Bas Schoonderwoerd (67) was a theater director for 41 years, and he still doesn’t really want to say goodbye


Bas Schoonderwoerd in the main hall in Heerlen.Sculpture Sas Schilten

‘With few tickets left, a performance in a beautiful dance and ballet tradition, a The Nutcracker this time, “with my last full house”, I changed my mind on the 23rd day of my last month of 15 thousand days of theater directorship”. This is how Bas Schoonderwoerd (67) notes on Facebook on December 23. He has been counting down the whole of December month.Every day he posted a message about what he was doing and what he was thinking.

It ended on December 31, the day he finally retired. This also ended the career of the longest serving theater director in the Netherlands. One of the best and ubiquitous if his colleagues are to be believed. Schoonderwoerd spent 28 of those 41 years in South Limburg. There he was the day-to-day manager of Parkstad Limburg Theaters (PLT), theater halls in Heerlen and Kerkrade, until three days ago.

He started his career in Schouwburg Gouda and then became director of Schouwburg Cuijk, Theater Agnietenhof Tiel and Parkstad Limburg Theaters (PLT). He considers the merger in 1998 of the theaters in Kerkrade and Heerlen into PLT to be his most important achievement. The theater in Kerkrade was a little slack, but after the merger the number of visitors quadrupled and structurally increased by 100 thousand for the two theaters together: PTL now counts between 250 and 300 thousand visitors a year. Together, the theaters have five auditoriums, ranging from 148 to 1,103 seats. There are 135 permanent employees, including eight programmers.

Theaters have different seats than cinemas, says Schoonderwoerd. He explains: ‘Cinemas have an armchair, theaters have an active chair. In a cinema you sit back, in the theater you sit upright, you have to keep at it, participate’. In his career, he has always tried to take his audience by the hand. ‘Why the hell are you going to Heerlen, there is no culture there’, colleagues said when he moved from Tiel to Limburg. Heerlen and Kerkrade were not exactly cultural hotspots at the time, but Schoonderwoerd and his team have boosted cultural life.

Cultural spring

Vibration in the city, it’s important. With dance festivals such as Schrittmacher and Euregio Dans, the summer festival Cultura Nova, the Orlando Festival for chamber music, by having large orchestras such as the Philharmonie Zuid play in Heerlen, and by co-producing performances such as Pinkpop and Emma (about the history of mines), together with Cultura Nova and Toneelgroep Maastricht.

Schoonderwoerd: ‘Cities exist by virtue of shared histories. In the sixties, Heerlen built the biggest stage in the Netherlands with ditto programming. Afterwards, the mine closure proved to be the cause of much misery. At the turn of the century, our cities recognized that rebuilding begins with ‘what and who we are’. Above all, it is our shared culture. It created a remarkable cultural spring here, where we worked on a confident, prouder and, above all, more robust community.’

Schoonderwoerd is not a theater director who chooses performances from the assortment from his office and thus puts his season neatly together. He is a welcome guest at premieres, frequently talks to theater producers and companies about their plans, knows what is going on in the field and in politics and has set up a number of festivals, collaborations and special theater productions. Don’t come to him with the “something for everyone” formula used in many theaters (lots of cabarets, musicals, popular shows and entertainment, some theater and dance). He prefers adventure. He firmly believes in creating a connection between the theater offer, the theaters themselves and the audience.

Bas Schoonderwoerd: 'I have had times when I shook hands with all the dancers from NDT.'  Sculpture Sas Schilten

Bas Schoonderwoerd: ‘I have had times when I shook hands with all the dancers from NDT.’Sculpture Sas Schilten

‘I am glad that I attended a lecture six months ago August Oklahoma by Toneelgroep Maastricht. That play can be seen with us in 2023. That way, I know in advance what the audience can expect and how we can convey this. I also think it is interesting now to know what a company like Het Nationale Teater intends to do in three years’ time.’

Guest in own theatre

Actors and artists often claim that the hospitality of Dutch theaters leaves much to be desired. There are countless stories of artists being let in by the technician on duty when they arrive and can get a cup of coffee from the machine. “I don’t know if that’s true, but it seems a little exaggerated to me,” says Schoonderwoerd. “In any case, we strive for the human dimension here. There have been times when I shook hands with all the NDT dancers to make them feel welcome. Of course, I couldn’t be there every evening, but there were always colleagues who ensured a good reception, because that’s important.’

On 31 December at At 18:17 Bas Schoonderwoerd posted his last message as director on Facebook. In it, he warmly welcomes his successor, Janine Dijkmeijer (until last year general director of the Nederlands Danstheater), in the full conviction that the theater in South Limburg has a bright future ahead of it. From now on, Bas Schoonderwoerd will be a guest in his own theatre.

A farewell evening will be arranged for him on 16 January. ‘Am I looking forward to it? No not yet. Am I glad it’s all over? No, definitely not. I was allowed to fill this role here at an important crossroads in time. I will gladly accept praise on behalf of the whole team, and at the end of the evening I will bow deeply to everyone who will.’

Networks

Bas Schoonderwoerd has achieved a lot thanks to his vast network. When he was theater director in Cuijk, he managed to generate an amount of 8 million for the renovation of the local theater through his contacts with the then Queen’s Commissioner Dries van Agt and Minister of Culture Eelco Brinkman. Not everything works, but it is now the case that more than half of the inhabitants of Heerlen and Kerkrade say they visit the Parkstad Limburg Theaters every year.

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