Monday, May 12, 2014

Interview with Marco Gerris of ISH

Our theater may be at the crossroads of NYC, but in many ways, we're also privileged to operate as a crossroads for major global talent. Just this season, we saw companies from Australia, Tanzania, Italy, and now The Netherlands! With HyperISH touching down at the New Vic this week, we're celebrating all of the things that make Amsterdam unique. Not only do they have a first-rate electronic music and underground dance scene, but then there's also the windmills and tulips we all imagine when we call the city to mind!

To get the scoop on what it's like to live in The Netherlands nowadays, we talked to HyperISH cast member Marco Gerris. Below, he tells us all about his upbringing in the European nation, plus he talks about his first impressions of NYC!

Can you tell us about your personal history with the Netherlands? How long have you lived there and how did it feed into your aspirations as an artist and performer?

I was adopted by my Belgian parents when I was 3-years-old, so I was raised in Antwerp, Belgium, the country just south of the Netherlands, a very similar nation -- the languages are almost the same! In 1997, when I was 22-years-old, I moved out to Amsterdam for an audition for a new musical play, Eindeloos (Endless) and I got the job! I've lived in Amsterdam ever since.

I fell in love with Amsterdam a few years before that when I was there for a holiday with my best friend. I remember telling him that if I ever got the chance, I would live there. I loved everything about the city; the atmosphere, the architecture, the environment, the people. It made me feel so free and creative. It's a city with endless possibilities.

It's not that I didn't like Belgium, but I had the feeling that I couldn't explore my creative side there, nor could I make a living of it. I always had a big mouth and a little bit of a rebellious side and in Amsterdam I got the feeling that the people were more open-minded and looking for more experimental projects.

At that time, one of my many passions and hobbies was freestyle rollerblading. I was lucky enough to live close to the Vondelpark (similar to New York's Central Park) and it was a mecca for rollerblading. To be honest, I never knew I was quiet good 'til people asked me if I wanted to join their freestyle rollerblading team. From there, I won several competitions and I was the first and youngest director who put this discipline in the big theaters of the Netherlands.

So, I guess you can say that the people of The Netherlands are very open-minded and dare to take some risks!

What is an assumption people make about Dutch culture that isn't quite right? (At least in my experience, Americans usually think: clogs, gouda, Amsterdam's red light district, tulips and windmills...)

Actually, all of those assumptions are right and those are all aspects of the Dutch culture, but there's so much more. There are so many beautiful places filled with beautiful nature (but no mountains!). I love to visit the sea and the beautiful coastal islands. There are also the beautiful canals in Amsterdam, and the many very cozy, picturesque small cities throughout the country. Volendam is lovely and very typically Dutch. Then there's Groningen (in the North), Haarlem...

What was your impression of New York when you came here for the first time? How does our city compare to yours?

My first time in NY was in 1999, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I was scouting and looking for some inspiration for my very first show ISH. I loved the city and was very impressed by it. The funny thing is that it felt so familiar-- everything I saw, I recognized from the many movies that are set in New York, so it felt like I already knew the city.

I also felt a similar vibe as I did in Amsterdam, like everything was possible in this crazy city.

And of course it was a dream of mine to have my performance play on (off-)Broadway. If you can make it here you can make it anywhere! In 2006, my dream was realized when we brought 4-ISH in the New Vic!

I also made skate friends in Central Park and I thought pretty seriously about moving here. I was scouting people and they where scouting me, but in the end I chose Amsterdam because I had a premonition that I would be back with my own show(s)!

In my eyes, New York is a 24-hour non-stop city, while Amsterdam feels more like a village with a chill vibe, I love both very much.

What are some of your favorite spots (museums, restaurants, cafes...) in Amsterdam? Are there any hidden gems you think tourists overlook?

When I have international friends coming over for the very first time, I love to show them the Amsterdam canals in a private boat that I borrow from friends. Blauw Theehuis is a pub right in the center of the Vondelpark that's great. De Pijp is a very cozy neighborhood with the famous Albert Cuyp Market (typical Dutch) and many nice pubs and restaurants. If you come in the summer, Blijburg is a small sand beach at IJburg that mostly just locals know about (shhh!). I try to avoid bringing my guests to tourist-y places, (they will see it anyway), but of course you can't miss Het Rijksmuseum and theVan Gogh Museum-- both are surely worth the visit.

What's something about Amsterdam that makes you proud to be from there?

I fall more in love with the city every day. Amsterdam gave me the opportunity to do my thing (building my own company, finding television gigs like judging for So You Think You Can Dance). It's a global and well-known city, but you also can just relax if you want to--the perfect combination.

Can you send our readers/audience a final message in Dutch (and then tell us what it means in English, please)?

Ik zeg altijd: Geloof in jezelf, laat je niet meeslepen door het negatieve in deze wereld, kijk goed om je heen en neem het beste uit alles wat jou aanspreekt, dat vormt uiteindelijk wie je bent... Dat is ISH!

I always say: Believe in yourself, do not be carried away by the negative in this world. Look around you and borrow the best aspects of everything that appeals to you, ultimately, that is who you are... That's ISH!

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