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The five of us against the rest of Den Bosch. Renewed Boulevard Theatre Festival opens in style

Festival Boulevard in Den Bosch, which began on 6 August, has a new boss. This woman, Viktorien van Hulst, had a hard time even before the start of her first festival. Someone had suddenly found a tiny asbestos fibre in a drainpipe at the special new festival site on the Bossche Tramkade, a day before the opening, and so the venue had to be shut down immediately.

Within 24 hours, the festival then found alternative venues, with help from just about everyone in the city. A fine example of togetherness and unity at a time when culture is quite often sidelined by politics and business. It can be done differently. Den Bosch proves it. The city embraces art.

Good, because if there is one thing that scares the hell out of everyone, it is exclusion. Because being an outsider is only nice if you get recognition for it, even if it is only from one other person. But then you are no longer an outsider.

[Tweet "So it can be different, proves Den Bosch - the city embraces art."].

This is why, after Boulevard opened, it was so enlightening to take part in the Berlin company Rimini Protokoll's 'Remote X' project. Having first enthralled people in cities like Milan, Sao Paolo and New York, the Berliners are now asking visitors to the Boulevard Theatre Festival to surrender to them.

And so that surrender turns out to be quite easy. You get headphones on, connected to a receiver that picks up signals from a transmitter carried by an attendant. How it all works technically is questionable, but it is suspected that all this is connected via Bluetooth. In any case, the result is that you are sent through Den Bosch in groups via a digitally generated, suspiciously human-sounding voice.

Now, there have been experiments with artsy audio tours before, but this walk is special for several reasons.

Herd animal or no herd animal?

First of all, the group experience is the message of the performance. Everyone in the 50-headed group hears the same thing, and it gives a sense of belonging to see from each other's reactions that you are experiencing the same thing. But that is also the uncomfortable part. The freethinkers among us, and I am one of them, would prefer to chart their own course, but joining the walk and the friendly voice in your ears makes that difficult. Especially when, as a non-herd animal, you suddenly turn out to belong to a herd of non-herd animals after all.

The second reason why this walk is special is the view of the real outsider: the rest of the population of Den Bosch, who do not have headphones on. We, the participants of the walk, start to see them as an attraction, even as we walk through a hospital. At the same time, we ourselves are that attraction, and you are confronted with that, both in that hospital, and in front of a few packed terraces in the city centre. Uncomfortable it is, and so it creates a bond. Which is put at risk again when you are told that the walker behind you is judging you on your appearance.

The social experiment that Remote X essentially is is evolving, and thanks to a clever digital steering system, the computer guidance responds perfectly to the timing of the walk. As if we are being watched by an invisible being.

Eventually we all sublimate at the end, disappearing in smoke with beautiful views of St John's. Watched only by the three people on the terrace of Café Bar Het Vosken, deep below us.

So you are somewhere, so you are nowhere

And so you are someone. Half an hour after Remote X, I found myself in the tent with Patrick Nederkoorn and Oscar Kocken, who bring the programme 'Zomaargasten', on the old festival square, The Parade under St John's. The formula is simple, the execution brilliant, as is often the case with things Kocken is involved in, such as the satirical news show Order of the Day. Zomaargasten is a folksy variation on the VPRO programme Zomergasten. Instead of a full-length discussion with a guest about video fragments, the two gentlemen take turns interviewing a random spectator. Meanwhile, on the big screen behind them, the images the conversation is about appear. As if it is long prepared, but that is not so. In fact, the half of the duo who is not interviewing is busy playing a game with sweaty faces speedgoogling, so that images to which the guest refers also actually come on screen.

By incorporating a few fixed ingredients, both men manage to make the casual guest and the audience feel truly special. While Just Guests plays countless times in an evening with different audiences and guests each time.

Fifteen minutes famous, who said that again?

Remote X is yet to be seen, like Random guests.

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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