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'This was the site of the Cold War' Dennis Meyer on Festival The Base

"I am very curious about the audience's reactions. People always have an image at a festival. They come, expecting to experience all sorts of things. What you get here is the terrain, an exploration and a story that emerges as a result. The main energy that exists on and around this terrain is, "I get to go on it, and what's there? On that energy, I want to build on."

Dennis Meyer is project manager, or perhaps it would be better to say deviser and organiser, of Festival De Basis. A festival that will be unlike any festival we know, and that is because of its location: the now disused NATO airbase Soesterberg. Not only a runway of such thick concrete that it can survive nuclear attacks, but also many dozens of hectares of nature, where for years nobody came because it was top secret.

The space and atmosphere are great, but a festival also needs a story and buzz.
"I found the site very exciting and challenging from the first visit. You can wander here for hours, there are mysterious buildings." says Meyer. "I also notice with everyone who comes here for the first time: 'Wow, how wonderful to be here'. But I also immediately thought: oh, how are you going to organise a festival here! The space and the atmosphere are great, but a festival also needs a story and commotion."

And commotion is difficult when you don't have a multi-million budget, let alone the capacity to fill the entire area of the site with music, art and other entertainment. Meyer has adjusted his ambitions accordingly: "I necessarily did not want to organise an arts festival, although I really like that. I don't think this place and this region are currently the most suitable for a real arts festival like this. Surely you can do that much better in the city. There is no experienced audience here yet. You need to build that up as well. The main energy prevailing on and around this site is: 'I get to go on it, and what's there?' On that energy I want to build. Especially also because I think the story is so important. You don't just give a nice experience with some funny little things. There is a substantive purpose behind it, in which those artists play an important role."

I think people should be able to explore this field and the arts at their own pace and interest
Two years ago, there was also a Festival De Basis. That lasted only one weekend, and it focused on location theatre. The current edition, which lasts two weekends, is different: "We now have mostly installations, which are emphatically made on their location. There is very little theatre. I think people should be able to discover this terrain and art at their own pace and interest. There's less of a fit with that that you go and see a show at a certain time with a certain group of people. We have chosen to work with music and visual arts."

And so there is a story to be told. This is something Meyer finds very important: "History has a huge presence here. This was where the cold war was fought in the Netherlands. But what is our current relationship with the armed forces? It has been cut back on that, it has been professionalised and our soldiers work far away from home. We no longer have to deal with it in our daily lives. My aim is to introduce people to elements of the armed forces and of warfare, but through the eyes of the artist. Some artists are very critical of that, others are open about it and more positive. That composition gives the audience the opportunity to form their own point of view."

So it will not be an open day of the armed forces?

"No. This festival zooms in on Dutch peace and the Dutch relationship to the armed forces. It's about peace. Sometimes I think we have gone a bit overboard in the Netherlands and think we live together very peacefully on an island. While the world is on fire and many wars are being fought. We as Dutch people also play a role in that, as peacekeepers, or as development workers. No peace without war."

Good to know
festival the base plays from Friday 13 September to Sunday 22 September 2013. The last weekend is also the conclusion of all activities surrounding the Treaty of Utrecht. A spectacle is being developed that rivals the vastness of the airbase in scale and impressiveness. More information via this site or via the Treaty of Utrecht itself.

All about the previous Festival The Base

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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