Blaise van de Griend

Jan Zoet: ‘An unexpected and overwhelming farewell’

On 14 May, more than 600 visitors had an unforgettable evening during one of the so-called Fieldlabs as the Residentie Orkest performed in the Zuiderstrandtheater. As Director Jan Zoet says, ‘The long and heart-warming applause told many stories.’

‘The Zuiderstrandtheater has been closed for five long months now. Since 12 March 2020, the friendly theatre by the sea was unable to host full-capacity audiences. During the past ‘COVID year’, some performances and business events could be streamed and seen online, but the theatre was only allowed to welcome visitors during short periods, with strict protocols in place such as the 1.5-metre social distancing, or even with visitor numbers restricted to 30 people without hospitality services. From December the doors remained closed, and no matter how understandable, it still hurts. 

Especially as society is slowly but surely opening up again and people are once more allowed into shops and parks and to enjoy themselves on outdoor terraces, but cultural venues need to remain shut -- even though people are craving inspiration, experiences, and a sense of meaning. And let’s not forget the many people working in this sector who have been without a decent income for months. Last year, after the first lockdown, the sector proved that they could safely receive visitors by implementing carefully established protocols, even in situations of higher infection rates. It was also researched scientifically, through the Fieldlab test activities, to see whether the cultural sector could open up safely again. One of these Fieldlab events took place in the Zuiderstrandtheater last week.

Zuiderstrandtheater (c) Marleen Reijnen

On 14 May, more than 600 people had an unforgettable evening as the Residentie Orkest, conducted by Richard Eggar, performed Monteverdi, Mozart and Tchaikovsky, with a euphoric Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as the grand finale. It seemed to pound on the doors of the Dutch government cabinet, as an ardent plea to open up cultural venues again. So that the audience and artists can once again be in the same space when a composition is performed live and anything can happen. After all, this is the secret of live performing arts. Sven Arne Tepl, General and Creative Director of the Residentie Orkest, described the evening as a magical moment of togetherness, where musicians and the audience performed the works together.

The long and heart-warming applause that followed told many stories. Stories of relief about the impending end of the pandemic, although some people expressed their doubts about this being true. Stories of joy about the intense sensation of experiencing a music concert live in the company of like-minded people. And stories of melancholy as many visitors realised that this would be the final performance in the main auditorium of their much-loved Zuiderstrandtheater.

Celebrating Music! (c) Marleen Reijnen

Aptly titled Celebrating Music!, this evening also became the unexpected farewell to our wilful, unique, and beloved theatre of concrete, on the Zuiderstrand beach. When the theatre was built seven years ago, many people doubted that the audience would find their way to this remote corner of The Hague. Well, they were proven wrong – the Zuiderstrandtheater became a resounding success. The performances and concerts of our in-house artists and musicians never saw this many visitors, allowing the theatre to put together a wonderful programme catering for a wide range of audiences, and a welcome addition to other music, dance, cabaret, musical and musical theatre performances in the city. Surely, we all remember the sold-out evenings with Sander van den Pavert or the in-house productions telling stories about Scheveningen with Kwekers in de Kunst and Loes Luca? In 2018, we were even named the most hospitable theatre in the Netherlands.

It makes it even more painful that, in a year that should have marked a joyful farewell to this remarkable theatre, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. And now that society is slowly opening up again, it is too late for us. The theatre closes its doors in June, after which the building will be demolished to make room for the growing residential area. Until a year ago, upon entering the car park behind the theatre, the Zuiderstrandtheater appeared between the dunes wonderfully illuminated like a lighthouse of culture. Today, you are welcomed by construction sites where new apartment buildings are arising and you don't even notice the theatre until you’re right in front of it. 

As soon as we're allowed to do so in June, we will open our doors for just a few more days for a proper goodbye. There will be wistful performances in different locations within the building – while still maintaining the social distancing guidelines and with everyone's safety at heart. We just want to enjoy a bit more time together with our audience, our team, and the artists who left their mark here. Certainly, it saddens us but we also feel fortunate, for ourselves and The Hague, knowing that we will meet again in the new Amare theatre. For in this wonderful new building, unparalleled in the Netherlands, it will again be all about great hospitality and the shared experience of music and dance.’

Jan Zoet
Director Zuiderstrandtheater, soon-to-be Amare