On 8 February 2021, Shakespeare is dead, but here we are took place. The kick-off event of Shakespeare is dead, the very first festival in the Dutch language area that focuses on the art of playwriting, has now also been converted into a podcast which can be listened to via Soundcloud.
Normally, the Shakespeare Is Dead playwriting festival should have taken place in Leuven in the same month as the kick-off event. Unfortunately, due to corona, these plans could not take place. As an alternative, Theater Bellevue, Het nieuwstedelijk, Toneelschrijfhuis and deBuren joined forces and organised an online meeting to take a closer look at the state of playwriting in Flanders and the Netherlands. Both Flemish and Dutch playwrights and theatre makers, including Stijn Devillé (Het nieuwstedelijk), Martine Manten (Toneelschrijfhuis) and Lot Vekemans, were brought together for a meeting, exchange and reflection. 112 interested people joined them live via zoom.
What is the playwright's responsibility? Should writers adapt to the changing landscape or should others? And what about the relationship between writers and makers? These are just some of the questions that were discussed during the online event. Vekemans said that if we compare the situation in the Dutch language area with that in our neighbouring countries, it is striking that playwrights in Germany have much more autonomy and a larger market than they have in Flanders or the Netherlands. The playwright also has a significantly higher status there. This is also the case in the United Kingdom, according to Vekemans. Playwrights are held in high esteem there and therefore have more say in the creative process. In general, Vekemans, Devillé and Manten therefore agree that a higher status in the Netherlands and Flanders would benefit the playwright and the cooperation between authors and makers. However, there are also many differences between Flanders and the Netherlands when it comes to playwriting. For example, the speakers said that in Flanders, playwrights are virtually obliged to perform as theatre makers as well, because otherwise it is very difficult for them to get their texts on a stage. So, most writers in Flanders are also directors. This is less the case in the Netherlands. Moreover, young playwrights receive more guidance there than in Flanders.
So, how can things be improved? First of all, Devillé, Manten and Vekemans argued, there needs to be thorough investment in the relationship between playwrights and producers and both parties need to adapt to each other's needs and expectations. Also, a stronger framework needs to be created within which playwrights and directors can meet each other regularly. After all, it is important that playwrights know more makers and vice versa. In this way, the connection between creators and writers is facilitated and the relationship between the two parties can be improved. Moreover, according to the speakers, especially in Flanders, there should be more support for young authors and more initiatives are needed that create a safe place for young artists to write theatre. Finally, the importance of making agreements was also emphasised in the online meeting. In order to achieve a fruitful collaboration, creators and writers must communicate clearly about their expectations and agree on what each one's responsibilities are. Vekemans said, for example, that theatre writers sometimes think they are made of glass and therefore suffer from 'glass delusion'. But according to her, this does not have to be the case. She believes that writers should not act according to their vulnerability and should sometimes stand their ground a bit more.
This discussion was supplemented by personal statements by playwrights Edna Azulay and Dounia Mahammed and dramatist Peter Anthonissen about playwriting today. The statements were then further discussed in several break-out rooms, where there was a conversation about how the beauty of playwriting lies in showing your most vulnerable self as an author. There was also a reflection on the essence of theatre texts and how writing comes down to helping people, who cannot easily find the words themselves, in finding the words. The full statements by Azulay, Mahammed and Anthonissen can be found at www.shakespeareisdead.be.
You can (re)listen to the entire conversation with Stijn Devillé, Martine Manten and Lot Vekemans on playwriting initiatives in Flanders and the Netherlands and to the impressive statements by Azulay, Mahammed and Anthonissen at https://soundcloud.com/deburen-eu/shakespeare-is-dead-but-here-we-are-gesprek-over-toneelschrijven-2021.
Shakespeare is dead, but here we are was an initiative of deBuren, Theater Bellevue, Het nieuwstedelijk and Toneelschrijfhuis.