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Interview: CircusZeitung

Elisa van der Meijden was interviewed by the German circus magazine CircusZeitung. Elisa talked about her growing responsibilities for Stardust Circus and, of course, her passion for the circus.


 

Elisa van der Meijden gradually takes over responsibility for Stardust Circus International.



For 28 years the van der Meijden family has produced the Weltweihnachtscircus in Stuttgart. For even longer, 37 years to be precise, Wereldkerstcircus in Theater Carré Amsterdam has been part of the Stardust Circus International family business. Over time, the company has produced many other productions. In addition, Stardust can pride itself in being the first company to introduce the Chinese State Circus to European audiences. Elisa van der Meijden, the daughter of Monica Strottman and Henk van der Meijden, has been part of the company for quite some years. At this time, Elisa is gradually taking over responsibility for the company’s productions. CircusZeitung invited Elisa to talk about her role within Stardust Circus International and her passion for the circus.


CircusZeitung: Your father has organized Wereldkerstcircus at Carré since before you were even born. When you were 3 years old, Weltweihnachtscircus Stuttgart premiered. How did it feel growing up amid all these circuses?


Elisa van der Meijden: Growing up in a circus environment is the most wonderful thing you can possibly imagine. It’s like a huge playground for a kid. We used to spend Christmas in Carré and New Year in Stuttgart. This tradition hasn’t changed since by the way. As a child I befriended many artists’ children. It always made me cry when I had to say goodbye to them. As a young girl I was especially fascinated by horses. I rode horse as a hobby, so I was always keen to lend a helping hand in the stables. My childhood dream was to perform an equestrian act. However, that dream changed when I grew older. Also, I very much enjoyed spending 5 holidays in a row with Circus Knie in Switzerland. My parents used to say: “Why don’t you stay in a nice hotel, within walking distance of the circus?” I refused the offer and always wanted to stay in a caravan like a real circus artist.


CircusZeitung: Before joining your parents’ company, you had a career as a TV presenter, right?


Elisa van der Meijden: Indeed. It was important to me to stand on my own 2 feet. After secondary school I studied marketing and communication. After graduating, I was given the opportunity to work as a TV presenter. It was hard work and it wasn’t all glitter and glamour. Often I had to get up at 5 a.m. to arrive at a shooting location around 8 a.m. Al things considered this period of my life was extremely important and valuable to me. You can imagine how proud I was to earn my first pay check, which I used to treat my parents to diner. During the final 2 years of my TV career, I joined my parents to all kinds of circus festivals. It was quite hard to combine both careers. When my TV bosses offered me a new contract, I knew it was time to consider my future: would I continue my career as a presenter or would I take over responsibility for Stardust Circus, the family business? I decided then it was the perfect opportunity for me to join my parents’ company.


CircusZeitung: You and your father work very closely together. How do you divide responsibilities?


Elisa van der Meijden: My father is still very much involved. To me that’s important. Both my parents still teach me new things every single day. When it comes to long journeys -circus festivals in Russia or China for example- I travel alone. However, when it comes to European circus festivals, my parents still join me on every trip. We discuss which (type of) acts we already have and which (type of) acts we still want. In Stuttgart and Amsterdam we spend a lot of time together, too. The rehearsals for Stuttgart always start at the end of November. After premiering in early December, we travel to Amsterdam to manage the rehearsals and the Dutch premiere. Rehearsals for both productions are long and arduous, but we really enjoy them. It’s amazing to see our show grow and improve.


CircusZeitung: How do you draw up a circus program? Do you use the same method for both Stuttgart and Amsterdam or are there differences?


Elisa van der Meijden: Of course, our ambition for both circuses is to book the absolute best performers. Both circuses are of an extremely high standard. Differences, however, do occur because of technical limitations. For example, we weren’t able to show the ‘Globe of Death’ (Pinillos) in Carré, as the artist entrance is quite narrow. Nevertheless, more often than not we simultaneously book performances for both venues. It’s always important to have a good blend of top performers, emotional acts and storytelling routines. Clowns often aren’t as funny to adults as they are to children. Therefore, we frequently book 2 of them. In the next Wereldkerstcircus we have the Canadian female clown Mooky in our program. I first saw her perform with Salto Natale. Her performances impressed me immediately. My father saw Mooky perform in a small theater. He wasn’t really enthusiastic about her. You see, Mooky’s performance only works in a big venue. My father’s words were: “If you think she will succeed, we’ll book her.” Eventually her performances were a big hit with our audience. Even my father went to see her every single night. This proves he’s letting me make my own decisions when it comes to our circus program, one step at a time.


