International Theater Amsterdam in the open air

The theater group ITA rehearses ‘The Damned’, after Luchino Visconti, in Amsterdam Bostheater.Pauline Statue Intet

It may just be that the unsuspecting cyclist in Amsterdam these days is whizzing by a well-known actor like Hans Kesting or Marieke Heebink. They and their colleagues borrowed a trendy electric exchange bike from their employer, International Theater Amsterdam (ITA). They now drive almost daily from their home in the city to Amsterdamse Bos. Where the ITA Actors Guild usually plays in the comfortable theater on Leidseplein, from this week they will be in all kinds of weather in the theater in Amsterdamse Bos.

Especially because it has never been shown in the Netherlands before: ITA in the open air. And what’s special too: they play the show there The damnedin the cinema La caduta degli dei (1969) by the Italian Grand Master Luchino Visconti. Usually the summers in Amsterdam Bostheater are filled with summer madness like Three musketeers or Shakespearean romance in pieces like Romeo and Juliet and Epiphanybut ITA opted for heavier fares this year.

The damned is about a German family of steelmakers – freely modeled after the von Krupp family – who perish as a result of cooperation with the Nazis and mutual distrust and betrayal. As is often the case with Visconti, pent-up sexual desires bubble beneath the surface, and sinister undercurrents undermine family relationships. It all starts with a birthday party and the tragedy finally ends in Dachau.

ITA actors Majd Mardo, Bart Slegers, Maria Kraakman and Bart Bijnens in Amsterdam Bostheater.  Pauline Statue Intet

ITA actors Majd Mardo, Bart Slegers, Maria Kraakman and Bart Bijnens in Amsterdam Bostheater.Pauline Statue Intet

The film attracted a lot of attention at the time due to its explosive content and explicit sexual deviations. But director Visconti was also admired for his ability to combine baroque opera elements with references to Shakespeare’s family tragedies. When it comes to family power games, you recognize a lot of Shakespeare in movies and performance: Macbethbut also King Learand Hamlet of course especially because of the rather incestuous mother-son relationship.

The theatrical version of The damned premiered in the summer of 2016 at the Festival d’Avignon and was directed by Ivo van Hove at the Comédie Française, France’s largest theater company. This was followed by a triumphal march through theaters in Paris, London and New York. Now it’s Van Hove’s hometown tour, in a remake with his own ITA actors. Specially made for the open-air theater in Amsterdamse Bos, where the audience usually goes in a summer mood, often with a bottle of rosé and a well-stocked picnic basket. Such a violent performance in the place it seems like a gamble.

Van Hove: ‘It’s a ridiculous idea to think that the general public is not interested in quality. Audiences don’t just come for entertainment. I hope our performance also provides entertainment in some way, but in combination with an important topic. I’m not going to do anything different than I usually do, I’m long past the point of wanting to take into account what an audience might or might not be able to handle. By the way: Our serious performances also attract well-stocked halls. We’ll see how it turns out, but I’m not afraid of it.

Van Hove and ITA have been thinking for some time about playing in the open-air theater to reach a wider audience. But there is also another reason to embark on this adventure. Van Hove: ‘The great thing about playing in the open air is that you have to let the surroundings become a big part of the set. If you accept where you are, in this case a beautiful forest, then the location has an enormous added value.

Maria Kraakman during the rehearsals of 'The Damned' in Amsterdam Bostheater.  Pauline Statue Intet

Maria Kraakman during the rehearsals of ‘The Damned’ in Amsterdam Bostheater.Pauline Statue Intet

The damned is made from exactly the same concept as the one in Avignon. Comédie Française is the co-producer and provided the scenery and set. Van Hove’s permanent creative team is also involved again: Jan Versweyveld (scenography), An D’Huys (costumes) and Tal Yarden (video) and Eric Sleichim (music and sound design). Is it still an artistic challenge for an instructor to rework something that has already been made?

Van Hove: ‘I love recording the show again, this time with my own actors, and it’s wonderful to hear that music again. But we also do it because The damned has become even more meaningful six years after the premiere. Visconti touched on something in his film that is still relevant today. An influential industrial family forms an alliance with a right-wing extremist regime solely of economic interests. That is what is happening all over the world now, also with the war in Ukraine. We worry about gas, grain and oil while a terrible war continues. It is about a form of political extremism and its danger that everyone recognizes. ”

Van Hove has already made remakes of his own performances before, such as View from the bridgeHedda Gabler and recently The human voice in London. He does this only for performances that he and his partner Jan Versweyveld like and that are still important. Van Hove: ‘As far as it is concerned, The damned an evergreen that you can still play in ten years. ‘

Director Ivo van Hove during a rehearsal of 'The Damned' at the Amsterdam Bostheater.  Pauline Statue Intet

Director Ivo van Hove during a rehearsal of ‘The Damned’ at the Amsterdam Bostheater.Pauline Statue Intet

It was a surprise to him that Van Hove was asked to be a guest instructor by Comédie Française at the time. In fact, he did not want to work there at all, because of the old-fashioned, let’s say old-fashioned image of this Parisian company that mainly plays French classics. When it turned out to be Avignon, he cracked. That is certainly what every director wants at least once in his life: to create a performance for the honor of the Pope’s Palace in Avignon. Moreover, he was given free hands to choose a piece, and that was it The damned† A film adaptation, something completely new for the comedy. Which, according to Van Hove, was also a miracle: The classically trained French actors went all the way in this uncertain adventure.

