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Teunkie van der Sluijs: ‘You can break all the rules if your voice is authentic and message heartfelt’

Teunkie van der Sluijs. Photo: Studio Dubbelagent Teunkie van der Sluijs. Photo: Studio Dubbelagent
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My first job was self-started. I directed Yasser, about a Palestinian actor playing Shylock and questioning identity and diasporic backgrounds. I raised its production budget through several small foundations and rehearsed over the summer in my empty drama school. Yasser played the Edinburgh Fringe, where it was picked up by a theatre in Chicago, the Arcola, London and the Royal Theatre of the Netherlands. I thought directing a monologue would be a manageable first project. The result was messy and raw, but it came from the heart.

A decade later, the canvas on which I work has changed, but that first show defined the aesthetic and voice I still express. I have just opened part two of the cycle of A Raisin in the Sun and its ‘sequels’ by Bruce Norris, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Esther Duysker. This is a mammoth, four-year project of main-house shows in Europe. At the same time, I am working with Home, Manchester to develop international repertoire and practitioners.

How I do things has changed, but what I do hasn’t. My work is as fuelled by working across borders and between theatre practices as it was on my first show. Looking to define their voice, early-career directors in the UK sometimes define what they do by repertoire (“I do classics” or “new writing”). European directors talk about what moves or troubles them in life and society. They think this through with the aid of theatre and use pronounced visual worlds to transcend this word.

Since my first show, I have followed this, but also the maxim that the heart of theatre is story. Theatre questions the stories we uphold about ourselves. And you can break all the ‘rules’ of theatre, all the notions of what your work and career should look like, if your voice is authentic and your message heartfelt.

CV: Teunkie van der Sluijs

Age: 37
Training: BA directing at Rose Bruford College, script development at the National Film and Television School, Drama at the University of Amsterdam
Theatre includes: Beneatha’s Place, A Raisin in the Sun, Lungs, Waterdragers, Yasser, HATE (after La Haine), Women Laughing, Winter, Motortown
Other credits includes: Orange Tree Theatre trainee director, National Theatre staff director, Theater Amsterdam resident director
Agent: Rachel Daniels at Berlin Associates

Teunkie van der Sluijs was talking to John Byrne