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Vincent Wijlhuizen is working on a coronaproof What You See Festival: 'a very large group of people are now much less visible.' 

Immediately after the lockdown was declared in March 2020, Vincent Wijlhuizen, co-founder (along with Annette van Zwol and Ieme Soes) and director of the What you See Festival, set to work to come up with alternatives for the festival that will take place in the autumn. 'We made several plans. We already had an ordinary plan, which went to all the funds, but in March we found out pretty quickly that it wasn't going to work. Now we have a plan where everything is coronaproof. So we are going ahead.'

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Listen to the interview, recorded in the one-and-a-half-metre version of Het Gegeven Paard, the café of TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht, here.


You will continue with the festival. How?

We are in the middle of that now. We are now looking at how we can make it in the theatre so that you do feel a kind of togetherness, and at the same time keep a distance of one and a half metres. In the city theatre, this could mean that the audience sits on stage, on chairs and benches that are all at the same distance. We are also looking into giving 1-on-1 concerts in Ekko. In Ekko, very few people are allowed inside, so then that would be a solution. That could be very intimate and special, and therefore positive. Then you make positive use of the measures. 

For Theatre Kikker, we have a plan to offer different performances in groups throughout the building, which you thus move past as an audience. We are now submitting these possibilities to makers. 

It also feels a bit strange to offer art for such an exclusive audience. A festival like this; has to have it's mass appeal, right?

Yes, we all invite makers to talk about gender, identity. Those themes are very much woven into our festival. In March, when we had our first conversations about the new-style festival, we also talked about the groups that are no longer visible now. For example, trans people, who normally go to all kinds of discussion groups and parties to be able to be themselves there, to show themselves, to talk to each other. This has not been possible in recent months. All the events that were supposed to be organised around Pride have all been cancelled. This makes a very large group of people much less visible. 

Necessarily back in the closet?

Yes really, almost thrown back. So we are now looking at whether we can play a role in this new freedom. Whether we can offer them a big audience again. Instead of 100, 800 people in the Theatre again. 

How do you do that? 

So we are now thinking about doing everything two, three or four times, but that those people do intersect somewhere so that interaction takes place. But what does that interaction look like? After all, you can't stand too close to talk to each other. 

You are not just organisers of WYS festival, you work at lots of different places. Your market must have collapsed, on March 12. 

It was terrible, to be honest. When Rutte held the press conference, I was in the middle of the tour of a big hall performance: How I got talent for life. There were 200 people working on it, and we had to send them all home. I also work for Theatre Festival Boulevard, and all the projects I did there were also cancelled. Fortunately, a separate version is coming up now, which is really coronaproof. So it is coming back, but it has taken a long time. 

You see that with What you see partyival too: before corona came we had a fantastic plan ready. We had to pull that out completely. We had to shed quite a few tears over that. Among the artists, the staff. We also had a lot of international work. we don't know whether any of it can go ahead. Will it be allowed to fly? Do the makers want that? Do those companies or theatres still exist? For a lot of people in the sector, they are self-employed who are eligible for very few schemes. This is difficult for me personally, but for them too. I am happy that a little more can be done now, so it looks like we are getting a little more space, but then there should not be a second wave, because then I fear everything will close down and we will be even further from home. 

So you couldn't sit back and relax for the past few months?

No, a lot of people think so. I did sit at home, but I had to talk to so many people to make the new plan, so there wasn't much rest. It was a tough time. All my friends and colleagues aren't having an easy time either. I am glad that more attention is now being paid to that. The sector runs on self-employed workers. If they all become gardeners...

You are now getting money from the municipality for the next four years. What have you done to convince the committee?

This year is our third festival. The core is that we build long lines. We now have makers with whom we already worked in the first festival. They came to play a show in that first festival , did research in the second festival for a show that should premiere now, at the third festival. That's how we build long lines. We are also building an international network of makers and festivals working on this theme: gender and identity. We are also working with young utrecht-based makers, together with Het Huis.

Do those long lines also apply to better solutions for the one-half-metre theatre?

We are indeed working on that now. We then also try to hold on to what works and therefore what the best practices are. Then makers can commit to that. Of course, it is also about the audience experience. We also get this knowledge from our foreign partners. One of our partners is the GenderBender festival in Italy. It has existed for 15 years, and they are now also thinking up all kinds of things. Another partner is the Orlando Festival in Bergamo. That was one of Corona's hotbeds. They had a first trial version of their new festival last month, and are doing a second part in August. We hope to learn a lot from that too.

Indeed, shouldn't you organise festivals that last much longer, so you can play many more shows for that small audience?

They are doing that in Bergamo now. There, they have spread out the whole programming so they can play more often. I think that works very well. Then you are less stuck with the fact that all those people have to come together in those four or 10 festival days. 

Online opportunities?

We have 1 project made especially for online. I'm all for that, but for the rest I hope we can do everything live. Maybe with a little less people. I am in favour of the artist deciding how he wants to present it, instead of the circumstances deciding how it should be. When Corona says everything online, I am not in favour of that. In many cases, online is a limiting factor. 

Are you hopeful?

Frankly, not so much. I am hopeful because I see that the cultural sector is flexible and creative. I am not so hopeful about the environment. Politics could do a lot more. I do see politicians who want to, but I don't see it happening in practice. And if Corona stays longer? What happens to the theatre sector if small theatres fall over? What if pop venues start falling over? What will happen to pop music then? That's where politics will really have to step forward. I do think it can be done. It only takes one person who stands up and bangs his fist on the table, a new minister who says: we are going to do this. then it is possible, but he or she has to stand up. I haven't seen that one yet.

Any ambitions in that direction yourself?

No. (laughs) I also think there has to be a mandate. There must be parties that give that mandate, and that are not just about economic interests. I see such parties, but once they are in government, that seems to fall away. Just stand up and have the guts, even if you are in government, to say: this cannot go on like this. I haven't seen those people yet. 


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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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