I have just returned from Oerol, a theatre festival on the Frisian island of Terschelling in the north of the Netherlands. For 35 years Oerol has been a haven for theatre producers, landscape artists and multidisciplinary artists who use the versatile island landscape as a stage. The setting makes it unique in Europe. The exclusiveness of nature and culture are the main focus points of the festival; the beaches, dunes, heather, woodlands, dikes and villages are sources of inspiration, and are used as platforms for site-specific performance and art.
As a location theatre festival, Oerol is on the line that separates culture and nature, using nature as a layer of imagination over the landscape.
Marcel Proust said, ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.’ Oerol really does take the environment seriously as a stage with the location emphasising spatial identity even more. The festival directors feel this has to act as a response to social changes and globalisation more broadly, as whilst everyone is trying to find their place in the world, our environment has to play a part in it.
My work with LikeMinds, an Amsterdam based theatre organisation that provides a platform to develop young talent on a professional stage, is what has led me to Terschelling for the festival. They work very organically with artists to offer them opportunities to develop new work in response to the landscape at Oerol. As well as taking a professional show to the island, they took a group of emerging artists to experience the island as a theatrical space and to respond to it artistically over a weekend.
As a result of the environment everyone could be seen to be asking questions rather than finding answers. No one seemed to know where they were but they knew where they were heading. This enables beautiful stories and inspirational art to be born through the landscape. The festival director describes this as ‘art putting the intervention into perspective, at the same time as the art being the intervention’.
I spent some time thinking about the environment and how this differs from the work of the Albany’s emerging artists. Their work tells its own story in terms of landscape; they feel they have less and less ownership over their identity with place, as artists and as young people, navigating London. They feel boxed in by an educational system that lacks the sort of exploration that could be seen at Oerol, and by the beauracratic boxes they are required to ticket as artists. This in many ways removes the imagination required for incredible art to happen. Oerol looks to free the mind to be able to be able to convey a feeling of freedom, communicated through the landscape. A sense of place to think from within the landscape to be able to see outside it.
I spent my time there thinking about what would happen if I took them to this island and set them free on the landscape? What would they discover and create as a result?
As STEM subjects are pushed and arts subjects cut, giving young people in London a way to explore, discover and create feels more important than ever, especially to those who would normally experience the arts in school but who may now not have that opportunity. Whether or not they want to be professional artists is irrelevant. The question here is how we continue to enable our young people to see the beauty in exploration and discovery and enable them to be creative free spirits?