'What shocked me the most about the Netherlands was how beautiful it is'
Why would someone with a successful career in a casting agency in New York City up sticks and move to Zaandam? In Elyse OâShaughnesseyâs case, she did it for love. Now artistic director of Orange Theater Company, Elyse is on a mission to promote world-class English-language theatre in the heart of Amsterdam.
How did you end up in the Netherlands?
I came here as an au pair about five years ago. I was working with this woman â" she worked for Tommy Hilfiger â" and one day she was like, âOh, Iâm moving to Amsterdam; do you wanna come with me?â At the time I was quite young, so I said, âOkay. Letâs go!â It was an adventure. Iâd never been to Amsterdam, and I was here with an added comfort factor.
I was only su pposed to come for three months, but at the end of it I was still just starting to get acclimatised. I stayed for a full year and met my current [Dutch] partner in the last three months of my visa.
I went back to New York, and we did long-distance for about two years. I was working for this company called Establishment Casting â" they used to work for Alexander Wang, and they still work for Marc Jacobs and Miu Miu. I was the executive assistent to my boss. It was an amazing opportunity to learn about professionalism under a self-made woman. I basically learned how to run a business: invoicing, scheduling, accounting, calling the models in, talking to agents, running castings and even organising my bossâs personal life!
And then I moved here in about June 2015. Yes, I came back specifically for him. I figured I might as well.
How do you describe yourself â" an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international?
Well, Iâm on the partnership visa, so I guess I would be a lovepat! Thatâs fine. Weâre still together. To me, I think you know when you know. I just kind of knew with him. Iâm somebody who does big things easily but small things â¦ take a toll. Deciding to move 5,000 miles, I was like, âOkay. Iâm doing it.â Because it was either do that or regret it for the rest of my life.
How long do you plan to stay?
To be honest, I have no idea. It could be the rest of my life. I think the only time that I would consider going back is maybe after I have kids, just to be closer to family.
I grew up a bit outside Boston, but my high school had 4,000 people in it. Just my high school. But I liked that. I liked the fact that there was always somebody that you could fit in with. There were so many different races, sexualities, and everything, that it didnât really matter who you were. It was great thing.
Thatâs not how every American city is, but I was very fortuna te to grow up in this place where it was just normal to be friends with everybody â" there wasnât really any reason not to be. America gets a bad rep nowadays, understandably so.
Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn?
I can understand a decent amount so long as the person speaking doesnât have a strong accent. But speaking it myself â¦ I should be further along because I have to take a test in October! I feel like in the past couple of months itâs got much better. I pick up a lot of words from people around meâ"the other day my partnerâs friends were like âtik âm aan!â I think thatâs quite funny. It means high five â" literally âtap itâ.
Whatâs your favourite Dutch food?
Kaasstengels. Lekker! Itâs like a spring roll, with cheese inside. Shall we order one?
How Dutch have you become and why?
[We are refused kaaste ngels, since the cafÃ©âs kitchen does not open until 3 pm]. In the States they would make you some â¦ but then again, their kitchen would probably be open from the morning. Still, thereâve been times when even going to the Gemeente to do something theyâre like, âI canât help youâ. And Iâm like, âHuh? Why?â So, I donât know if Iâve adopted many Dutch mannerisms yet, but I think thatâs why Sairah [Erens, executive director of Orange Theatre Company] and I work well together. I think about things the way an American would think about things â" not better, just a different perspective.
For example, when I go to the theatre it should be a whole experience. You should feel great the whole time, from the way youâre greeted, to the bar service â" everything. You should feel like youâre welcome, like youâre coming into somebodyâs home. We value that customer service.
Iâll always put a nice spin on things. I believe you get more p eople with honey than with vinegar.
Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet?
Iâd like to meet Doutzen Kroes, the model. She pops up a lot more here than in the US. She used be a Victoriaâs Secret Angel, hence her national fame, but I havenât met her yet. Iâd like to see what Doutzenâs personality would be like. Iâve met quite a few Dutch models, and theyâre always quite personable when Iâve told them that I live in Amsterdam.
And, of course, Iâd like to meet Dianne Zuidema, the head of the Stadsschouwburg. Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam and Toneelgroep Amsterdam are changing their name to Internationaal Theater Amsterdam. We want to say to her that weâre here to give a helping hand in really becoming international. Perhaps giving us a performance space?
Whatâs your top tourist tip?
Meet a Dutch person who brings you to things. Sairah has taken me to so me of the best American food places in Amsterdam. You know, as somebody from another country, weâre always looking for our comforts from home. Sairah has taken me to the best spots; thereâs one called The Fat Pie. Itâs got a rotisserie attached to it, and burgers and fries, and theyâre just so good. Itâs ridiculous.
The Westergasfabriek is a great place to go; there are so many different things in one spot. You have the park right there, and restaurants, breweries, a phenomenal theatre, cinemas, gym â¦ a lot of Dutch people go there as well.
Tell us something surprising youâve found out about the Netherlands
I think what shocked me the most about the Netherlands was how beautiful it is. I had a very jaded perspective when I came here: rainy, grey, and weed everywhere. Now Iâd describe it as: beautiful, international, and â¦ changing. I think even just from when I arrived here three years ago itâs changed drastically.
It surpri ses me just how international the city has become. I expected clogs â" no, Iâm kidding â" but I mean just in our company there are nine nationalities: Britain, Australia, Singapore, South Africa, Ireland, America, and the Netherlands. I think the fact that English is so accessible here makes it easy for people from many different cultures. Itâs such a hub for so many different businesses, which bring in people from so many places.
And thatâs what I mean by changing as well. The amount of people here who are not Dutch has gone up exponentially in the past three years. I get what why thereâs been a backlash recently; itâs going to be overpopulated soon. But [Orange Theatre Company] is bringing people together â" we see that the confrontation between the Dutch and the expats is because they donât mingle. A lot of the Dutch also speak great English, and so thereâs this whole world of fantastic theatre waiting for them on their doorstep.
If you had ju st 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do?
I think I would just sit on a terrace near a canal. And just really enjoy it. I feel like itâs something thatâs very specific to this city. I mean, yeah, you can people watch in New York, but itâs a different kind of people watching â" either people in suits, or often people a bit homeless, sadly.
The streets here are much more accessible, and nicer to look at. Something that surprised me was how quickly they clean up after an event. Like the day after Kingâs Day, everythingâs gone! Whereas in any place that I have ever lived theyâre like, âAhh, weâll get it cleaned up in a week. Somebodyâll do it.â Here itâs done immediately. I love that.
I think I would mostly miss the relaxed atmosphere of everything. Itâs a catch 22: thereâs a part of me that doesnât like the relaxedness, I want to just work work work and do do do, but then thereâs a part of me thatâs come to enjoy t hat. I know people who are lawyers at ABN Amro, quite high up, and they work four days a week, which is unheard of for me. But I think itâs quite nice; they have the time off that they need. Unfortunately, I donât do it nearly as often as Iâd like.
Find out more about Orange Theatre Company. The next performance is a play about Brexit in November.
Elyse OâShaughnessey was talking to Joshua ParfittSource: Google News Netherlands | Netizen 24 Netherlands