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OISTAT in favour of thorough restoration of historic theatre machinery in Bourla theatre

Belgium - In 1993 Europa Nostra awarded the Bourla theatre in Antwerp as winning project in Belgium: “For the scrupulous restoration of the theatre, the harmonious renovation of the entrance hall and the preservation of the original theatre machinery still intact and functioning.” Twenty years later, Europa Nostra nominated the same original theatre machinery as most endangered cultural site in Europe, being subject of a feasibility study to dismantle this unique site for the sake of extensive modernization.

OISTAT supports the option of complete restoration to action of the heritage theatre machinery in the Bourla theatre. In the knowledge that it is the last example of a large municipal theatre in Europe with an almost complete historical theatre machinery installation dating from 1834, it needs a careful thought-out decision that also respects the needs of a residing theatre company with international ambitions.

For this reason, OISTAT fully and entirely supports the conference “Wood and Canvas (and rabbit glue) in the Modern World” from June 12 to 16, 2014 in Antwerp, Belgium, as it is the goal of the conference to examine the possibilities of modern-day technology that could support and facilitate the working of the heritage machinery and to propose solutions to facilitate productions that have to be performed on a raked stage floor as well as on a flat stage floor.

Unfortunately, the wish to create an acting area of 14 to 14 metres behind a stage opening of 10,54 metres can’t be solved in any way. This would result in a theatre where there is not a single seat that can see the complete acting area. On top of that, flattening the stage would spoil the specific sightlines of the theatre. This would create the need to break out the complete first balcony of the theatre in order to have the audience in the right inclination of minimum 10° in front of the flat acting area.

A far reaching renovation of this theatre with complete new technology, flattened stage and enlarged acting area will not only lead to a contestable result, it would have destroyed forever a unique combination of historical theatre technology with an according auditorium. Therefore it is essential to look for solutions that this exceptional theatre can combine its wonderful and versatile historical machinery with a modern production process that only needs some creativity to take full advantage of its unique situation.

Keep also in mind that Antwerp is envied by many connoisseurs of baroque opera worldwide to be the only place left where the larger operas and classic dramas of the period can be performed in a historic setting. Far from saying that it should only concentrate on this kind of productions, we are convinced that after a regular season of interesting contemporary performances - like we are used to see from this leading residing company already for more than 20 years in the same Bourla theatre - it would be an interesting option to create a summer festival that only Antwerp can organize thanks to this exceptional asset that history by luck saved for its habitants for already 180 years.

11th April 2014

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