«Windows without courtains»
About dutch theatre. Opening Speech for the Netherlands Theatre Festival 2014
by Thomas Oberender
(…) This idea of the «Theatres of the Day» and the «Theatres of the Night» isn’t a clear-cut model, it isn’t a strict ideology, but rather serves to describe theatre worlds that co-exist, that blend and absorb each other’s accomplishments. And the fact that the Theatre of the Day has become part of today’s high culture and even substantially contributes to its dynamics, is due in large part to Dutch theatre culture. As a matter of course, in the Theatre of the Day, the actors became co-authors in the creation process of the productions. The work of these collectives, as Simon van den Berg so aptly described it, is informed by a do-it-yourself mentality and an open eye for all sorts of source-material. After all, Dutch theatre is essentially one of production families and companies.
Holland, I often think, is a polder-society. It has to integrate everything, because it is threatened from the outside. This polder-society is constantly secured, as Hans-Werner Kroesinger described recently, to protect the land from the sea and thus from dissolution. Theatre companies are important institutions in this polder-society; they help to form city societies and regional communities, to drain their foundations and put them on stable ground, and thus to keep together what in more differentiated societies might drift apart and blow up the dams.
There’s a certain symbolism to the fact that Dutch theatre managed without fixed ducal court theatres. It is a theatre for urban societies and regional communities, a theatre of companies, of ship’s crews, as it were, who embark on journeys. In my mind, this wandering confirms the close relationship of the Dutch with the Elizabethan theatre. Both of them work in daylight and in the open air. Their notion of art is not elitist. They are theatre forms developed by sea-faring nations, both adventurous and mercantile. Both traditions are Protestant. The Netherlands are a society with no curtains behind their windows. In a very interesting way, this theatre mistrusts everything formal. During the second half of the last century, it developed a reflected, transparent naturalism, which became ever more epic and installative in nature, without being at all solemn or pretentious. Quoting Joseph Beuys, one could give Dutch theatre the title of »Show me your wounds”, and thus the Protestant culture of immediacy leads to a theatre of vulnerability. I will never, never forget Jeroen Willems in »Two voices”. His windows without curtains.
For the German-language theatre, the Netherlands have been a constant source of aesthetic inspiration. After his ill-starred short term as Artistic Director of Berlin’s Schaubühne, Jürgen Gosch worked with Toneelgroep Amsterdam and was spellbound by the emancipated culture of actors here. Nothing but adults. Co-producers. With a vivid language that is a reality in itself, vigorous and specific. Jürgen Gosch was fascinated by this fresh, different way of speaking and acting. What he brought back to Germany from this experience was a – yes, I’d like to call it a revolutionary style of directing, which presented the actors’ personalities in a new immediacy and allowed them to be together on stage as a company. Cunningly, Gosch rehabilitated naturalism, in sparse, Protestant spaces full of precious details. Thank you, Jop Admiral. Thank you, Netherlands. Who in turn were so astonished by him.
The writer and director Falk Richter spent his most productive learning period here, as did the young German director Susanne Kennedy. The Amsterdam Mime-Training includes both theatre and dance. Not the text is the point of origin, but rather the body in space. Acting is a process of self-sculpturization – which means being both a sculpture of oneself and its sculptor. And this process leads to the development of a character, rather than beginning with a literary character and fanning out into the space, the music, the associations. Dutch theatre turns the German theatre tradition from its head onto its feet, because it doesn’t develop a fixed role into a sculpture in space, but the other way around. Even if this form of theatre is created in studio theatres, it is a Theatre of the Day that includes the audience’s reality into its playing and tends to manage without the ramp, without the process of »Casting”. So, there are many reasons for the German-speaking audience and its theatre world to look at the Netherlands with fascination. The combination of local and national support structures were – do I really have to say ‘were’? – ground-breaking. In the Netherlands, producers and institutions were supported for four years, not case-by-case or project-by-project, as in Germany, which makes for a precarious situation for many independent companies there.
The work of Hollandia and Johan Simons have changed the European notion of contemporary art. We have become used to the fact that a large part of the international theatre avant-garde comes from the Netherlands – Anouk van Dijk, Dries Verhoeven, collectives like Veenfabriek, Omsk Bambie, Wunderbaum or Dood Paard. Under the direction of Ivo van Hove, Toneelgroep Amsterdam created an innovative theatre model without equal worldwide. And then came quite a different shock – the budget cuts decided on by the Dutch government in June 2011. What vengeful spirits were these? (…)