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Who develops the dark kitchens for the theatre?

Dark kitchens. Something that was unthinkable a few years ago, then became the hot thing of the gig-economy, and thanks to corona is about to become a regular ingredient of our new existence. Already commonplace in the UK. Tuesday in the Netherlands in the news. In a B-location in a dilapidated building sits the kitchen brigade of some top restaurants, cooking delivery meals for small-home restaurants and, since Corona, especially: people who want Michelin-level dining at home. It works, it won't go away after Corona. Because people actually find it quite ok.

Last Monday, a sigh from a culture enthusiast appeared on this site. Onno Weggemans, Amersfoorter with a heart for art, described his discovery that theatre and concerts via streaming were actually pretty cool. In fact, so cool that for him it largely replaced the hassle of going to the theatre and concerts.

Empty hall

The occasion was the theatre and concert sector's action with a video clip and a beautiful poem: the promise of the empty hall. The sector's aim is clear and laudable: to make audiences want to go out again, despite the fear of corona. And that's going to be very difficult, so it's best to start as early as possible. Because, Weggemans wrote: 'Even if it is medically sound again, how long will it take before the fear of our health is out of our system again and we take our seats unconcerned in a full theatre hall? I find it hard to imagine that at the moment. Corona has become part of our collective consciousness and the memory of it will - I fear - only slowly wear off.'

Is that why the action of the theatres and concert halls failed? Maybe so, but it also succeeded in that it put minds to work. For how much sense does it make to announce a full season for the period from March 2021 with something for everyone, large and small auditorium, spectacular and intimate, as Theatre Rotterdam did a few weeks ago? It is rather a form of extreme neurolinguistic programming (NLP), simply put: just shout often enough that things are going great and then they will automatically go great. It is asking for disappointment.


Why prepare a large-venue production when you are almost certain that it can only be played in front of 100 people, if it can be premiered at all? That looks like job creation in times of corona: mainly good to keep the muscles fresh, but not much fun for the audience that will not be able or willing to go and watch in such huge numbers? And isn't it totally demotivating for everyone in the process, the performers first and foremost? And not that subsidy should invariably lead to very large audiences now, but with up to 20 people in a small hall, the proportions do get very odd.

While there are opportunities with 'online'. So far, with a few exceptions, online has been streamed theatre a weak copy of the real thing: sixties television. So you lose twice if you now prepare a performance or concert as if the virus was never there, and then have to acknowledge that you are left with a weak livestream may serve your regular audience, but deter new viewers. And that's even worse than the now empty theatres because of corona.

Against the skirting boards

Instead of using government support to continue at a soft patch, the industry would be better off putting all that money into developing new forms of online arts offerings. The stars are aligning favourably, the NPO really wants to broadcast everything and money is sloshing against the skirting boards in some cases (unfortunately neither among individual performers nor journalists).

For a while, not making representations as if nothing happened, but developing concepts, experimenting, boldly go where no one in this sector has dared to go until now (sorry, I watch a lot of Star Trek during the lockdown). That seems like an excellent use of grant money and could also bring back some momentum in these crappy times.

Black kitchens

Who will take up the gauntlet and develop, or discover, the dark kitchens of the performing arts? I know of one stage, in Enschede, that is already resolving to make every performance they programme also a streaming option to demand. Now and in the future. Willem-Jaap Zwart of Concordia announced that based on good experience with streams during the first and second waves. The big advantage is that even a small venue can greatly extend its reach. As ITA recently did with 'Eddy Bellegeule' in one evening had more paying visitors than an ordinary tour could ever have achieved.

We have a games industry that yearns for substance, tiktok heroes who desperately want to be taken seriously, and entire audiences who would never go to a theatre, but do have an onlineexperience search. So don't wait for the fieldlabs enabling something that the public is not ready for just yet. There is plenty of talent in the sector. Use it.

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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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