Entrepeneur of the month: Karlijn van Kruchten
Every month, the ArtEZ Business Centre and the courses together select a student or alumnus as Entrepreneur of the Month. Their stories give you an idea of what to expect, based on current topics from the professional field. Is there a secret to cultural success? Do you have to excel in your art or is it about selling yourself? Is it a matter of luck, wisdom, hard work or a good strategy? Karlijn van Kruchten, alumna of Music Theatre, wrote a blog about her first years after graduating.
As I write this, I have just ordered a dirty chai latte with oat milk.
It's almost a daily ritual: I sit down at a coffee bar with my laptop to answer e-mails, come up with new concepts, and to just stare blankly into space.
Some time ago I read Tobi Lakmaker's phenomenal book The History of my Sexuality. I could see myself in it, in that shared challenge of figuring out what it means to be an artist in this society and how to give expression to that. And also in the desire to be seen, and for my creative work to be seen. To be recognised. I suppose these are universal needs. But another thing the book touched on was how actresses and theatre-makers spend most of their time drinking cappuccinos. It made me laugh, but I can't deny there is some truth to it, because what exactly am I doing right now?
I am not the kind of person who likes to sit and wait around, so yes, coffee, sounds great! But I'll take it to-go, so that I can keep moving.
I graduated from the Music Theatre programme in Arnhem in 2019. As a student I was determined but also unsure of myself; I went through two knee surgeries, had to learn to walk again, was the youngest person in our cohort and had to shed my Limburgish soft G. What I emerged as is hard to define: sometimes I am an actress or performer, other times I am a theatre-maker who develops performances that put all kinds of people centre stage. My work is always changing, but in every project, I'm invested in giving people a voice and breaking taboos.
People describe me as an entrepreneurial type. But the word 'entrepreneur' somehow seems a bit unsexy to me. In our field of work, that is. On paper, and in theory, I guess I am an entrepreneur, but I don't feel like one in practice. So maybe for the rest of this blog, I'd rather write about simply being entrepreneurial.
During my time at ArtEZ, I would go to 3 shows a week. I knew all the students in every programme, was familiar with the artistic leader of most music and theatre companies, and knew who directed every performance. Fortunately, I was already a devoted coffee drinker, so I would often have a cup with a director or theatre-maker that I liked. Just as a way of saying "hey, I am here, I like your work, what can we do for each other?" Of course, lots of actors, performers and theatre-makers graduate every year. It's lovely to be surrounded by so many like-minded colleagues, but how the f*** are you going to get work? What is going to set you apart and make you authentic?
I knew exactly where I wanted to do my internship. I boldly called Romy and Gable Roelofsen at Het Geluid Maastricht and asked them if I could make myself useful at their company. That turned into a great collaboration over the course of three shows and I received lots of wise counsel. Still, I wasn't always confident enough at ArtEZ to express what I really wanted to make. It was always on the tip of my tongue, but I was prone to self-censorship. On my birthday, Gable and Romy gave me a book on feminism and that was what I needed to start truly believing in my own principles. From there, I had to figure out how to communicate them to my audiences.
I had a flying start after my graduation. Even before I left school, I had parts in three shows lined up. Couldn't be better, right? But as the third show was running, COVID broke out and I got stuck at home just like everyone else. I wasn't very good at sitting still, so I started volunteering at the food bank. I quickly found that I wanted to do something with this experience in my creative work. Poverty is something that carries a great deal of shame, and I wanted to break that taboo. This idea developed into a 1.5-year project with Ruimtekoers, resulting in a theatrical film about people who are marginalised in the labour market – who find themselves at the bottom of the ladder, or not even on it. We gave them a stage to be heard, literally and figuratively.
Many projects followed. I moved to Maastricht for a year, where I made a podcast with the inhabitants of a flat in a deprived neighbourhood. In Heugem I started playing the saxophone in a concert band and tried to delve into this ancient tradition. This also turned into a podcast where I tried, through the saxophone, to introduce my listeners to the world of the Limburgish concert band. At a given point, I was doing four projects at once. I never learned from my mistakes, because every two months I had a breakdown from being too busy and not being able to keep it together. People got in touch with me for community art projects all the time, especially in Limburg.
It's green, calm, friendly, and a little backward, too.
It's where I'm from, but let's be honest: I had good reasons to move to Arnhem.
On the other hand: Arnhem is pretty satiated and well-developed when it comes to culture. When it comes to taboos and social issues, it seems to me that there are plenty of people speaking up about those.
But in Limburg...
Nobody wants to speak up. Or nobody feels comfortable to.
So I decided I will be the one to do that.
Recently I was asked to make a performance about Venlo. More specifically, about why Venlo is in my heart. All right, sure, Venlo is in my heart, but it also makes my toes curl sometimes. One thing I like is carnival, and as a true Limburger, I would never skip a year. So that's definitely in my heart. But in my performance, I wanted to talk about emancipation and equality. I wanted to break taboos and traditions and call for progress. In a Dutch carnival, there is always a prince. And for at least 188 years, that prince has been a man, pretty much invariably of the straight and white variety. That's what the records show. And that's discrimination! So during the performance, I proclaimed myself the first carnival princess of Venlo.
Within a day, all of Venlo and all of Limburg knew about it. Most people were glad, proud, and said: finally a woman, it's a great thing you had the courage to bring this up. But I also received a lot of hate. Mostly from men who, I think, secretly hope to be carnival princes one day. Of course, it's not about me, or my desire to be a princess. I just wanted to start a discussion. I think that's the power of an artist: to lay bare problems, taboos, difficult topics. And I succeeded: I was in all the papers, and given the responses I got, that debate is sure to continue for a while. Some people said 'history was written'.
So I'm not going to stop. Well, I might stop being a princess, but I will keep starting debates. The next two projects I'll be doing are also examples of that. In Arnhem, I'll be working with elderly people in the neighborhoods of Malburgen, Immerloo and Het Duifje to dissect the word 'gentrification' and make a show and exhibition about that. And in Limburg I'll be working on an electric opera with forgotten but notable Limburgish women.
Meanwhile, my dirty chai latte with oat milk has gone cold, and I should probably treat myself to lunch. I'm always busy and pressing forward but I am also often at a loss. I get frustrated when I don't have a job on hand, when I have no idea what I'll be doing three months from now. And that damned Instagram doesn't help either. Because everyone (apparently) has a perfect career and has lots and lots of work. I also think to myself: help, what on Earth am I doing?
Then there is the question of recognition. A complicated word. Is a performance in Frascati in Amsterdam, with reviews in NRC, Volkskrant and Het Parool, 'better' than a project at the thrift store in Arnhem? I want to make an impact, but sometimes my ego gets in the way, too. I want my work to be seen. I talk about this all the time: when is something good enough? What does impact mean? When artists all over the country know about it? Or when all the people working at the thrift store are finally seen and heard?
It's an ongoing investigation. It's frustrating, but I also love my profession. I love not knowing.
I could write much more, by the way, about failures – my graduation show could not be called a success – or about cappuccinos, or beautiful actresses on Instagram starring in prominent theatre companies or television shows. About jealousy, ego, and sometimes getting paid too little for my work. But I drank coffee for the last two months in a café, as a sabbatical, a moment to stand still and reflect. I needed that. The entrepreneurial attitude that is important in my career right now (I still avoid being an entrepreneur for a while), will be on again. Having the guts, stepping up to it, and embracing what fails are part of it. You can still ask for help or feedback. Collaborate, keep talking, and make connections; you don't have to face it alone.
The time has come again for to coffee TO GO!