Can you describe what you do? Where you are based?
I’m artistic director at Antwerp’s Fakkeltheater and at musical company JudasTheaterProducties. Because both of these are located in the city centre, I find myself in the historical heart of town on a daily basis, in between the Grote Markt and the Groenplaats. I feel comfortable in the city’s theatre landscape – whether in the Fakkeltheater, Theater Elkerlyc, the Stadsschouwburg, De Roma or the Arenbergschouwburg, there’s always something to see. I’ve been living in the centre, as well, for nearly ten years now, in a quiet and cosy neighbourhood close to the Old Law Courts.
How do you perceive Antwerp? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?
The immense diversity of people, culture, and architecture has always attracted me to this city. So many different kinds of people living together on a relatively small scale gives energy to Antwerp. There’s a thriving cultural scene year-round, giving the city an authentic, vibrant atmosphere. And then, of course, there’s the historical aspects of town that help shape its character. The small alcoves, de Vlaaikesgang, the cathedral, and the Hoogstraat all turn the city into a gem worthy of competing with Ghent and Bruges.
What would you say is Antwerp’s main appeal for creatives? What gives the city its edge?
As Flanders’ largest city, Antwerp logically is a big magnet for creative crowds. Next to countless theatres, museums, schools and academies, you’ll see many companies and production houses that help give the city an extra cultural boost. But I do feel that a city like Antwerp could support these initiatives more. While there obviously are investments being made in creative talent, these often depart from a one-sided vision that’s too much based on subsidies. But it’s exactly those people, from those companies, that make a city flourish and live, and they should be more engaged by the city council to stimulate culture in Antwerp.
There’s a thriving cultural scene year-round, giving the city an authentic, vibrant atmosphere.
How would you say has Antwerp contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
I’ve been working here incessantly since 2001, and I’ve been living here for a little more than eight years. I feel tightly connected to the city, but I wouldn’t say that it influenced my life, nor did it influence my career. On the contrary: it’s the people living and working here that make Antwerp what it is.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city?
I love cities with a blatantly open character, that are cosy and have a compelling cultural offer and nightlife. A city should be the perfect combination of work and play, with lots of green spaces, beautiful squares, and should definitely be open-minded. A perfect example of this openness is the revaluation of Het Eilandje. I hope for the same to happen to de Groenplaats, so that it can become an open, green and historical area in the heart of the city.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Antwerp? If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?
I’m always surprised how few people have visited the cathedral. For me, it would be an obligatory first stop when visiting Antwerp. That, and a nice bolleke in Café Den Engel
A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth?
I’ve heard quite a few of those over the years at Fakkeltheater. But I’d like to mention that underneath our Red Hall is a gorgeous medieval cellar. Back in the days it was connected to the Ruien, the city’s sewage network. Whenever German soldiers would invade, the resistance had an easy escape route to a place where they could hide safely and the Germans would get hopelessly lost in the old sewers.fakkeltheater.be Photography Joke De Wilde