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Should Halbe Zijlstra apologise only to Overijssel?

Ten per cent fewer performances and ten per cent fewer visitors in Overijssel headlines RTV Oost. Bam! That chops it. Into the bin, that jubilant press release by Jet Bussemaker. And if there is one province that does not need to apologise to Halbe Zijlstra, it is Overijssel.

Well no need for those excuses anyway, reported we said earlier, but as a province you still pale into insignificance compared to the rest of the country, despite companies in basic infrastructure (Nederlandse Reisopera, Youth Theatre Sonnevanck) and a symphony orchestra with ambitions far beyond the national borders. Rightly Dennis Melenhorst, Director Social and Economic Council Overijssel, tweeted: "Sector in Ov[erijssel] can be critical of itself. In rest Ned[erland], [the number of] performances also decreased, but [the number of] visitors increased."

We also read that in Culture in focus 2014 of the Culture Council. So are they all sitting idle at those theatres in the East? Don't they do any marketing there? Or are residents of Overijssel avoiding the theatres? RTV Oost's report is inconclusive. Just where you would expect some interpretation from the provincial broadcaster. Not a report that raises more questions than it answers.

Where do these figures actually come from?

RTV Oost relies on the Central Statistical Officek. Clearly so. And yes, then a headline with ten per cent drop is quickly made. But where did CBS get the figures? From the Association of Theatres and Concert Halls Directors (VSCD), as it turns out, the main representative of theatres, concert halls and festivals. And then things get more complicated right away. Because although the Culture Council also relies on VSCD figures, in both cases it is not clear what is and is not included. It is a jumble of figures that could take us weeks.

But anyway: figures from the sector itself. Surely they will be correct?

We asked several theatre directors in Overijssel and (we have not yet received all responses) invariably the answer is: no, our theatre does not recognise itself in the message and these figures.

Director Judith Hartman of the largest theatre in Overijssel sees just the opposite: "What you can clearly see is that at Wilminktheatre and Muziekcentrum Enschede there was a decline in the number of performances in previous years. However, in 2013 and thus also in 2014, we see that first the number of performances rose slightly again, but also the number of visitors. And in this year, even with almost the same number of performances, we see that the number of visitors increases even further."

Is the decline due to medium-sized theatres?

Also unlikely. Director Raoul Boer of the Rabo Theatre in Hengelo reports, "The 2013-2014 season saw 558 performances, concerts and other activities with a total audience of 100,693. Compared to the 2012-2013 season, this is a positive development: over 7.5% more activities and over 9% more visitors. For the professional performances considered separately, this means an increase in numbers of performances of 8% compared to 2012-2013, which has resulted in an increase of 16.5% in visitor numbers."

Have all small theatres in Overijssel been wiped out?

No other conclusion seems possible, as Enschede and Hengelo together already account for such a large share of the figures published by CBS that the real blows must have fallen there. But if small theatres are responsible for such a clear decline, it must be noticeable.

But not at the smaller theatres themselves. Because:

"Unfortunately, we don't have hard figures at hand," says Joris Kemps of the Association of Small Theatres in Overijssel (OKTO), "but it doesn't match what we see."

So what is going on?

We find out. The Rabo Theatre's very detailed data shows that the number of amateur performances has fallen, but proportionally the number of visitors has risen there too, so even despite the total balderdash in the amateur arts, this does not provide a conclusive explanation for the CBS figures.

In short, we don't know yet.

What we do know is that blindly drawing conclusions from figures, even if they come from CBS, is never wise. Whether it is done by a politician demanding instant apologies from an entire sector, or by a regional broadcaster merely raking up provincial news.

Because how is it possible that this same regional broadcaster just two days earlier had a cheering story posted about how well things are going with the Enschede theatre without forty-eight hours later thinking, "um... wait, what's not right here?"

Is RTV Oost making a blunder?

No. For both reports, however, no contact was made with affected theatres, merely relying on found figures. It is the logical consequence of budget cuts and the loss of an attentive cultural editor both nationally and regionally. All too quickly, this results in reporting that may be factually correct, but does not investigate the facts behind the figures.

And that is precisely what makes both sectors vulnerable and a plaything for administrators with completely different agendas.

Henri Drost

Henri Drost (1970) studied Dutch and American Studies in Utrecht. Sold CDs and books for years, then became a communications consultant. Writes for among others GPD magazines, Metro, LOS!, De Roskam, 8weekly, Mania, hetiskoers and Cultureel Persbureau/De Dodo about everything, but if possible about music (theatre) and sports. Other specialisms: figures, the United States and healthcare. Listens to Waits and Webern, Wagner and Dylan and pretty much everything in between.View Author posts

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