Boulevard, festival of polyphony

13 August 2022

A conversation about the art of steering and direction is best held at the Coffee Boat in the Zuiderpark. At the table with festival directors Tessa Smeulers and Dana Kibbelaar for a look back and ahead.

You have been the festival directors of Theatre Festival Boulevard since spring 2022. What are the advantages of shared leadership? 
Tessa: "You double your knowledge and expertise. The different perspectives we bring and test them against each other, influence how we look and listen. But the most important thing is that we have an almost natural trust in each other." 
Dana: "Tessa has been associated with this festival since 2009; I am new, although I knew the Boulevard well from my previous work at the Fonds Podiumkunsten. Together we reinforce developments that have been going on for some time. Such as? Increasing the diversity of your organisation and your programming. But also to strengthen accessibility and inclusion. 
Tessa: "With two you also have more attention and care. For makers, for your team, for your guests."

Does that signify new leadership?
Dana: "Yes, although I also understand it to mean that you continue to question each other. How do you see this? Why do you think that? A multi-voiced conversation. Not just with each other, but with the entire festival team. That's how you bring peace and space into your organisation."

From 1985 to 2015, Boulevard had two consecutive male directors. After Viktorien van Hulst [2016-2020] you will take the helm. The past is masculine, the future is female?
Tessa: "I don't know if it's male or female. Since 1985, new generations have emerged. They make themselves heard. They no longer wait for the space to talk, they grab it - and that is a good development.

Another issue. In the Netherlands, the social power of art is underestimated, you say.
Dana: "I found it telling that government leaders did not mention art and culture at the press conferences during the pandemic. Strange, because
the sector did receive support from The Hague. Yet it was mainly about Schiphol Airport, the business community. Our sector is not visible enough. That's what's holding us back. 

When I think of the social power of art, I also think of the alarming research report Atlas of Afgehaakt Nederland [2021]. Many in society
do not feel seen or heard.
Tessa: "The report touches on questions in our own ongoing research. What role do we have in the city? For people with hidden stories? For people who are less visible? But also: what role do we have for makers? The festival is the place for people from small communities to share the living room table with the general public. That too is multi-voicedness. Not that I have any illusions that we will reach the 'disconnected' on a large scale. But we are taking small, irreversible steps. On all levels: in our own organisation and in our programming, such as the football dance project by choreographer Guilherme Miotto
on the Kruiskamp."
Dana: "In 'Afgehaakt Nederland' it seems as if those involved have turned their backs on the established order. But it is just as valid to assume the opposite. In short: who is turning their back on whom? We are talking about large systems that are not easy to change. But I remain optimistic. As Boulevard we also have a social responsibility. And we're taking it.

Another observation: the rejuvenation of Boulevard.
Tessa: "Yes, it's starting to become visible in our organisation. Both in programming and in production and marketing. What is also noticeable is that the younger
What's also noticeable is the younger audience that found its way to Boulevard last year. Our programming certainly plays a role in this. "
Dana: "Themes that touch young people, they see with us - from identity and women's power to love, internet and climate."

Highlight of Boulevard 2022?
Tessa: "The appreciation of the extremes: a neighbourhood project in the Kruiskamp is just as popular and meaningful as a large, international co-production such as A Tale of Two Cities by Ben Duke. Furthermore, the Zuiderpark location fits in with rejuvenation. Space, green, water. It's also a playful place, where you feel free to enjoy yourself on a rug under a tree."
Dana: "I think it's great to see that the Boulevard has an eye for makers and their development. The festival often enters into long-term collaborations with makers - from Berlin and Benjamin Verdonck to Oscar Kocken and Lucas de Waard. Our festival dramaturge Nina Aalders also develops programmes in which local makers work with international choreographers. Mélanie Demers, for example, a choreographer from Canada, worked intensively with four dancers from the Bossche hiphop crew Cypher HQ. Cool."

Text: Eric Alink
Photo: Karin Jonkers

Theaterfestival Boulevard thanks:
  • Gemeente 's-Hertogenbosch
  • Provincie Noord-Brabant
  • Fonds Podiumkunsten
  • Brabant C
  • VSBfonds
  • Fonds21
  • BankGiro Loterij
  • Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
  • Creative Europe Programme (EU)
  • De Versterking
  • Verkadefabriek
  • Theater aan de Parade
  • Apap
  • Performing Gender
  • Feminist Futures