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Living on the fringes: a survival guide for avant-garde theater

Posted August 19th, 2015

By Simon Joseph

Toneelgroep15

Eelco Smits in A Song Far Away

Europe’s capitals have always had a love affair with art, one that is as enduring as art itself. In times of upheaval, this courtship has come into question; survival demands reality, not romanticism. To be sure, for any amorous relationship to triumph, it needs the support of others. But then the art world’s benefactors are a fickle bunch.

Cultural policy and economic crisis do not normally make ideal bed partners. As you might expect, stimulating the arts sector comes low down on the list of government spending in much of the European Union. Nevertheless, there are subsidies available, and a handful of large Dutch theater companies are benefiting from them.

Tiny it may be, but the Netherlands still lays claim to no less than eight major-city theater companies, all vying for their share of the Ministry of Culture’s ever-diminishing pot of gold. One such company is Toneelgroep Amsterdam. This fixed ensemble has grown into the largest, and by far the most popular, theater company in the Netherlands. Despite a lack of funding, in the country’s capital, theater is thriving.

In the rest of the country, subsidized theater, which is presumably of most value to society, continues to fight for its life. This raises the very question that Toneelgroep Amsterdam seeks to examine with their production of After the Rehearsal/Persona: “What place does art have in society?”

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