Can you describe what you do?
I make theatre – mostly as a director, but I also coach others in their work. I’ve made a lot of productions for fABULEUS, a theatre company situated in OPEK in the Vaartkom neighbourhood; and I also travel a lot to Ghent, Mechelen, Brussels, or Antwerp for various projects. My work isn’t limited to Leuven, but it’s still in some sense my home-base. Since the last academic year, I’m also Artistic Co-ordinator of LUCA School of Art’s drama department, which is situated here in Leuven. Our workspaces are again located in the OPEK building, and LUCA’s Lemmens Campus. The vibrant LUCA Drama is one of just four higher-education drama schools in Flanders, and the youngest. So it’s probably still the most unknown – but we are on the rise. Being a bit off-centre can breed individuality.
How do you perceive Leuven?
I grew up in Leuven, then lived a few years in Brussels before moving back. It’s funny, the vibes of both cities are in a way reflected by their geographical shapes: Brussels’ as a bullet, while Leuven’s more of a well-rounded circle. Sure, Leuven has all the pro’s you might associate with such an image – but also its flaws. There’s a thin line between being “well-rounded” and “over-polished”. Yet, overall, it’s a relaxed and well-organized city. The cultural diversity seems to be evolving relatively smoothly. Leuven has almost everything you could think of – it’s surprisingly complete in this regard. There are many possibilities to go out and do things, soak in its influences and experiences: loads of restaurants, bars, cinemas, concert venues, art houses, sights, … This makes it a very good place to grow up and live in. People in Leuven can sometimes seem a bit distance, but are in fact – in my experience – quite open towards others, and very grounded and loyal.
How Leuven has contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
Growing up, the city flooded me with input. Thanks to STUK and other excellent cultural venues, Leuven always had a great offer of theatre and dance performances; so I was able to see many different kinds of work from my early teens. There were also many great little book- and record-stores, with opinionated and outspoken staff with a clear vision on what’s interesting, and always ready to give recommendations – something that can be found in the city to this day. JJ Records was paramount in this; I went to that store almost every day after school to just hang around, talking and listening to music. Another experience that greatly shaped my attitude towards my surroundings were the years I spent in the local punk and hardcore scene. I was in constant contact with people who shaped their own lives and means in order to be able to do what they loved, without losing sight of their moral compass. As truly independent individuals.
Career-wise, I made my first of many plays with fABULEUS straight after finishing school. They really gave me the opportunity and space to grow as an artist. I also believe that maintaining Leuven as my professional base enabled me to evolve in my own way, simply because I wasn’t constantly stuck in the middle of a dominant theatre scene. In Leuven, I learned to make intrinsically driven work: nobody’s looking when you’re working, and you can step in and out of the limelight whenever you feel like it.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?
Leuven lacks places where emerging artists can set up their own shows or performances, which aren’t linked with already well-established organisations. There’s a need for more physical (and mental) blank spaces where things can just happen, even if it is chaotically or irresponsibly. Makers must find their own audiences, their own ways of doing things outside of the comfortable moulds and systems the city provides. Also, policies sometimes threaten to shape artistic realities, rather than the other way around. You can’t plan some framework for “the art of the future” – policymakers can only create the space and means to let unimaginable things happen, then react.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Leuven?
A long walk during which you criss-cross from the city centre to different fields and stretches of nature, right across the ring-road. When you’re at Tiensepoort for example, it’s just a ten-minute walk to Grote Markt, and another ten to Park Abbey, a 12th Century abbey right in the middle of fields. Another great spot is Luibank, a small green patch on top of Brusselsepoort: with a sublime view over Leuven, it’s clear to see that the city was built in a valley surrounded by green hills. For an even better view, head to the small sandhill on the Mechelsevest – but you’ll have to trespass through the private Keizershof residence first! Finally, end the weekend with friends in a bar like Commerce on Ladeuzeplein, or Kaminsky at Tiensepoort.luca-arts.be/opleiding/drama