Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dennis Meyer on the State of Theater for Young Audiences in the Netherlands





Dennis Meyer is artistic director of Het Lab Utrecht in the Netherlands, a production house that offers young professionals in theatre and dance an opportunity to create performances for young audiences. Het Lab seeks out an active dialogue with the audience and creates links with current social developments.a production house for theater and dance for young audiences. Dennis gave the keynote address at The New Victory Forum on Professional Dutch Theater for Young Audiences.

After the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War, the legitimization of art subsidies came under pressure in the Netherlands. Political movements no longer felt the need to use art and artists to endorse the great freedom offered by the West. The government became increasingly businesslike, for instance by stipulating that companies must make a proven increasing percentage of their income from audience revenues or other institutions besides the government. However, youth theater* was spared to some degree, because the government still valued its educational objectives.

Shortly after the 2009 peak [of arts subsidies] it turned out that many things were changing within Dutch theater. Public support for subsidized art had, almost stealthily, fallen sharply. The public at large no longer needed, or needs, the theater to feel free, to be stimulated, like it did during the seventies, eighties and nineties. The main reason for people to come to the theater, or not, is to be entertained; theater-going as a leisure activity. And these days there are limitless possibilities for being entertained, competition is stiff. A shift is also occurring within the market formed by schools. Here, the demand for theater is increasingly linked to the educational purpose a performance should serve. The artist’s independence and artistic freedom is under ever greater pressure. The fall of the Berlin wall has not only caused a decline in government support for subsidized art, but, and this is much more fundamental, a decline in public support as well.

Starting from 2013, the national government will withdraw as a subsidizing body from a large number of institutions. It will remain responsible for a smaller number of institutions, and these are to provide a clear output of performances servicing wide audiences. The government is betting on the country’s "top institutions." Youth theater is included, although here too, the cuts will amount to around 30%. The thing that will no longer, or barely, be possible in youth theater, is creating productions for the mainstream venues on a structural basis. And what the government is completely ceasing to see as a government responsibility, is keeping alive the independent organizations that support a young generation in its development, i.e. the production houses. This task will have to be taken over by the drama schools and the existing larger institutions.

Even though the developments underlying these decisions are widely supported, there are major doubts about the pace at which this government intends to bring about the changes. The current pace will cause the destruction of something that has only very recently come into full bloom. Furthermore, there are doubts about the political decision to continue government support for the things that already have the public’s attention and do well on the market, and to deny responsibility for the things that are vulnerable.

*Youth theater is translated from the Dutch word jeugdtheater, which means professional theater for young people, or what we Americans know as TYA.

Forum on Professional Dutch Theater for Young Audiences, January 9, 2012. Excerpted with permission.


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