World Theatre Day: An introduction to Dutch theatre

World Theatre Day was launched in 1961 by the International Theatre Institute and is celebrated annually on March 27 all over the world.

For the World Theatre Day 50th Anniversary, the IamExpat Team asked Rob van der Zalm, theatre history specialist (Dutch Theatre Institute), to make a brief introduction to Dutch theatre.

What is the most important part of the history of Dutch theatre?
The first thing which comes to my mind is the big change / revolution in 1969 when Shakespeare's "Tempest" in Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam was followed by tomatoes instead of applause.

After three "critical" months, young theatre makers started creating small companies and making their own productions and since then, the Dutch theatre exploded; in a few years time, more than 40 small companies had replaced the few big ones.

The same applies nowadays?
Yes, and that is another factor that distinguishes Dutch theatre; it is all about small companies having their own performances and choosing alternative places, not just big theatres.

Photo by Jan Versweyveld Jan Versweyveld

In Dutch theatre it is all mixed up. There are no strict boundaries: movement theatre, a combination of theatre and architecture or even "site-specific" theatre, which takes place at factories, churches, sheep yards… where environment / surroundings actually strengthen the play.

How many actors are here in the Netherlands?
Oh, I do not know! There are four acting schools in the Netherlands and we are still complaining that there are too many actors that might not be able to work enough...

All acting schools have their own signature. For example, in Arnhem they teach how to make your own company and performances, not how to be a classical actor. On the other side of the spectrum, in Maastricht once can learn how to act for the big theatres.

There is also a school in Utrecht specialising (among others) on movement theatre and theatre making, while the biggest acting school is in Amsterdam, where one can become a director.

Are there many performances in English?
No, most of the time, dramatic theatre in the Netherlands is in Dutch. However, we have De Nederlandse Opera, Nederlands Dans Theater and Dutch National Ballet, which are quite famous, while more and more theatres are introducing English subtitles.

Nevertheless, in modern Dutch theatre, text has become less important; it is more about stage image, video and sound. Therefore, even if you do not speak Dutch, you can still have an interesting evening.

Anita Kalmane


Anita Kalmane

Freelance journalist. Former Lifestyle Editor of IamExpat.

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