I grew up wanting to be an actress. I loved films and theatre. My parents had the vinyl LP’s for West Side Story, and My Fair Lady and I would play them both over and over. I knew every word to every song.
I did lots of acting as a young person. I went to drama classes, took exams and took part in speech festivals. But I wasn’t brave enough to choose to study drama at school, as I always took the ‘sensible’ subjects. I ended up doing a business degree, although part of me would have loved to have studied English Literature with Drama, or some such combination.
Whilst at Uni I ran the Drama Society, so was able to let loose my creative side there. Once graduated and working, I took every opportunity to work with young people, writing scripts and directing short plays. Some of those I was really proud of and won competitions with. Bringing together a group of people and just the right ingredients of a good script, central message, music, dancing, costumes and lighting, and heaps of humour, to create something truly magical, is something I will always relish.
One of the highlights of the last few years for me was attending the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and having three days of solid performances, some in the street, some in rooms below bars, some in college classrooms. Being sat metres away from a powerful performance of a one-act Tennesse Williams play in the middle of the afternoon is my idea of perfection.
Most of my life I have lived in proximity to London, being able to hop on a train for a day trip or the occasional evening out. Of course, we’re spoilt with the choice of live theatre in the West End. What I loved about living in the UK (and didn’t truly appreciate how unique it was until I moved away), was the abundance of culture. With a family it was not always possible to go and see everything, but to know of it, to hear it talked about on the radio or the tv talk-shows, to hear interviews with the actors, to hear the stories behind the production. That’s what I loved, and that’s what I missed when I came to the Netherlands. Maybe those things happen here, but I don’t know where. I don’t know what channels to listen to or watch, or what to read to find out what’s going on culturally.
Actually, I love Shakespeare so much, I was a bit worried when I came that there would be no Shakespeare here. Shakespeare is one of those tricky things – so much is in the language, the detail, the poetry of the words. That could not possibly work for an audience where English isn’t the first language. Even my husband who is 100% fluent in English and writes academic papers in English, puts the sub-titles on when we are watching certain things – anything where there are accents, or where the speech is so fast he can’t pick out the vernacular.
So, it was from all of this that I set up a Facebook group, English-speaking theatre in the Netherlands. I wanted to find out what was going on and thought that others would too. In Amsterdam they have a couple of the big production musicals every year, which is great, but for me it’s not just about the musicals. Since setting up the group I’ve learnt about theatre groups like STET the English Theatre, in the Hague, and the Orange Theatre Company in Amsterdam that put on high-quality English language theatre.
We’ve topped 200 people in the group this weekend, and I only set the group up over the summer. We’ve had loads of actors join the group too, people that are interested in performing. And it’s been great to find out how many amateur or semi-professional theatre groups there are here for Brits or English-speakers that want to perform. Actually, this is all really important. When you move to a new country, quite often you’re starting over with zero social circle, you have to create a whole new life for yourself. Many things, because of the language barrier, aren’t accessible, so having something for people to get involved with where they can make friends and have good experiences, is invaluable.
I’m a little bit sad that where I live, in Eindhoven, there does not seem to be quite so much going on theatre-wise in English, or even in Dutch actually! I suspect (and it’s tricky to back this up as statistics on expat numbers in cities are a bit sketchy) that as Eindhoven’s expat growth is more recent, then the cultural offerings in English haven’t quite caught up with the demand. I’m hoping with this group in time we can change that!
And of course, it’s important to say, it’s not that I’m not interested in seeing performances in Dutch. I’m still learning the language, and that would be an obvious barrier to understanding a performance, but of course I am open to experiencing what the Dutch have to offer too. I do think that there are opportunities for some creative thinking around making performances accessible where there are language barriers. I saw a production in London called ‘Once’ – a fabulous musical set in Dublin, and when one of the main characters let loose in their native Czech tongue, a small screen at the top of the stage offered the translation in English. Such an ingenious idea. We use sub-titles for viewing films, so why not in the theatre.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying hosting the conversations in the Facebook group. Sharing things (like the British National Theatre ‘live’ performances that are streamed from theatres to your tv screens) with other’s that will appreciate them and getting to know more about what’s going on in places not too far away from me. Building a sense of community with other theatre-lovers, is helping have my cultural ‘fix’ for now.
And if you’re interested in any of the above, we’d love to have you join our FB community here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/englishdutchtheatre