Fringe-wise, Amsterdam is a late bloomer. It was only six years ago that this city got its own Fringe Festival.
Most likely the subsidy-spoiled Amsterdam theatre community did not feel the need to follow the rest of the world in celebrating the fringes of the theatre. Several influential programmers resisted the idea of an Amsterdam Fringe festival. It was up to them-the professionals-to determine what would be "the next big thing" in theatre. A fringe festival would have no quality. But a financial crisis, big cuts in arts budgets and the increasing role of audience numbers changed the fortunes of this festival. In only five years' time, Amsterdam Fringe became an unmissable event on the cultural calendar of Amsterdam. The world seems to be changing.
Six years ago, it was hard for me and my peers to break into a very institutionalised theatre world as young aspiring professionals just out of drama school. Above all we wanted to create our own work but do it our own way and on our own terms. So while we kept on working in conventional theatre, we created in our free time our first independent works...and Amsterdam Fringe Festival was one of the first places to program them. Amsterdam Fringe became, in a way, a sort of guerilla festival. It did not play by the rules of the conventional art world, and it created a space for many hungry creators and performers from all sorts of backgrounds and disciplines. This kind of theatre democracy meant a breath of fresh air for Amsterdam.
So we sort of grew up together, the Amsterdam Fringe festival and our own guerilla theatre company Het Geluid (which, in English, means something like "The Noise"). While the festival expanded performance locations and outgrew her older, more established National Theater Festival in audience numbers, our theatre company was finding its own style and voice. And the festival taught us to promote our work in unconventional ways. The Amsterdam Fringe became a healthy reflection of the city by finding a mixed audience of locals, expats, tourists and regular art lovers.
Over the years we have made a huge array of performances, including one about heart transplants that featured a gypsy orchestra and another about a young woman working for the UN in Rwanda that included Regina Spektor music. We even produced an opera about the world of human resources. The show we are bringing to Edinburgh this year, Life is Too Good To Be True, is a examination of truth today, told through the voices of infamous journalist Stephen Glass, Pop sociologist Barbara Erhrenreich and music icon Lady Gaga. We always make performances out of an unconventional mixture of ingredients. Luckily our work seemed to resonate somehow with all these different audiences.
We always seem to be looking for new narratives, while finding out which older narratives are still viable. We are into the new ways in which organizations, people, stories and narratives are structured today. We try to create performances that reflect the times, but also reflect Amsterdam as the liveable, open, cosmopolitan-city-on-a-village-scale that it is. Amsterdam Fringe Festival was the obvious place to perform our work since the festival became a vivid reflection of all this.
Times are hectic, and Amsterdam is an eclectic city. Young Japanese visitors just as easily visit the red light district as the Concertgebouw. Twenty-something tourists from North America combine smoking some pot with a visit to the van Gogh museum. (Apparently quite the trip!) In Het Geluid's work we hope to reflect these weird juxtapositions that are not uncommon to a worldwide generation that grew up with remote controls and hyperlinking. A few years ago it would have been impossible to get a gig directing a new opera at a renowned opera company by being spotted at a fringe festival (which actually happened to us). We never expected to win the Dioraphte Best of Amsterdam Fringe award and to be traveling around to places like Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, South Africa and, now, to Edinburgh, Scotland, with our show Life Is Too Good to Be True. And we never expected to blog about it for the Huffington Post.
Quality standards are determined in new ways by new generations of people and media. The resistance of the local Amsterdam theatre programmer to the rise of the Amsterdam Fringe Festival is no different than that of a bookseller confronted with Amazon, the classic newspaper-publisher confronted with new forms of journalism on the internet, or the travel-agency loosing costumers because people started to book their own trips. As a guerilla theatre troupe that grew up in a guerilla festival,we would like to say: Cut out the middle man! Let's deal with all the changes and tell the fascinating stories behind all these exciting developments.