Focus Gerardjan Rijnders (Eng.)

Kaaitheater bulletin Nov 2001English

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Mind the Gap will have its opening performance on 7 November 2001. The Kaaitheater commissioned Stefan Hertmans to write the play and Gerardjan Rijnders to direct it. Marianne Van Kerkhoven describes the work of Rijnders, who is undoubtedly one of the most important directors and playwrights of the last 25 years. On 2 March his staging of Macbeth will be performed by the Toneelgroep Amsterdam.


The only certainty is uncertainty Love?

/ you mean care for the dying./ nothing more./ from the moment that we are cast forth from our mother’s hole/ and begin to decay/ as we search for our father’s hole,/ we are involved in care for the dying. (...) we stick our cock into something,/ in the illusion that this will somehow bring time to a standstill,/ but then in our moments of quiet,/ we hear our cancerous growths/ slowly growing and we continue/ our chatter./ we compete in cynicism,/ because we are too cowardly to shout/ for help.

(Gerardjan Rijnders, eczeem, 1982)


The road travelled

Early in the eighties, many theatre lovers would often travel to Eindhoven, which is where Zuidelijk Toneel Globe was based, or to Turnhout, where it was often a guest in De Warande; each time we were both curious and fascinated; what we saw was repertory theatre, theatre on a large-scale such as we had never seen before. The leader and director of Globe was Gerardjan Rijnders. It is not easy to describe the importance of the Dutch play-maker Gerardjan Rijnders in a short text. Not only has he completed innumerable projects since he became active early in the seventies, but besides being a director, he is also an actor and writer who, as a theatre director (of Globe and later of Toneelgroep Amsterdam) has created structures in which creative work (his own and others’) has been able to flourish. However, one could say that the greatest and most innovative part of his work has always consisted of ‘breaking open’ old repertory theatre, so that modern life could start flooding in.
It was realised earlier in the Netherlands than in Flanders that the new theatre developments taking place on the fringes in the eighties needed to find their way to a larger scale and ‘assail’ the sclerotic repertory theatre of the day. Having performed this work for eight seasons in the medium-sized Globe theatre, Gerardjan Rijnders took on a new challenge in 1987. At that time the Dutch theatre world was undergoing radical restructuring; actors with extremely diverse backgrounds (Werkteater, Publiekstheater, Centrum, Globe, etc) were brought together in what was to become the most important and well-subsidised repertory company in the Netherlands: Toneelgroep Amsterdam (TGA). Gerardjan Rijnders was appointed artistic director and chose the following as its motto: ‘The only certainty is uncertainty’. Over a period of thirteen and a half years, with creative contributions from a series of guest directors and the company, he ensured that large-scale theatre was not afraid to take artistic risks. The Flemish Ivo van Hove has been head of TGA since 1 January this year. Gerardjan Rijnders will continue to direct plays there and will now be able to focus wholly on his artistic work.

You have no heart, you have a mass-grave./ Your thoughts a focus of infection./ You don’t just look./ Everything you see/becomes pulverized/ crushed/ Your eyes are your intestines./You are as trustworthy as Aids.

(Gerardjan Rijnders, Ballet, 1989)



