Interview with Geert Kimpen
on 23 September 2012, led by Eva Flory
How has your passion for theatre started?
(Laughs). There are two reasons, both of which go back to an experience from my childhood. When I was a little boy, I visited a children's theatre play with a friend his grandmother. It was called "The Ghost of Canterville". Suddenly it was dark and there was a big bang. I was shocked and thrilled at the same time that you can put all the theatre audience with such effects in such a surprise that I fell in love with theatre. To mention the other reason, I must mention that I was at a boys' school. Theatre was for me as a student then a place where people could come into contact with girls. With this influential theatre visit my passion for theatre has already begun.
You studied theatre direction and with your first novel, "The Kabbalist" a dream come true. What do you currently do for a living?
I spent a long time at the theatre works as a director and playwright. During this time I have also written many plays for children and adults, including texts for television films. But six years ago, I decided to me to fulfill my childhood dream. I always wanted to be an author. Now I am one and can also live on. Naturally, my theatre colleagues were not thrilled that I am leaving. I also had doubts whether this was the right decision. Do I have enough talent to do? But then I met that decision because I wanted my then young daughter exemplify what I want to convey to her: Realize your dreams and follow your heart. The novel was a huge success, and not just in the Netherlands, but also abroad. That makes me very proud.
For your first book you've done many long trips. Why?
This book is a historical novel set in the 16th Century. To make the story as authentic as possible, I wanted to make a personal impression directly from the people, the food, the nature and much more locally. That was important to me.
Was it not quite daring and risky? You did not even know whether the novel would be so successful.
Absolutely. Like Russian roulette - and it has also felt like it. Especially, since I had just become a father, and as the financial security really should be in the mind of a father. While I took the biggest risk of my life, I have just done the opposite. But for me it was a great personal desire to do that. If you do something with all your soul, then it is always successful. The price is sometimes very high, but if you must do something, then you have to do it.
Do you in your career as a writer also write plays for the theatre today?
Just recently I wrote something. I was asked if I wanted to write a musical - which went to St. Boniface and was played in the Netherlands. And in a German town - Fulda - it was also listed.
How important is writing in your life? - Why is it better than working in the theatre?
The great thing about theatre is that you work with many people in a community project. The work is intimate and intense. But it can also be very stressful, as many opinions and emotions come together that need to be sorted. The drama played out in the theatre takes not only part on stage, but also behind the scenes. To me it has also often happend that my actors have called in the middle of the night to talk to me about their role. I really liked this hectic life a long time, but eventually I came to a point where it became too stressful to me. As an author, it is very different. I have much more freedom by deciding about my work completely alone, and must not compromise. I have the sole responsibility.
How important is theatre in your life, apart from your turning away from it?
I think theatre is very important for humans. The origins of the theatre go so far back into antiquity. Everything started with the fact that people have asked existential questions: What are we doing here and why are we living? You have to tell stories to make sense of things. This is precisely theater today. It deals with questions of life and encourages them to deal with such issues. The audience can relate to it and transfer what they have seen on their own life.
How important is children's and youth theatre for you and why should children and teenagers visit the theatre?
Today there is a lot of entertainment for children and young people, where they are alone. I count on these monotonous occupations, for example, watching TV or playing computer games. Theatre is the complete opposite: You experience a story together, one can identify with the characters on stage, you can be happy with them or fear with them. And these events are experienced together. You experience so many emotions behind each other in a short time. A dialogue within the audience takes place. They ask each other, "Did you see that?" A theatre visit also excites to communicate after the visit. Such experiences are very important for children and adolescents in an era of monotonous entertainment media. To create these formative experiences, should be the object of the children's and youth theatres. I feel this as a very positive when I was with my daughter in a play and share those experiences with her and at the end of the play then talk to her about it. This is very important.
What is the difference between German and Dutch children's and youth theatres?
By and large, they are quite similar. The Germans are very good at telling stories, in which the spectators are involved. In the Dutch children's and youth theatres there is often experimental theatre. Sometimes the reason is also the unfortunately that actors play there that actually want to play for adults, but are not good enough for this. Then they try their luck to children and youth theatres and then make their experiments there. Therefore, you meet in the Netherlands and at times abstract children's and youth theatre, this is more for the actors than for the audience.
How did it happen that you have written the Bach play ten years ago?
Actually, I do not have much idea about music. Neither in my school or at home had I enjoyed a musical education. I know very little about music. The only thing I know is that I love music. Many people tend to have an aversion to classical music, because they did never come in direct contact with it. So it was me actually. I wanted to understand this music, Bach's music, however. And for that I had to know what moved him, and might have suggested. I wanted to meet the person Bach. One can understand his music better, if you know what condition he was when he composed it.
Why did you just choose Bach and not Mozart?
I've also actually written a children's play about Mozart. But it was so, that I was asked by an orchestra in the Netherlands, if I wanted to write this piece. I was just so proposed. But since I do not particularly know much about Bach, I started to read about him and was immediately inspired by the person and his life Bach.
What qualities that Bach has do you recognize in yourself?
That is probably to follow your heart and your deepest dreams. Despite his poor living conditions for Bach it was always clear that he wanted to be a composer once. But he also brought great sacrifices. He wants to understand life, God, the universe and the meaning of life with his music and fill cathedrals. He made music not only for entertainment but also to convey something. Music was for him an expression, to bring his personal highest ideals expressed. I do not want to compare with such a genius like Bach, but I see a parallel to my life so far, as I do not just want to write a novel for entertainment. In my novels I want to deal with questions of life and not just write for fun. As an author, I would share my knowledge with my readers then. With my stories, I will always mean something.
