“IT IS STILL A CHALLENGE TO BE WHO YOU ARE”.
Text: Paul Hofman
Foto: Remon van den Kommer
Video: Paradox Productions
Theatre figurehead Barrie Stevens: Artist at heart.
At the age of seventeen, he came to the Netherlands from prudish England. A long career on stage followed. Sixty years later, it is time to look back at those years, the love of his life and Pride Amsterdam. Barrie Stevens (77) is one of the leading lights of Pride Amsterdam this year. During the nine-day event, he will make himself heard. ‘On 3, 4 and 5 August, I will be in the Polanentheater with the special performance Dood aan zee.’
Barrie enjoys the view of the Amstel from his living room. He talks endlessly about his life, getting older, his latest performances and his role as ambassador. The theme is: following your passion. His living room is an oasis of calm in his busy life. Near his dining table, a large black-and-white photograph of Leen Jongewaard hangs on the wall. We have shared joys and sorrows for eighteen years. With ups and downs. He meant everything to me, I considered him my brother, my coach and my lover.
I was as green as grass when I came to the Netherlands. I left England, with its narrow views on homosexuality, behind me to end up in much freer Amsterdam. Well, it was the exciting sixties. Wow, this felt so good. Barrie soon found himself in ‘the business’ as a dancer. I felt like a fish in the water. Looking back, ‘Finally, I could be myself, not having to do that sneaky stuff with boys anymore. Gays in those days were seen as criminals. No, here I could be one hundred per cent gay. Although Holland is his new fatherland, he cannot let go of England. He travels back regularly to visit his parents. In 2019 he received his Dutch passport.
The theatre world gives him a lot of freedom. His career is steadily developing. Singing, dancing, acting, directing and dressing up are things Barrie can do like no other. One of his strong points is his perseverance. It made him the most famous choreographer and theatre star of our country. Multi-talented Barrie has performed in musical productions such as Heerlijk duurt het langst and De Jantjes. He beams when he talks about the old days.
‘Did I have to think about saying yes to the ambassadorship? Not for a moment! I find it a great honour. Finally I can give something back to the people who have supported me during the sixty years of my career.’ And have also accepted him for his homosexuality, he adds. ‘So as a Pride ambassador I can give one-to-one support to people and hear their stories. That’s what I want to do. I am there for them.’
He talks enthusiastically about his new play Dood aan zee (Death by the Sea), which is based on the novel Death in Venice by German writer Thomas Mann. ‘My partner Leen Jongewaard died 25 years ago this year. So much has not been said. In this play, I return to the place in the south of France where he died and where I want to scatter his ashes.’ A kind of closure? Barrie thinks for a long time. ‘Yes, yes. I see it as the end of a special part of my life. The story is told, it’s done. It’s actually a mixture of truth and fiction. I meet a tasty man of thirty who works in the hotel where I stay. With him I build a deep bond.’ The well-known director Gerardjan Rijnders wrote the script. I’m going to perform it exclusively during Pride 2022. It will be a moving piece.’ He proudly shows the theatre poster of the play. It shows an angelic statue with the face of his Leen in it.
He is currently concerned about the increase in violence against LGBT people. ‘It is no longer as free as it was 50 years ago. It is still a task to be who you are. I find that sad.’ To do something for the LHBT-community, he does not need to be on a boat during the Canal Pride. ‘That is not for me. But I am completely open to all other things.’ He eagerly looks forward to the Pride. ‘I can’t wait. After the years of corona we can finally live again’, says Barrie. ‘It was a disaster. Every time we were ready for my solo performance, there was a lockdown. It was maddening.’
My Gender, My Pride
‘The theme My Gender, My Pride appeals to me. It makes me think about my life, and also to confront how everything turned out.’ Is it the wisdom of greyness? He falls silent. It took him sixty years to discover and accept that he was gay. He is happier than ever. ‘I’ve found the perfect balance in my life.’ Nobody can ignore Barrie anymore.
Pride ambassador since 2022