1985 - Leiden, Holland

Frans deRuiter, director of the Holland Festival, was invited to see RA at the Ontario Science Centre. As the festival was featuring Canadian work, he was scouting for appropriately interesting pieces to fill his festival calendar. Being sufficiently visionary to see past the Ministry of External Affairs and the Powers that Promote the Mainstream (who wanted the likes of the Toronto Symphony playing music by dead Europeans to represent the cultural cutting-edge of the country abroad) we were invited to take RA to the Holland Festival.

Murray made a preliminary visit and was shown a few sites including a castle and a roadside attraction-type recontruction of the Holy Land. These were rejected and eventually the City of Leiden was chosen as the venue.

The Burcht tower. (click image for
an aerial view of Leiden)

January 1985: Thom and I (Diana and Sylvie who is but a month old remain in Toronto) go to Holland to check out the site(s) We arrive in Amsterdam and stay overnight, managing to catch a dance performance. We are to go to Leiden and look at a church art gallery/cafe and park as possible sites.

The Gallery/Café is definite and the owner Ben Wallenkamp is onside. The church requires negotiations as to the rental price. We have a list of people and places to see.

Burcht Café: or Ben's Café as we call it immediately became our headquarters and office. I draw a floor plan. We make a preliminary plan of the show using the sites we have seen. We also make a tentative production and rehearsal schedule. One thing that immediately strikes us is the possibility of using the canals as a part of the initial procession. We looked at one bridge which was spectacular, with columns etc. but the proximity of farmers markets was a problem. We finally located a suitable a location on the canal near the Burcht tower where the singers and actors in the initial procession could arrive by boat with the sarcophagus of the dead king.

Burcht tower: (see photo below) We immediately see exciting staging possibilities including the birth of RA from a stone well. The church (Hoeklandeskierk) was equally wonderful. Only a small portion was being used for Sunday services and the rest was ours to enjoy.

We meet Ge (short for Gerard) who is the technical director provided by the Festival. We ask, "can we get such and such and this and that?" Ge keeps saying, "it is not a problem". We at least have an outline and some locations and feel that the thing is doable. We have not seen production facilities for set or costume nor met a production manager. A lot of work is done from home by mail back and forth between Jan and May when we leave for Holland to prepare and mount the show which goes up in mid-J une.

In the meantime, Thom has made a second trip with Murray for auditions etc. Our technical director is reported to be nowhere. We begin to voice other concerns such as availability of musicians

May 1985: Diana and myself along with our five-month-old daughter arrive at Schipol airport where we connect with Guus Van Der Kraan our production manager and the man in the middle (see related note on the role of production managers). We are shown to temporary quarters in the town of Nortweig (sp?) about twenty minutes from Leiden. It seems accommodations for more than a very few in Leiden itself were not possible. We had a van at our disposal and all in all this didnt seem to be a problem at the time.


The church from the tower

We then met with the people in Leiden who were assigned to us for production. I will keep to a discussion of set and prop concerns and let Diana discuss the wardrobe end of things. Ton Dullart was the technical director of the LAK theatre at the university in Leiden and was to be my head carpenter and crew chief. The crew consisted of five keen museum students: Hans Jorg, Elise, Nicole, Arnaut & Willem.

The Burcht Café and Bar was our unofficial headquarters. We were provided with a shop and although it was completely unequipped was an amazing space in itself (where we could conceivably have mounted the entire show). It was a 16th century convent/plague hospital/ex-military museum and now overgrown. Referred to as the Pest-huis, it consisted of a quadrangle of interconnected large stone rooms surrounding a central courtyard. Here we built all the sets and props for the show that did not come over with us from Canada.

I rented a bicycle and did a bit of exploring at the beginning when there was still some time. I had heard that the Museum of Anthropology in Leiden had a famous Egyptian collection so Diana and I went to see for ourselves. We were immediately stunned to be confronted by a complete small Egyptian temple in the museum atrium. We approached the museum director to see if he would mind having 75 theatre-goers visit his museum at 5 a.m. for the final scenes of the production (along with the accompanying disruption brought about by the needs of the technical staff).

To our amazement he was completely supportive and when Thom and Murray arrived we set about finding a way to incorporate this into the piece. (The museum was about 10 blocks from the other site areas. We solved the problem by blindfolding the entire audience and walking them hand in hand through the pre-dawn streets of Leiden the 10 blocks to the museum. This disorienting march I think helped immeasurably to allow the audience to remove their blindfolds and truly believe they had been transported to the land and time of the pharoahs.

Part 3: RA in Yugoslavia

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