Guy Voets

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My first recollection about theatre is from the Youth Theatre, where we went from time to time with my primary school. I remember a play with Captain Hook and his pirates... That must have been Peter Pan by James Barrie. Then there was Servant to Two Masters by Goldoni, played by students of Studio Herman Teirlinck, the now defunct drama school in Antwerp. My father taught theatre history there.

When I lived in Ghent, I attended many films in a trendy movie house, Cinema Scoop. My opinion in those days about theatre was that it focuses too much on details and blows them up to giant proportions, while film is better suited to present life as it is (or isn't).

This vision on both arts changed when I came back to Antwerp and started to work at a theatre. I understood that while picking out a particular scene between a few people, a play can say much more about human or social issues. I started to like the theatre more, certainly when in movie houses you get inundated by this flood of superficial, stupid and violent American films.

In 1983 I started working in Raamtheater, not on or behind the stage, but at the bar. It began with one or two nights a week, but the next year I already had a half-time job, and when the guy quit that was responsible for the catering, I jumped at the opportunity. The theatre was very successful at that time, and I had a team of 15-20 job students to help me serving drinks, and at first nights also some appropriate snacks, for the audience at the two venues of the theatre. Many of these students stayed for several years, some of them were from Studio Herman Teirlinck, and are now BV's, famous Flemish personalities...

Because I not only went to see most of the productions that were staged by and at Raamtheater, but also in other theatres in Antwerp and Brussels, I became more and more involved with this art. I started out at dramaturgy, doing research about the playwrights, writing texts about the plays, assembling preparation material for schools, editing the publications of the theatre.

I found immense satisfaction in translating a few theatre plays: 'Things we do for Love' (Alan Ayckbourn), 'The Duck Variations' (David Mamet) and 'Collected Stories' (Donald Margulies). I made the latter translation while traveling on my own. I didn't have a dictionary with me, but it turned out that the calmness of my holiday surroundings inspired me to find the right words...

As David Mamet wrote, a theatre company only lasts about ten years. After that the people get bored with each other and their initial project, the public moves on to other places, etc. Raamtheater continued to exist, but the drive was lost somewhere, Walter Tillemans, the charismatic director, retired and the new one missed the 'envergure' to replace him, the quality of the productions went down, as did the size of the audience and of the subsidies. The working conditions worsened and finally it wasn't any fun anymore. Both venues of this theatre were then animated by BAFF, a new company directed by Tom Van Bauwel, that only lasted a few years. Now, one venue is used by Tutti Fratelli, another social-artistic troupe, led by Reinhilde Decleir (sister of Jan Decleir, the world famous actor).

Fortunately I got salvaged... at the ripe old age of 56, I started working as co-ordinator at a social-artistic or community theatre in a less well-to-do part of Antwerp. At Sering, founded in 1995 by actress Mia Grijp and musician Ivo Vander Borght, a  team of professional actors and theatre makers works with people at the margin of society, young and old, new-comers and people in trouble, who are almost 'falling out of the boat'. Creating together on stage helps them to claim their place in society. Sering is now going international, dreaming of making a virtual school through internet to link up with similar initiatives in other continents. With the staging of the first project, Pépé's Island, a co-operation with Peru and South Africa, part of this dream has already come true.

Dropping government funds meant that Sering had to drop me... I'm now virtually retired. Sering, Zuiderpershuis and other multicultural houses are again threatened with closure as the Flemish government announces more cuts. It is a distressing downward spiral!

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