A festival is still the best way to be introduced to new art.
Yesterday, after six days of persistent drizzle and torrential rain, the sun finally broke through over Bossche Zuiderpark. Bartenders who had gotten used to quietly serving those few customers who braved the rain for a white wine (because it's summer, for crying out loud!) or a special beer in the first few days suddenly had to go full steam ahead. In front of the tents, the queues got longer again, but not even that much longer. During the week I was there almost every day, the shows were already remarkably full.
Audiences have known how to find Theatre Festival Boulevard for years. But not only that: for years, I have seen a combination of makers and audience members there that you rarely find together in the normal theatre season. Deciding to go separately to a theatre building, after arranging babysitting and finding a parking space for your bike, for a single performance by makers you don't know, in a style that is strange and on a subject you have little interest in, is more difficult than walking by a tent and experiencing something you have never experienced before between wine and hamburger.
A through-composed tantrum
Standing together in the rain with complete strangers also helps. Walking away when you are (fed up) is less awkward than between the plush and gold of a theatre building.
Not everything is bite-sized. That is as true of the sometimes very compact (veg) bites on offer as it is of some of the performances.
Take 'Concerto' by Italian-Basque duo IgorxMoreno. A concert indeed, performed by a DJ and a dancer who can sing, but more importantly, a through-composed, hour-and-a-half-long track full of Italian electropop sounds, interrupted only by dress-up performances by dancer and singer Moreno. On that track, Moreno sings lyrics that nowhere become songs, but still have all the hallmarks of songs.
Rather, it is a six-quarter-hour speech, a tirade at times, a political speech set to music that is sometimes pornographic, often politically furious and nowhere poetic. Because the Italian sounds so beautiful and the music so reminiscent of summer, you stay tuned. Content was overkill, although sexual freedom is in a bad way in Europe, especially in Italy.
Hallucinatory primordial mother
A small quarter of the people in the sold-out stands in the magical 'Poplar Circle' of the Bossche Zuiderpark found it all too long and too flat. They moved on to the bitterballs. So you can do that too, at a festival.
There were also a few runaways at Veenfabriek's 'Maria, Maria, Maria'. That wonderful concert, dedicated to the mother of all mothers in a couple of world religions, managed to hold the attention better, however, thanks to Jakobien Elffers' insane singing and acting performance. To an equally brilliant, hallucinatory text by Joeri Vos, she takes the packed audience on a journey, criss-crossing history and the Mediterranean. It is about motherhood, but also about sons acting independently, all without capital letters. The performance is earthy and religious, without becoming religious and therefore enjoyable for anyone whose mind is a little open.
Brave kids and freerunners
Quite impressed I was this week by something that was not a real performance at all. In a school in Den Bosch-West, Guilherme Miotto works with experienced freerunners and children from the neighbourhood on a performance, where you as a spectator can come and watch the progress for a good hour every day. The freerunners learn from Miotto to move like dancers, and they in turn teach the children self-confidence, cooperation and daring.
It made me dream of my own childhood, where, afflicted with a fear of heights that already started on the bottom step, I was not the bravest. What happened here, in that gymnasium in Den Bosch, was magical. The concentration, the surrender, the care was heartbreakingly beautiful, not to mention the music, in which a Marimba played a warming lead role.
So can security
Everything in this project, titled 'It takes a child to raise a village/Free' is about boundaries and safety, but not in the helicopter-like, patronising way we think of when we think of those words. Here, children learn that boundaries can be pushed back, and safety is something you take care of together.
This festival does not necessarily need to attract more audiences to mainstream theatre, as long as it continues to ensure that those mainstream theatre audiences get to see places they would never otherwise go.