Do you have a special relationship with music?
I believe that music is the highest level of art. What I find particularly fascinating is that music goes straight to the soul. Music affects them. As a form of artistic expression only music can achieve something this way. I play no instrument myself, but I admire people who can do it.
What is your intention with this play?
I want the audience, especially the children, of course, inspire them always to follow their heart. Every child has a dream that it will lose in the course of his life back from his eyes, because it apparently does not seem realistically possible. Doubts arise whether you have enough talent, money or time. I hope that the children who visit the play, identifying with Bach, and realize that they can achieve their dreams really, especially today when it is much easier than in Bach's time. I can fulfill my dream also. - Even if you have to pay a big price for it. Because in life you always have to pay a price for something. So why is it not something that one person is really a labor of love?
What were your expectations for the staging of the children's and youth theater Speyer in the Dreifaltigkeits - Church?
None. I went without any idea in the play and have let myself be surprised. I know Matthias Folz already pretty long and I know that he is a good director, so I'd ever feel good about the whole thing. But you never know what lies ahead, especially since I have not seen any other play of him. One hopes, of course, the best and I have to say that my expectations were exceeded absolutely. I do not like it when directors transform the play completely, but Matthias has remained close to my play. The actors played great, the selection of a venue has inspired me and of course the music that was played live. Great work!
What did you like best?
I was totally impressed by the actors. You could identify with them and they have taken the viewers really with in the story. They have also played humorous, but still brought the necessary seriousness. They have really touched me. It was an ensemble that has told a story together, and has not presented itself. To this Matthias has contributed a large part. What I like about the music is that it was incorporated seamlessly into the play. It was a round, harmonious performance and it was fun to watch. I also liked the atmosphere with the audience. It was a mix of kids and parents. The children were found on their tiptoes to see something and the parents were very happy that it appeals to their children. And then when it got dark, it was like a fairy tale coming around.
What do you think of the choice of the venue?
It was a fantastic idea to make it that way. I was thrilled. Even I have already staged a play in a church and I know that the technical and acoustic is not that simple. But in view of Bach, who was a very religious man, there wouldn't be a better place to choose. Bach also always wanted his music to be played in great cathedrals and that is guaranteed to this church as a venue. This gives the whole evening just a very special atmosphere. The spectators felt like they were really in the time of Bach. At this evening you were more in the play itself than just a viewer. With the Baroque church Matthias did the right decision.
Would the Cathedral Speyerer Dom also have been suitable as a venue?
Although this cathedral is very impressive indeed, I could not imagine that. From the outside, the Speyerer Cathedral is very gorgeous, but the inside is quite naked, without a lot of paintings, and very simple. This Cathedral of the era could not have fit in the time of Bach. Moreover, it would have been too broad and large.
Do you speak German and did you understand anything?
I understand German quite well, but I cannot speak it.
Where have you seen the play up to today?
In the Netherlands, were it was played quite often. It started with the fact that a theatre has played it a few times. Because it was so successful, however, it was performed more frequently in the whole country. But the staging of the children's and youth theatre Speyer is the first foreign. Until now, there are two different productions.
How has the relationship between you and Matthias Folz started?
Matthias contacted me a few years ago for the first time. In our conversation he told me about his ideas of an orchestra, and said that he usually plays with two or three actors, and he wants to do with my play a big production. We often met to talk about exactly how he intends to implement the play. It was a very pleasant touch and Matthias was very communicative. For me it was really nice that he was open to ideas on my part too.
How was your reaction to Matthias Folz' request?
I was very pleased, because I think that a play of Bach should be played in Germany as well. Certainly I felt also honored. There were in fact the request of another theatre in Berlin, however, was a collaboration not materialize due to financial reasons. Because of course it made me very happy when I learned of Matthias, that the production could take place.
How did you feel working with the Children's and Youth Theatre Speyer?
I think it's only incredible that Speyer with its 50,000 inhabitants in general has such a professional children's theater, and that it is supported by the city in its work. This is really great. They make a great job and Speyer can be really proud of them. Personally, I think it is very important, enabling children to this form of art.
Would you recommend the staging of the children's theater of the Bach play?
In any case. It touches on several areas, you can hear one of the finest works of music ever written in history, and you will simultaneously learn something about it, we hear the story of a little boy, who seemed to have no prospects, but then finally realized his dream and was one of the greatest composers ever. In addition, you can see a piece that will be played by actors who enjoy what they do. Touching the audience and make them laugh. The great actors, the atmosphere and the stunning music are just a great combination that make the whole work into something special. Not just Speyer, but also people all over Germany should really come to the viewing.
What do you wish for future related to your play?
First, I hope very much that the Children and Youth's Theatre Speyer will perform the play many times. I hope Matthias finding a direction, to play the play more often than he actually planned to do it. In Germany there are so many children who should visit it. This way the Children and Youth's Theatre Speyer can also draw positive attention to itself. - It also allows Matthias make attention to the theater all over Germany. This is my first concern. Otherwise, I certainly hope that the production is also played throughout many other countries. This is a transnational issue that it is certainly worth playing in Africa. Especially, because these children can identify with Bach and perhaps they can even be inspired.
Could you imagine a second collaboration with the Children's and Youth Theatre Speyer?
Yes, sure. Actually, we are just about to talk about it. In the future there will arise something certainty. The collaboration with Matthias was really very pleasant.
Mr. Kimpen, thank you for the interview.