CV LIESBETH COLTOF Director Liesbeth Coltof (b. 1955) is seen by many as the face of contemporary theatre for children and young people in the Netherlands. Her work transcends cultural and geographical boundaries and has inspired many people at home and abroad: it universalises major themes by zooming in on the small-scale, individual level, and truly engaging with it. In the 1980s, Liesbeth Coltof was one of the first theatre makers to break with the convention that youth theatre should be the sort of trouble-free entertainment made because adults viewed the complexities and contradictions of ‘real life’ as unsuitable for children. She experienced in her own childhood how it feels to be left alone in a supposedly carefree children’s world, when nobody talked to her about her mother’s death. It was this that motivated her to make work for the stage that did feature emotions such as anger, fear and guilt, and she brought her subject matter close to home by always focusing on a young person and following his or her story. In 1987 she made Iphigeneia, koningskind (Iphigenia, Royal Child) about a daughter who gives up her life for the love of her father, as well as De koning en de rest (The King and the Others), which dealt with death as a natural inevitability. Kinderjaren (Childhood) in 1991 was a tribute to the courage of children surviving in wartime. The recurring ingredients of her plays were a lightness of touch, humour, dynamism, musicality and the obvious pleasure her actors took in their performance. In 1990 Liesbeth Coltof became artistic director of the large Amsterdam youth theatre company Huis aan de Amstel, which would merge in 2009 with Wederzijds theatre company to become Toneelmakerij. This long-term commitment allowed her to become an adventurer in theatrical practice and the exchange of ideas with other artistic disciplines. She instigated adaptations of classics such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and The Tempest, and Schiller’s Don Carlos, as well as lots of new works, many of them written by her artistic soulmate Roel Adam. She is famous for her work with auteurs and produces each year about 3-4 completely new texts. The plays her company presented ranged from large-scale site-specific productions to music theatre including Purcell’s opera King Arthur and small, intimate performances in schools or neighbourhoods – bringing them close to audiences both young and old. She received at a young age already the biggest cultural award in the Netherlands the prestigious Prins Bernard Award for all her work. And till now she is still the only one in the Youth Theatre who received this award . Liesbeth Coltof also staged her work abroad. Her plays have been performed at numerous international festivals, from Munich, Vienna and Berlin to Philadelphia, Yekaterinburg and Moscow. In Zurich, Bijna was ik goed (I Was Nearly Right), which was inspired by the experiences of children and adults with learning disabilities, won her the 1998 ZBK Förderpreis, an award for daring, innovative theatre. Liesbeth Coltof has the ability to give theatre a genuinely new dimension across borders by working with foreign counterparts to create something new. Working with four colleagues in Bosnia she made The Right Shoes, a play about children’s rights that was performed in refugee camps in 1994. And in 1997 she made Netochka with Russian director Boris Tseitlin: the central character in this compelling fusion of Dutch and Russian theatre tradition for all ages is a girl who keenly observes her parents’ unhappy lives. And for seventeen years Liesbeth Coltof has been closely involved as a director and teacher with Theatre Day Productions from Gaza, which stages shows for young people in the camps in Hebron, Gaza and the West Bank. She has also taken young Dutch theatre makers to Palestine to make plays with Palestinian fellow theatre makers. Coltof is the co-initiator of Connecting Stories, a network of theatre companies and directors from the United States, Iran and the Netherlands. Here too the aim was to produce a genuine meeting of cultures through theatre, succeeding where the politicians of these countries generally fail. Liesbeth Coltof returns to the Netherlands from her travels bringing international themes she uses to make stage work that bridges different worlds. In 2000 an exchange with Palestinian theatre makers resulted in De dag dat mijn broer niet thuiskwam (The Day My Brother Didn’t Come Home), written by Roel Adam. In recounting the tragic history of a single Palestinian family the piece sheds light on the bigger story. In 2003, Coltof turned her attention to Africa to create a theatrical experience based on Ben Okri’s novel The Famished Road and spanning many generations – in the African narrative tradition. She also journeyed with playwright Roel Adam to the Bosnian city of Mostar, a trip that yielded Aan de Overkant (On the Other Side), about the bridge that for centuries connected the Muslim and Christian quarters of the city. Destroyed by shellfire, the bridge now symbolises a painful reconciliation. This was followed in 2006 in Saint Petersburg by Quarantaine (Quarantine), which explores how people interact when they are condemned to each other’s company. It blended theatre with film of the Siege of Leningrad during World War II. Coltof’s travels to India led to 2008’s Bombay, which focuses on people whose entire lives are taken up with grasping at any potential opportunity. She made Bombay in collaboration with the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam and PlanNederland,
a development organisation that works at an international level to strengthen the position of children. When in 2009 the theatre companies Huis aan de Amstel and Wederzijds merged to form Toneelmakerij, Liesbeth Coltof became the joint artistic director of the Netherlands’ largest youth theatre company, along with Ad de Bont. After his retirement in 2012, she remained as sole artistic director. In her work at Toneelmakerij she has continued with her form experiments, as for example in Thaibox Verdriet (Thai Boxing Sorrow) by Ad de Bont, a play set in a boxing ring, and combining martial arts, poetry and beatboxing for audiences aged 15 and above. And Ontspoord (Off the Rails), a Dutch adaptation of Naomi Wallace’s The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek, is more like a pop concert than a traditional play. In 2012 she directed the first ever theatre marathon for young audiences. Mehmet De Veroveraar (Mehmet the Conqueror) by Ad de Bont is a historical epic that touches on the topical yet timeless theme of the meeting of East and West. Liesbeth Coltof staged this large-scale site-specific work in three parts, each with its own set, and incorporating a meal. In 2013 Mehmet De Veroveraar won the Netherlands’ top young people’s theatre award, the Gouden Krekel for most impressive production. In 2014 she gets a very special international recognition: on may 27 on the world congress of ASSITEJ in Warsaw, she is awarded with the Honorary President Award, for her outstanding work and the way she inspired others in the Netherlands and abroad. In addition to her work for the Toneelmakerij, Liesbeth has directed classical pieces at the Schauspielhaus Dortmund, including Virginia Woolf and Death of a Salesman. In Dusseldorf she directed “ the boy with the suitcase” a performance about refugees. For this performance she was awarded with the prestigious Faust, the annual theatre prize in Germany. She is a teacher on several theatre school and universities, and gives workshops and seminars. In 2018 she resigns as Artistic Director from the Toneelmakerij to become a free lance theatre director in the Netherlands and abroad. Her ‘fare-well’ production ‘De Krijtkring’ (The Caucasian Chalk Circle of Bertolt Brecht) combined contemporary music and theatre and was a great success. She was awarded with the Amsterdam Prize of the Art, The City Token of Amsterdam and the yearly prize from the united city theaters in the Netherlands for her whole career. On top of that his Majesty the King appointed her as Knight of the Dutch Lion, one of the highest awards in the Netherlands. At this moment, next to working on different theatre productions in the Netherlands and abroad, mostly in the field of the theatre for an adult audience, she initiates the international arts project 10CHILDREN to give the children all over the world who live under the most difficult circumstances a voice and a face. This project takes place in 10 different countries and ends with a festival in 2023 in New York.