KVS
 
 

The KVS – Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (Royal Flemish Theatre), to give it its full name – has had a long history. This civic theatre was founded in 1887 under the patronage of the then mayor Karel Buls. It was the first Dutch-language theatre company in a Brussels that was predominantly French-speaking.

At the end of 1990 a great many things changed for the KVS. Under the leadership of the artistic director Franz Marijnen, a start was made on renovating the nineteenth-century theatre in Lakensestraat. The company moved from the city centre to Molenbeek, a neighbourhood populated largely by ethnic minorities. The KVS was for the time being renamed as the KVS/de Bottelarij (bottling plant) after the old brewery building it occupied. In the meantime Jan Goossens took over as artistic director.

This change, together with the move and the contact with the local cultural diversity, thoroughly modified the KVS outlook: now, it is Brussels with all its various facets that forms the basis of its artistic work. Brussels is the capital of Flanders, Belgium and Europe. The key question for the KVS is ‘how can this diversity in every domain be converted into a broad and diverse contemporary project?’ This question was equally valid after the move to a new building on Arduinkaai in 2005. After several delays, the renewed main theatre too was at last returned to use in spring 2006.

Active participation in the debate involving the capital resulted among other things in a merger with the Brussels theatre company Dito’Dito. This company was conspicuous for breaking down language barriers and bridging cultures and age groups. Its former members, Guy Dermul, Nedjma Hadj, Willy Thomas and Mieke Verdin, are continuing their work within and in association with the KVS. The KVS is also committed to young artists. As from 2006, three theatre-makers have been taking part in the artistic process of the KVS: the director Raven Ruell, the Brussels theatre-maker David Strosberg and the director, actor and stage designer Ruud Gielens. These artists, together with the dramaturges Hildegard De Vuyst and Ivo Kuyl and the artistic director Jan Goossens, form the KVS company. They formulate the main guidelines and decide what is shown on the KVS stages.

This Brussels civic theatre now has three venues: De Bol is the restored auditorium of the theatre in Lakensestraat. De Top is a multipurpose room immediately below the glass roof of the theatre building, which can be used for debates, screening films and giving parties. De Box is a black box with removable tiered seating and is housed in the completely new building on Arduinkaai.

>> the buildings: more information & photos

the buildings

1852: Establishment of the 'Tooneel der Volksbeschouwing'. There was a wait of another 25 years before Dutch-language theatre in Brussels acquired a building of its own, in 1877. Until then, this Flemish theatre company sought refuge in a rented halls such as the Park Theatre in Wetstraat and the Circus Theatre (later the Alhambra Theatre) in Cirkusstraat, which now no longer exists.

1860: A request was made to the government to convert the old Arsenal in Lakensestraat into a theatre. Negotiations between Mayor Fontainas and the government were not easy. Was the building owned by the city or the state? Most of the Flemish people in Brussels were not very happy with its location either, because from their point of view Lakensestraat was in a remote corner of the city.

1883: Under the new mayor, Charles Buls, the architect and decorator Jean Baes was ultimately given the task of converting the old arms store into a theatre. The building is in the Flemish neo-Renaissance style, and the original facade of the former depot now formed the back of the building. When it was designed, the problem of fire safety in public buildings was more than ever a matter of concern. 450 people had lost their lives in the fire at the Ring Theatre in Vienna in 1881, and the fire at the municipal theatre in Nice, with its 200 fatalities, was also still fresh in people’s minds. Baes’ concept, the stepped side facades with their external balconies linked together with ladders, provided an ingenious evacuation system. Each balcony was broader than and calculated on the basis of its own weight plus that of the balconies above. In addition, these balconies were an extra attraction for the audience during the interval. The original auditorium had a capacity of 1200 people, was opulently decorated and had an enchanting dome. At that time, the visible use of such industrial materials as iron was considered experimental and was later much used by Horta, a student of Baes, in his Art Nouveau work. Jean Baes and his brother Henri also did very striking paintings on the walls and ceiling of the theatre’s foyer.

1887: It was at least four years before the theatre was officially opened. This inauguration also signalled a landmark in Flemish history: when Mayor Buls went to the Palace to invite King Leopold II to come and open the building with the words ‘J’aurai l’honneur, Sire, de vous souhaiter la bievenue en Flamand, dans le temple érigé pour l’art dramatique flamand’, the king replied ‘Mon cher bourgmestre, vous m’offrez là une bonne occasion pour vous répondre dans cette même langue nationale, en Flamand’. And it was indeed on that day, the 13th of October 1887, that for the first time in the history of the Belgian royal family, the king spoke Dutch. This gesture signified official recognition and appreciation of the years of effort to establish a Flemish theatre in the capital.

1894: Leopold II grants the Vlaamsche Schouwburg the title of Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg [Royal Flemish Theatre].

1955: Despite all the safety measures, on 25th May 1955 the building was devastated by fire, with the stage, the fly-tower and the front of the auditorium suffering the greatest damage.

1958: The auditorium was rebuilt as an uninteresting, rather dull hall at a time when theatre architecture had been reduced to a matter of getting as many people as possible into a single space with a good view of the stage.

1993: In 1993 Franz Marijnen was appointed intendant of the KVS, and he imposed several conditions: in addition to a rejuvenation of the company, he above all wanted to return the antiquated and dilapidated theatre building to a state that made it more appealing to use and act in. In the same year the exterior of the building and the foyer were put on the list of classified monuments.

1999: In summer 1999 the KVS moved temporarily to the Bottelarij (an old bottling plant) in Molenbeek, so that work on the renovation of the old theatre and the new building on Arduinkaai could begin.

2004-6: The new building on Arduinkaai opened in 2004, the renovated theatre in April 2006.

 
 
 
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KVS and its relation to repertoire

On the 4th December a debate took place in KVS on repertoire in theatre, with guest speakers Guy Cassiers, Faustin Linyekula and Amir Nizar Zuabi. As an introduction Jan Goossens, artistic director of KVS, wrote the following text