Sonntag, 17. Januar 2021

Podcast on the venues

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Theatrical Landscape of the Netherlands

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Theatrical Landscape of the Netherlands
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But there is one more organisational factor to consider. In the Netherlands there has historically been a confusing seperation between venues and companies. Theatres (paid for by local municipalities) are programmed independently and theatre groups (subsidised by the national government) travel across the country and usually do not have their own venue. This causes an ongoing tension between the avantgarde (companies are subsidised for their artistic quality) and conservative forces (city councils do not care too much about art and just want their theatre to stay within budget).

A consequence of this tension is the rise of so called "free productions", semi-commercial (hence "free" from subsidy) performances of popular modern plays – for instance, by Yasmina Reza – or adaptations of well-known books or movies, with Dutch celebrities in starring roles. And because the theatres are independent and risk averse, these free productions with their greater audience security slowly oust the more serious theatre from the venues.

New plays are hardly ever staged
So what is the influence of all this on the use of texts in Dutch theatre? I think that the strong emphasis on movies and books as source material has filled the need for a modern stage repertoire. New plays by, for instance, Marius von Mayenburg or Falk Richter are hardly ever staged. Ivo van Hove, artistic director of Toneelgroep Amsterdam, now The Netherlands' main theatre company, stages either classic plays like Shakespeare's Roman Tragedies or "Mourning becomes Electra" by Eugene O'Neill or film adaptations, most recently "Cries and Whispers" by Ingmar Bergman and "Rocco and his brothers" by Visconti. Johan Simons, who now works in Belgium and who is one of the bright shining stars of the European theatre scene, adapted the Dekalog series from Krzysztof Kieślowski and "Double Indemnity" by Billy Wilder for the stage. Guy Cassiers made his magnum opus in Rotterdam adapting Proust's "À la recherche du temps perdu" into a four-part stage cycle.

But the younger generation goes even further, by writing texts as disposable as their stage sets. Eric de Vroedt and Marijke Schermer are writer/directors, working in the many smaller venues, who make texts for one production and one production only. They want to write about current affairs like the Dutch participation in the war in Afghanistan, populism in politics and, inevitably, the problems associated with the integration of ethnic minorities. Their work has great urgency and is accessible, but (deliberately) lacks durability.

Others forgo words altogether
It should come as no surprise that thematically, the works of these writers show little faith in the power of language. They abstain from poetry but quote clichéd phrases from politicians, social workers or small-talk between strangers in a supermarket. Even their stories are more or less collages constructed of plot fragments from classic plays. De Vroedt's Mightysociety6, about a Dutch general going mad in Afghanistan, is about equal measures Apocalypse Now, Anthony and Cleopatra and Antigone, peppered with verbatim words of Dutch army men and bureaucrats, lifted from the media or policy reports.