Jetse Batelaan has been working pretty much this whole century to make the most extraordinary theatre in the world. At least, of my world. Often with very few words, always with a great sense of bare aesthetics and usually sympathetic with a weird twist halfway through. His latest masterpiece is an adaptation of Thea Beckman's Crusade in Jeans. Though at least three-quarters of the credit for this event should also go to the creators, writers and performers: Sadettin Kırmızıyüz and Marjolijn van Heemstra.
The event is called in full 'Crusade, a performance based on that fat book by Thea Beckman about those children who have to walk very far and that one boy in the modern trousers; On enemy thinking past and present'. That's quite a mouthful, but fits the line of titles Batelaan has given to his performances so far. One of his last big hits was 'How the big people left and what happened next'. In it, a picturesque play about a medieval village turned into an anarchic stage romp.
In a modern form of story theatre, Kırmızıyüz and Van Heemstra report on their attempt to recreate the Children's Crusade of the 13th century in a modern family car. They discover that Beckman's book, which made quite an impression in 1972, is hopelessly outdated. That story, about a modern little boy who has to walk along in the historical children's crusade, according to them, is too good to be true.
Crusades, in all their gory horror, are currently topical again in the propaganda of both extremist Islamists and patriotic US presidents. How do you deal with this as a modern parent and descendant of the Saracens (Kırmızıyüz) or Crusaders (Van Heemstra)?
The three creatives behind Crusade, etc. make it a surprisingly topical piece. Including an exciting twist at the end that puts everything in a different light. Starring the Mediterranean and a group of local children.
And then I have to get something off my chest. Artemis is paid to make theatre for children and young people. The company has been doing that at top level for years. This performance proves that again. With such top level, the company is also able to turn the biggest sceptic into an eager theatre lover. And I am not just talking about the minors for whom the club gets subsidy. It is also about any adult without stage experience, or with negative stage experience. There are very, very many of them in the Netherlands.
What is the secret? Quite simple really - 'youth theatre' companies like Artemis stand with their paws in the mud every day for an audience that is not waiting for them. They perform in theatres, but also in gymnasiums, theatre trucks and tents. Their audience is as diverse as the schools in the Netherlands. To survive, these performances must be perfect in terms of content, go deep and convince. Actors cannot afford to put their own worries before everything else, put their own navel in front of the limelight or sprinkle wishy-washy elitist book wisdom.
Through the roof
Put an 'adult theatre' company in such a situation and it almost always falls through. Not necessarily because it is not doing a good job. However, there are completely different requirements for the quality determination by theatres, critics and subsidisers. The audience is suddenly also supposed to have much more foreknowledge, to follow the repertoire and to grasp the subtleties of daily news.
There is a tremendous gap between youth theatre and adult theatre. Content-wise, but also in appreciation by peers. This is illogical, because there is no such gap between youth and adult audiences. Between 4 havo and the first single-family home, a person does not suddenly pick up all those things that the difference in theatre style and content indicates.
Conversely, someone aged 25 will think ten times before buying a ticket for a play that says 12+. Although that is never a problem with film. Why not put such an age indication on every show?
How do we get rid of this artificial distinction? How do we ensure that adults too can become acquainted, unhindered by norms or age indications, with the theatre that is so perfectly suited to turning the layperson into an enthusiast? How do we ensure that people making theatre for adults start thinking like their colleagues in youth theatre? Can subisidiaries perhaps become more open-minded, and include this in their terms and conditions?
It would be so beautiful. Then again, I think that's worth a crusade.