data. It’s also the poorest country on the American continent.
This ‘dinner in white’ represents the bourgeoisie, Haiti’s irresponsible elite that is totally disconnected from the rest of the population. The idea was to ridicule those who possess so much, through a sort of ‘dinner of fools’.
As the writer Dany Laferriere said, the Haitian elite is “an elite that travels in first class and pretends to not realise that there’s a bomb in economy class”.
The type of theatre that we do allows us to reach the public in a different way. Often the audience doesn’t know that we’re actors and they get involved with the performance spontaneously, which in turn, makes them actors too.
This method means we can tackle difficult topics. In February, during the national carnival, we addressed the theme of marriage by presenting different couples: a male gay couple, a lesbian couple, a mixed couple, a man in a relationship with a doll, etc. We invited the public to watch the show and learn to be tolerant of difference.