Van Hove: ‘The first practice days I only worked on entrances and exits, sat in front of the mirror and put on the costume. I wanted to show that my way of working is more performance art than acting. After three days, one of the best actors came up to me and said, ‘Ivo, we’ll have to wait so long for this.’ Then it ran flawlessly ‘.

Comédie Française is now a co-producer of Amsterdamse The damned and all cooperation is delivered from Paris. For ITA actors, Van Hove’s approach is a piece of cake, and they found it very interesting to take the step outside. But yes: the weather, the rain, the wind. Van Hove shows a photo on his phone of drowned actors in plastic ponchos; yesterday it rained all day during the rehearsals.

The area around the theater now resembles a nomadic village. Port cabins everywhere, containers with the players’ names on them, mobile changing rooms, storage areas, hairdressing and make-up salons, clothes racks. Meals are served in Het Boshuis, the kitchen furniture is taken from the theater, including chef Ingrid. Between rehearsals, it abounds with actors, musicians, extras, cameramen, children, technicians and production assistants. Actress Janni Goslinga walks back and forth in a bathrobe, Hans Kesting visits the reporter. ‘I’ve never seen a show here in my life. Usually they play something comical, right? Exciting how this will fall. ‘

Staying upright in all possible weather conditions will be the main task for the production staff in the coming weeks. Michiel van Schijndel and Inge Zeilinga are responsible for this. Before starting this job, they were given a tour of the Amsterdam Bostheater. It has nourished the excitement.

Van Schijndel: ‘In Avignon the sun shines all day and it is still 30 degrees in the evening, in Holland it is completely different. Here we are dealing with all kinds of weather conditions, and everything must be waterproof. We work with many cameras and sensitive light and transmitting equipment. The cameras now have a fixed umbrella over them, and there are umbrellas for the musicians. ‘

Rehearsal of 'The Damned' by ITA in Amsterdam Bostheater.  Pauline Statue Intet

Rehearsal of ‘The Damned’ by ITA in Amsterdam Bostheater.Pauline Statue Intet

Zeilinga: ‘We are used to the luxury of the theater. But of course we often go out with the whole ITA circus, also abroad. That’s how we were already with The Fountainhead and The things that go by outdoors in Avignon. Yesterday we had a heavy downpour and we just needed it to gain experience and to be able to take action. The sound engineer was glad the transmitters were still working. This production means more than just packing, unpacking and setting up. ‘

Van Schijndel: ‘Before we started practicing here, the concrete floor was removed and then put as close as possible again so we could then lay our orange tile floor on top. It has to be straight, otherwise someone can just make a tummy tuck. ‘

Then there is always a circumstance in Amsterdamse Bos that no director or producer can do anything about: the deafening noise of low-flying aircraft. Van Schijndel: ‘The good news is that there is The damned English subtitles. ‘

More good news: Now that a prestigious company like ITA is settling in Amsterdamse Bos this summer, the rather uncomfortable benches that the public would normally have to sit on one evening have finally been addressed. All seats in the grandstand now have comfortable wooden backrests.

The damned of the International Theater Amsterdam can be seen from 15/6 to 23/7 in the Amsterdam Bostheater; the premiere is on 18/6.

Ingejan Ligthart Schenk

‘Amsterdamse Bostheater: the glorious center of summer’, is the slogan with which the open-air theater presents itself. Ingejan Ligthart Schenk has been the artistic director of the theater there since 2011, which can accommodate 1,500 people per. evening. †The damned is one of the largest productions we have programmed in our theater to date. And actually with a pretty heavy content. But I am a supporter of radical programming, and I am proud that this performance can now be seen in Amsterdam after Avignon, Paris, London and New York. We strive for a high quality theater for the widest possible audience, and I believe that one should not underestimate that audience in advance. The performance is therefore a little different from the light-hearted summer comedies that we are traditionally associated with. Benefit for the audience: The price of our tickets, 21 euros, has not increased, now that ITA is here with an internationally recognized and award-winning performance. ‘

The underground

Except for the show The damned a theater performance by one of our major theater companies can be seen in the Bostheater this summer: The underground by Nite from Groningen, directed by Guy Weizman. Youth theater is there from Meneer Monster with the Wild West production Lucky Luke and Bonte Honden with save the world† The concert program includes performances by the French singer Barbara Pravi (known from the Eurovision Song Contest 2021 with the song Voila† At the Boslab Theater Festival, a number of young, new theater makers will present themselves to the public in August.

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