Greg Shapiro: Amsterdam supports the arts without subsidy

Boom Chicago is moving! As predicted by the Mayans, Winter Solstice 2012 is indeed a time of rebirth, says Greg Shapiro.

To get ready for their 20-year anniversary, Comedy Theater Boom Chicago is turning a page and relocating to the Rozentheater on the Rozenstraat. The story of the new space – and the old – makes for an interesting sketch of the Dutch government’s support for the arts in 2012.

Quick Timeline: Boom started in 1993 in a bar near the Leidseplein. I came in 1994 when Boom was located in what’s now Sugar Factory (across from Melkweg). In 1997, Boom Chicago – with the blessing of the City of Amsterdam – renovated the Leidseplein Theater and moved in. The bar – and theater in back – are owned by Heineken, and Boom Chicago leased from them.

Boom Chicago has never been subsidized. In fact, they still have a framed letter from the VVV advising them not to start up an English-language comedy theater in Amsterdam. As we’ve learned – especially in dealing with civil servants – ‘That is not possible’ translates to ‘It’s totally possible, but I don’t feel like it.’

In 2010, we had a special guest onstage – Ronald Plasterk (then Minister of Culture). Pep Rosenfeld (Artistic Dir.) jokingly asked ‘What would Boom Chicago need to do to get some subsidy money?’ Plasterk answered: ‘Boom Chicago doesn’t need subsidy! Everyone wants to come to see your show as it is.’ Rosenfeld responded ‘So your job is to give money to shows that people DON’T want to see?’ And Plasterk said ‘Yeah…’

In 2011, Boom Chicago did get a break from the city of Amsterdam: a license to stay open late. Time to expand. The 3 partners of Boom Chicago teamed up with 3 new partners – including Casper Reinders (Jimmy Woo). Together, they remodeled the club so that from 18.00-00.00 it was a comedy club. From 00.00 – 05.00 it was a dance club. Thus the Chicago Social Club was born.

It was an interesting plan on paper. In practice, there were growing pains both with the comedy club and the dance club. And then came the news that the City of Amsterdam was looking for a new permanent tenant for the Rozentheater. Boom Chicago got the call: would they be interested? At first it seemed like a crazy idea: ‘Leave the Leidseplein?’ But with the success of Chicago Social Club – and Amsterdam’s offer to help support and promote Boom Chicago’s new space – it didn’t seem like a crazy idea.

Some theaters are losing their subsidies and closing up shop (Theater Engelenbak). And some theaters are losing their subsidies and struggling to get by. Boom Chicago still doesn’t expect to get a subsidy, but with the continued support of the Amsterdam city government, they’ve done pretty well.

Boom Chicago grand re-opening is scheduled for March 2013. The 20th Anniversary is scheduled for June 2013. Hope to see you then.

Greg Shapiro Presents Top UK Comedian Steve Hughes Heavy Metal Comedy 20 January, 2013 Meervaart Theater’ 

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