Monday, September 3, 2012

Theaterfestival de Boulevard, 2012

This year I revisited Theaterfestival de Boulevard in my home town. This year's motto was "LIFE IS WONDERFUL". I can certainly get behind that.

I don't visit it every year, although I do visit it most years (if that makes sense). Originally it was called "Boulevard of Broken Dreams": a theatre festival with all different kinds of acts and shows. In those days it was -- if I remember correctly -- only on De Parade (the square opposite the medieval gothic church St. Jan: see also my picture above). Nowadays, it's spread out all over Den Bosch in several locations: there was even a free bus taking visitors from De Parade to the other venues.

The main reason I felt it was 'special' this year was because my story "Solitude, Quietude, Vastitude" had just been published by Specutopia (Theaterfestival de Boulevard was from August 2 - 12, Specutopia's first issue was published July 1). This story takes place at Theaterfestival de Boulevard (albeit a very fictional one) and -- even more coincidentally -- this year's motto (Life is Wonderful) links, both laterally and directly -- to my story. One of the underlying themes (of my story) being that the unnamed female protagonist visits the festival in order to (temporarily) forget her problems -- only to find that they come back in twisted forms -- and that she can only make her life wonderful if she moves forward.

The story is based on the 'old' festival, when all performances took place on De Parade and the performances depicted therein were quite a bit more fanciful than the ones I witnessed this year. More about those in a few seconds.

What struck me this year was that indeed almost all the performances took place somewhere else, and that De Parade was reduced mainly to the central location where all kinds of food (five different food stalls: some close to actual restaurants) and drinks (several bars, terraces and even a wine bar, although the selection overall was a bit poor) could be had: one could go there, stay all night, and not see a single act (but have a good time nonetheless). Only on the last weekend there was street theatre, which was nice.

So indeed, the first performance I went to was nearby a local supermarket (C1000). Studio Orka performing "Mister More, Lady Less". This was an almost all ages (7+) show, and I quite liked it as such. It's a high-octane story where two shop detectives -- initially disguised as Mexicans promoting a trip to Mexico -- have to find the 'coupon thief' who is stealing coupons in order to gain that trip to Mexico. It was fun: the actors are Belgian, and to a lot of Dutchmen the Belgian version of Dutch sounds charming, funny and endearing. For another, they interacted well with the audience, and especially the kids were drawn well into the story. Only disadvantage that it was rather hot in the cabin where we were eventually led in, but apart from that I had a good time.

The next performance was "Suit", in de Muzerije/Fontys Theater. This was a mixed musical/theatre performance (for what *that* is worth, nowadays). It did include a support act, which was a band playing a kind of pop music that wasn't really to my taste. Nothing against the support act: their music just wasn't for me.

Then, after a pause, came "Suit": the performers (your basic drums-bass-guitar-singer foursome) dressed up in a body-covering 'suit', complemented by two women--also in body-covering suits, and both enclosed in a glass enclosure on either side of the stage. Before each song, a kind of 'explanation/declaration' about:

  • the state of the current music industry(*);
  • the intent of the play(*);
  • a semi-intellectual statement to add depth(*);
was displayed on the video screen in the back (*) = take your pick).

It was interesting, but -- for my money -- lacked something. It could either have nailed the lack of true originality in pop music much harder, but then the band needed to be of a higher calibre (OK: this is not fair, but I imagine a band like, say, Tool, doing this: they would have driven the point home so far it hurt, and Tool also like the combination between visual and aural arts).

As it is, if you wish to parody the music you love, you need to be about as good as the bands you satirise. See: Spinal Tap, Zimmer's Hole and even Rush (who are increasingly parodising themselves: during the last tour, while playing their perennial favourite "Tom Sawyer", on the video screens were Alex Lifeson playing bass, Neil Peart playing guitar and Geddy Lee playing drums, and each of them looking like: 'how the hell am I supposed to do this').

Hendrik (by Studio Gebroed)was the act that had, I think, the most remote location: at Fort Crevecoeur, a small military base very close to the similarly-named drainage sluice (lock weir?).[Note: compare LoTR and John Carter as regards the taking over of command.)

Even if Fredrik Hendrik's accent felt a bit unconvincing to me (who knows: he really might have had such an accent. But somehow I doubt it), more troublesome was his transformation from Mama's boy to inspiring commander. The whole performance hinged on that transformation: initially Frederik Hendrik lives in the shadow of his big half-brother Maurits and under his French mother's excessive care, but gradually develops to a competent leader mastering the siege and conquest of Den Bosch. I just didn't buy it.

By way of comparison, I had a similar problem with the third part of The Lord of Rings movies (The Return of the King) when Aragorn had to take over command (after Théoden died) and inspire his troops to march to Mordor. It's supposed to be a stirring speech but to me it fell rather flat. Conversely, when John Carter--in the same titled movie--defeats a pair of white apes in an arena, challenges and defeats Tal Hajus and then, with a rousing speech, compels the Tharks to march to Helium: well I thought that worked wonders. Difference of day and night.

Your Mileage May Vary (quite a bit).

On the last weekend there were street performers on de Parade: this was good, as it brought some action to the square had mostly been turned into a food & drinks plaza. Wish it had been like that all fortnight.

All in all it was good: good to see some acts, good to see old friends and make a few new friends. Yet it seemed to miss the spunk it had a few decades ago: I'm getting old.