I amsterdam International Profiles: Theodora

Name: Theodora
Occupation: Actress, Director, Producer and Coach
Nationality: Greek
Length of time in Amsterdam: 14 months

Hi Theodora! Can you tell us a little bit about your background and why you moved to Amsterdam?

Well, I am an actress, director, producer and a coach. I studied in New York and stayed there for seven years, then I went back to Greece, started travelling and worked in London, Paris and Rome. I lived in Rome for three years, and then moved to Amsterdam 14 months ago because my partner works for Unilever, and his position changed. So now we’re in the Netherlands.

Did you know much about Amsterdam before you moved here?

I had no idea. Nothing. I had only been here for a weekend, a year before we moved here. It was in January, so it was snowing so badly. Have you been here in the snow? Oh my Lord! we wanted to go out and visit the museums, but we’d go out of the door and the snow would fly into my eyes. I was like ‘why is this happening?! I’m Mediterranean!’ But it was nice and very picturesque, like a fairytale. It was interesting. So when we got the news that we would be moving here I was very happy about it.

Did you not feel cautious moving to a place that you didn’t really know?

I enjoy moving in general. And I‘d heard really wonderful things about Amsterdam. It’s close to the States; the quality of people is very close to what I’m used to. I was really excited for a new adventure, and for Amsterdam.

You’ve lived in New York and Rome. In which ways is Amsterdam unique to other cities?

It’s that combination; that you can do good business here, but you can also have a good quality of life. The city is not chaotic - it’s not like New York where it takes you three hours to get from one end to the other. And the people are very friendly. I have some friends who would disagree, but I think that’s just the Dutch way of communicating. And once you understand that, then everything works out perfectly. So one part is that the city has a good quality of life. It’s not just work – there are so many things you can do here, and so much art. And then you can also do business in a very organised manner, in that you know things are going to happen. I come from the south of Europe where everyone enjoys the sun and sitting outside, so having someone say ‘this is going to happen’, and having a structure, is very refreshing.

"The city’s like a character in a movie. If you give it attention, it will give it back."

How easy was it to establish yourself professionally when you moved over? Was that a challenge?

It was as much of a challenge as it would be if you were a new person in a new community anywhere. But aside from that it was very easy, and it came very organically and naturally. So I arrived here 14 months ago. I started doing the Los Angeles method workshops - which is a combination of acting techniques and life coaching information.People were so open here to going that journey to understand who they are and find their voice. So the attendance was wonderful, and through the workshops I met a lot of interesting people. So we created the international theatre in English, produced the first play of Oedipus and now we’ve created the foundation within these 14 months and we’re ready to produce Antigone. So it’s also part of my business that I have to meet new people. I work in environments where people are more vulnerable and open up more easily.

Has life in Amsterdam thrown any non-work related challenges your way?

The weather! That was a challenge. We arrived here in late February, early March. In Rome where we’d come from, that’s the time you bring out your summer clothes and flip-flops, but here we were in furs and wool scarves! And a little bit about the food. Not having olive oil on every table in every restaurant was kind of a challenge in the beginning. But it balances out with other good things, so it wasn’t like ‘oh I want to go home!’.

Did anything about life here take you by surprise or turn out to be not what you expected?

Well I don’t drive, and I never knew how to bike. I got myself a tricycle, so I have a red tricycle now and I bike around the city on that. This was how the city helped me to push my limits and discover something about myself. I’d never gone somewhere under my own steam – it was always public transport or a taxi, or someone else driving -  and I was always a passenger. Dutch people are amazing on bicycles. They can carry pretty much an entire house and still bike with one hand. So going out in the street on the same level as them was kind of scary at first, but after a few days it really made me feel very self-confident and strong, and I’m very grateful for that.

I amsterdam International Profiles: Theodora

Are you learning Dutch at the moment?

No, unfortunately. But I know I have to. I know the basics – ‘thank you’, ‘you’re welcome’, ‘yes’, ‘young boy’… I don’t know why I know ‘young boy’! It’s a very difficult language, but I haven’t had the need to speak it so far. Everyone speaks English and even if you try to say something in Dutch, the moment they see that you have an accent they turn it into English. They’re very welcoming and considerate.

Do you think it’s important to learn the language if you live here long enough?

Yes, I want to. It’s important to learn a language because it opens a door to the way people think. The way you structure a sentence, the words you use for certain meanings, they’re important to help you understand the people. For example German has a more rigid grammar than French, so you can understand why German people are a little more to the point and staccato that the Italians or the Greeks. So on a sociology level, I would really like to learn the language.

Do you have any favourite hang-outs in the city?

I love the Museumplein. I like the whole area – the buildings and the grass outside. And I love Tunes, the bar at the Conservatorium hotel – they have a wonderful selection of gin which I love. And there is a deli on Overtoom called Olivity that has a great selection of products – it’s owned by a Greek lady called Katerina who used to be a translator and writer, then decided to come here and open a café. It’s nice, it’s like an air of Greece, but in Dutch way.

Do you seek out Greek culture in Amsterdam? Have you found much of it here?

I bring it with me. Especially with my work. We’re producing Antigone now and we’re supported by the Greek embassy in the Netherlands and the Dutch society of modern Greek studies - so my work revolves around the Greek culture and tradition. But my mission is to bring that up to date and show how a part of philosophy that was written 3000 years ago can be relevant today. Apart from that I don’t think I’m seeking it. On the contrary, I think I make it a point to include many different cultures in my environment, because that’s what helps me grow. Whenever you feel comfortable you stay on the same page. Being vulnerable and uncomfortable is what pushes you into action.

"Whenever you feel comfortable you stay on the same page. Being vulnerable and uncomfortable is what pushes you into action"

Tell us a secret about Amsterdam

It’s very difficult to not discover Amsterdam. The city’s like a character in a movie. If you give it attention, it will give it back. So there are small cafes here and there, but I wouldn’t say they’re secret. Although one secret I did discover was surtitled theatre. They have a wonderful theatre on Leidseplein – Stadsschouwburg – and every Thursday they have productions that are surtitled in English. They don’t advertise it, so a friend told me and that’s how I discovered it. So if you’re in Amsterdam and want to see theatre in English you can either go there every Thursday, or you can come and see our productions!

Would you like to see Amsterdam change in any way?

No, not really. The only thing I would like changed is the frequency of the rain, but that’s not Amsterdam’s fault. I have felt very happy and welcome here, and I am very appreciative of every Dutch person who I met and was so open-hearted with me. If anyone is thinking of moving here, I would say go for it. If you know what you want to do, this is a good place to be.

How has Amsterdam changed you?

It has shown me that once you take responsibility and are specific on what you want, time and obstacles are of no matter. I have been here 14 months and I have completed most of the goals that I set when I first came here. And it has also shown me that honesty is a wonderful ingredient to have. Dutch people are refreshingly honest. To the point of being rude. But once you understand that this is their way, everything is fine.

Can you see yourself staying here long-term?

Yes, I am. For the next 4-5 years at least, I am definitely staying here. And even if I move, I will be always be based here.

What advice do you have for someone thinking about moving to Amsterdam?

To come. Come, and challenge yourself. Amsterdam is a city unlike any other European city. So you will have to learn to live in a narrow space, because the houses are very small. You’ll have to learn to live in a place where you can experience all four seasons in one day. You’ll learn to live with other people, but also by yourself. And you’ll get the chance to work hard for what you want.