The Artist’s Way: Ivo Van Hove, Theatre Director

In this special feature, T photographed and interviewed 34 artists from various disciplines about 24 hours in their creative lives.

Article by Joshua Barone

Ivo Van HoveVan Hove, photographed in the rehearsal space at New York Theatre Workshop in the East Village, Manhattan, on December 22, 2021. Photography by Justin French.

I was at New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) 25 years ago with my first production: Eugene O’Neill’s “More Stately Mansions” (1964). Since then, people have called me “the man you love to hate or hate to love” — a badge of honour, as far as I’m concerned. Later, I moved on to Broadway, but I kept returning to NYTW. Its rehearsal space is upstairs on the third floor, and I originally disliked it because it feels like a big living room, but eventually I fell for it. I’ve now done eight productions here, the last of which was “Lazarus” in 2015 with David Bowie.

When we took this portrait, I was preparing for a February festival in Amsterdam, where my company and I presented several plays based on the works of the French novelist Édouard Louis. My most recent adaptation of one of his books, 2021’s “Combats et Métamorphoses d’une Femme” [“A Woman’s Battles and Transformations”], premiered in the Netherlands last September. Édouard’s story of growing up gay in a provincial town was also the story of my life — I’m from the village of Kwaadmechelen in northern Belgium — and I connected with his struggle: the loneliness of a young homosexual; the desire to get away.

When you’re adapting a novel, you must find a way to make it into theatre. You have to invent. “Combats et Métamorphoses” was done with actors from my own ensemble, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, since I like to work with people I trust and who trust me. There was, for example, this one crisis moment where the character of Édouard’s mother loses her mind. It can easily be over-the-top but, during rehearsal, we kept changing the dialogue, cutting things and also adding.

I’m known for my short rehearsal times: just six weeks. My last two weeks are famous among theatre people because things move at a very high speed. In “Kings of War” [a single-play amalgam of William Shakespeare’s “Henry V”, “Henry VI” and “Richard III” that travelled to Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2016], I cut 40 minutes the day before opening night. In these rehearsals, I make it clear that people can tell me anything; we’re all so deep in the material. But I don’t give notes after a full run-through. People are tired, and they just want to hear that it’s good. That also helps me not be impulsive.

This process has taken a long time to develop. In the beginning, I spent weeks talking about the play. Now I don’t do that, perhaps because of those early experiences back at NYTW. For “More Stately Mansions”, I had only four or five weeks before the first preview, and I thought, “Well, if I’m going to sit at a table for two weeks, there’ll never be a premiere.” Against my will, I was forced to immediately rehearse, and I found myself liberated. It’s more freeing to just get into a space and start.

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our seventh edition, Page 76 of T Australia with the headline: “The Artist’s Way”