Ivo Van Hove is arguably the most sought-after theater director in the world. In February, his version of West Side Story—with new choreography—will open on Broadway. His adaptation of the film Network was nominated for five Tony Awards last year (winning one). Before that, he directed Gillian Anderson and Lily James in All About Eve, Ben Whishaw and Saoirse Ronan in The Crucible, and Mark Strong in A View From the Bridge.
To profit-seeking producers, he offers the perfect marriage of artistic credibility and box-office appeal. His work is avant-garde enough to feel fresh, but not so experimental that it will horrify mainstream audiences. More than that, though, his success exposes Broadway’s dirty secret: Its money-making machine depends on artists and productions nurtured by European government subsidies.
Since 2001, Van Hove has been the artistic director of International Theater Amsterdam (ITA), for which he stages two new productions a year, as well as commissioning other artists there and directing freelance projects internationally. In October, I watched his most recent production at ITA, an adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s unproduced script for a film about Sigmund Freud’s early adulthood. Freud bore many of Van Hove’s hallmarks. The set design, by his professional and romantic partner, Jan Versweyveld, used found objects rather than velvet curtains or painted-canvas backdrops. Video projections conjured up the Vienna of Freud’s childhood. Just as notably, Freud drew its actors from two ensembles—actors who are contracted to a single theater and work across all its productions, encouraging them to develop deep working relationships with one another, and with directors, over many years.