CircusZeitung: Apart from Christmas circuses, Stardust also produces theater entertainment. How is that working out?


Elisa van der Meijden: That’s absolutely right. We put our passion in every single production, but circuses do have a special place in our hearts. Over the past few years we have produced: a show with Hans Klok (including circus acts) and the ballet performance ‘The Biggest Swan Lake in the World’. We also brought the Mariinsky and Bolshoi ballet to Western Europe. Our theater and ballet performances are often shows we buy as a whole. However, when it comes to our circuses, we produce the entire show ourselves. Naturally these productions are much more labor intensive, but that’s exactly one of the reasons why we love them so very much.


CircusZeitung: Christmas circuses aside, do you have any new projects in development at this time? Are there any plans to develop new projects?


Elisa van der Meijden: For years I have been toying with the idea of bringing an erotic circus to The Netherlands. As we expected to be able to organize small events towards the end of 2020, we were planning to launch this new circus last Winter. However, because of COVID, it wasn’t meant to be. Our plan is to organize a dinner show in the very center of Amsterdam. The show, called ‘Femme Fatale’, was supposed to be a burlesque, slightly erotic spectacle. No need to worry: the show is just delayed, not cancelled. We are crossing our fingers for an August premiere. The Messoudi Brothers, among others, will be part of the show. Since it’s my first solo production, I hold this project very close to my heart.

When it comes to theater, I’m a huge fan of immersive theater. The concept really excites me. The boundaries between the stage and the theater evaporate completely; the audience gets the chance to become part of the performance. This concept is hugely popular in the USA. At this very moment, we are making plans to introduce this type of theater to Dutch and German audiences. Being the first company to achieve this feat in Europe: I think that’s so incredibly cool!



CircusZeitung: COVID made you cancel the 2020 Christmas circuses. In addition, the outlook for next Christmas is still uncertain. How do you plan ahead during these difficult times?


Elisa van der Meijden: Normally we book our artists up to 5 years ahead. Good acts sometimes require a long wait. Understandably, a lot of the acts, planned for the 2020 Christmas circuses, are already booked for the 2021 Christmas period. Therefore, it’s impossible for us to book a program for 2021, which is identical to the cancelled program of 2020. We expect to create a program, which will include acts from both 2020 and 2021. Definitive decisions for both Christmas circuses will be made in September, I think. In Carré we need at least 1 000 people in the audience. With an attendance of 1 000 we would still be making a loss, but that doesn’t matter. To us, it’s more important to be able to play again and offer our fans an amazing show, as always. We will do everything within our power to make sure the Christmas circuses proceed as planned. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for us to play for an audience of 300 in Stuttgart, as we want to guarantee the high quality of our shows.



CircusZeitung: Is there a performance from the last few years, which has really stuck with you?

Elisa van der Meijden: Yes, the Martinez Brothers and their Icarian Games! Every single time I see this performance, my palms start sweating. They were part of our last Weltweihnachtscricus in Stuttgart and I’m absolutely certain they will amaze our Amsterdam audience as well. However, let’s not forget: apart from sensational acts, you also need storytelling acts, like The Sky Angels. Such acts are like watching a Van Gogh or a Rembrandt: they’re an amazing piece of art!

CircusZeitung: In the Netherlands, the use of wild animals in performances has been banned since 2015. Stuttgart also introduced a ban in 2018. If another circus filed a lawsuit, won that lawsuit and the city repealed the ban, would wild animals be reintroduced in Weltweihnachtscircus Stuttgart?


Elisa van der Meijden: No, I don't think so. Mind you, I’m absolutely enthralled by Martin Lacey's animal acts. However, we have to adapt to the tastes of our fans. For example: more and more people are becoming vegetarians and the circus has to keep an eye on societal changes like this. People expect us to make a great show without wild animals, so that’s exactly what we’re doing.



CircusZeitung: You have a young song. Is Stardust succession assured?


Elisa van der Meijden: My son Elias is 10 months old. In September I’ll give birth to my second son. COVID hasn’t been all bad news: I’m able to spend more time with Elias and my husband Dalien. He doesn’t have a circus background, but he will be working for the Weltweihnachtscircus in Stuttgart in the future. I sincerely hope we’ll be playing again this coming December. I miss the applause and the buzz. Also, I’m looking forward to introducing my children to our circuses.


An interview by Simon Preißing

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