Acting and directing

During the eighties there was a shift of emphasis in acting – in both the Netherlands and Flanders – from characters constructed on the basis of technique to a non-pretending performance based on the personality of the actor, a ‘being’ in the presence of the audience. In both his directing and acting, Gerardjan Rijnders is one of the protagonists/advocates of this approach, which at the time was quite new and was explored even further in TGA’s work.
Gerardjan Rijnders does not see a director as someone who dominates and controls the entire creative process on the basis of a preconceived idea: he enjoys looking at an empty stage and patiently watching suggestions put forward by the actors. Some actors refer to him as the ‘master anticipator’. In the notebook which he constantly carried around with him during performances of Liefhebber, actor Fred Goessens wrote, ‘Amsterdam 1999. G.J. offered a piece of directing advice. It was out before he realised it.’ In Gerardjan Rijnders’ theatre, the actors are regarded as responsible, independent theatre makers who are able to offer lots of creative ideas. Rijnders is a director who more than anything else listens to his material: ‘... the play or the project dictates how I direct.’ The working process leads to the discovery of a consensus among the actors with regard to the way in which something must be acted. From the start of his work in the theatre, Gerardjan Rijnders has battled against a persistent realism-naturalism that continued to survive in major theatrical institutions at that time. In 1986 he wrote to the critic Jac Heijer in the NRC-Handelsblad newspaper: ‘The paradox of acting is namely this: credibility has nothing to do with reality. Even if you imitate on stage people who really exist, they will always remain types, whereas artificial solutions often suggest the greatest degree of realism.’ Consequently, in his work he often resorts to this ‘artificial’ abstracting form: the text must be ‘spoken’, free from any psychological-realistic interpretation; the timing, the music of the words is more important than the meaning; movements can become abstract poses; in Andromache by Racine (TGA 1990 – 1991 season ) he started to explore the rhetorical style (cf. his other productions of work by Racine and Corneille) in language and sign. ‘Imitation of reality’ is not something that Gerardjan Rijnders is familiar with. Instead, in his performances he always chooses ambiguity, polyphony, multilingualism, simultaneity, contradiction, complexity, etc.

I go outside and everything falls, crashes, ignites, is deported. This never happens, it is something you never see, but I see it. Of course people are afraid of their centre, their truth, but it is only the people who are on top of it, on top of that centre, on top of that truth, whom you discover experiencing this fear.

(Gerardjan Rijnders, Count your blessings, 1993)



Despite the fact that Gerardjan Rijnders uses every possible means, which are a part of every possible discipline available to him in his performances, his own medium continues to be: the world of words, the universe of texts. In addition to work that is obviously classical (Shakespeare, Euripides, Chekhov, Kleist, Racine, , etc.), from which he, as a director, removes their ‘eternal value’ and opens them up to our modern age, he has made a great deal of room within the TGA for work that is unknown or rarely staged (cf. Barnes’ Beurtzang by Djuna Barnes) and for new Dutch-language texts: Herzberg, Komrij, van Woensel... and now also Stefan Hertmans with Mind the gap.
A separate category however, is formed by his own texts, which often come into being on the basis of a collection of actors’ improvisations of material (cf. the trilogy Silicone, Pick-up, Tulpen Vulpen and ‘major collage performances’ such as Ballet, Count your blessings, etc.). However, it is especially in large collage projects (in which text material from different sources is often brought together), that Rijnders shows himself to be an absolute master in composing performances with large numbers of characters.
The theme of ‘the theatre’ is often present in his work (Liefhebber, Hedda Hedda, Stalker...) and is often criticised. Liefhebber: ‘Everywhere/ behind every brick/ under every stone in the street/ life is rampant/ but not on stage.’ Rijnders likes to provoke and is always very successful at it. Consequently he is often accused of being cynical. Chris Keulemans describes the atmosphere of Rijnders’ texts more accurately as a ‘post-moral chilliness’: ‘ It is precisely on the dead spot, where most human relationships appear to have become so empty and pale that there is hardly any relationship to speak of, that Rijnders brings his characters together. And sets them in motion.’ Rijnders continues to show an interest in human behaviour, also that of people who are washed out, who have become alienated from one another and who no longer understand themselves and the world. TGA-actress Lineke Rijxman says, ‘This is precisely what the despair and hope in his work is all about: that you fail yet again and that, god damn it, at some stage success must surely come your way and that in spite of everything and maybe against your own better judgement you don’t give up and continue to search for it.


There was a time when people talked to one another/Without realising it/ Of course they knew about it/ But never actually thought about it/ They didn’t think about anything/ They talked/ That was a happy time/

(Gerardjan Rijnders, Stalker, 2000)




(translated by Gregory Ball)